Old School kitchen cooks up flavoursome food ventures

Most people might think of the Old School Arts Centre/ Te Whare Toi o Te Kura Tawhito as the go-to for visual arts but it’s also been quietly incubating many flavoursome food initiatives in its commercial kitchen.

One of Whaingaroa’s big foodie players, Raglan Food Co, started life there in 2014 as Raglan Coconut Yoghurt.

Tesh Randall aka Mrs Coconut doubts that they would have achieved the success they have if they hadn’t had the Old School kitchen/ Whare Tunu Kai to get them going.

“We’re really grateful that that option was there in the community because I don’t know how we would have done it otherwise. We originally started off at home and then a couple of weeks after that we ended up hiring the community kitchen. We were in there for nearly a year before moving into our own premises.”

Tesh says food businesses require food safety registration in order to operate and it is hard to get in a domestic kitchen.

At its peak in the kitchen, the Raglan Yoghurt team had a production line of up to six people working late into the night.

During their year at the Old School kitchen they even took out the New Zealand Gourmet Food Award.

Since that time, they have moved to purpose-built premises at Nau Mai, morphed into Raglan Food Co, are producing a wider range of products, employ 30 staff from around Whaingaroa and sell their products across New Zealand and overseas. 

Other food businesses have also had their beginnings at the Old School kitchen; from pies and pickles to stroopwafels and falafels and everything in-between, the kitchen is always brewing with deliciousness.

ULOs started their mouth-watering Japanese-fusion restaurant in the Old School kitchen until their runaway success saw them move to Wallis St.

One of the kitchen’s first foodies, Liz Stanway and Rick Thorpe have been processing their much-loved Taunga Kereru pickles, preserves and sauces in the Old School commercial kitchen since it first opened. 

Tucked away out the back behind the movie room/ Whare o Tuaiwa Rickard, the kitchen is a fairly new addition to the arts complex, which started life in 1883 as a one-room school house.

Built in 2010, it is part of what is known as the St Lazarus building, and is food safety compliant with stainless steel benches and a sterilizer, making the job of food safety much easier than a home kitchen.

Former Raglan Community Arts Council (RCAC) member Wendy Coxhead cooked up the idea for a commercial kitchen. 

“The council was getting toey about food sold on site and around Raglan, so they brought in regulations. I thought a compliant kitchen would be a great asset. So it was a way to get around this (council food obligations), and it’s also another avenue for income (for the old school),” she says.

RCAC chair Rodger Gallagher says a kitchen was always planned for the St Lazarus build but Wendy’s idea to make it commercial grade made sense.

The St Lazarus building was built behind the Old School and opened by Tex Rickard. The small kitchen was removed from the entry foyer of the Old School building and the foyer was redecorated. 

It was named for the St Lazarus Trust who, at the time, was looking to make a substantial donation to a community building project in Raglan with the some of the proceeds from the sale of the Stewart St Retirement Village. 

“When they heard about our project, they decided to support it. The commercial kitchen especially appealed to them,” he says.

As well as providing a platform for food ventures, the kitchen is also used for workshops, during the Creative Market, and other community activities.

Old School manager Jacqueline Anderson says the kitchen is a great asset to the community and, whilst some move on to bigger and better things, like Raglan Coconut Yoghurt, there’s always a new endeavour brewing around the corner.

“It’s hard to say goodbye when they leave but we love that our kitchen has played some part in their growth and development.” 

To find out more about the Raglan Old School Arts Centre commercial kitchen contact info@raglanartscentre.co.nz, phone 07 825 0023 or call into the office Monday to Friday between 10am and 2pm.

by Janine Jackson