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If you haven't come across Kaelah James' mouth-watering wild kai recipes on social media by now, you must've been living under a rock. Kaelah's Wild Kai Kitchen has amassed more than 23,000 Instagram followers at the time of writing as more and more people are drawn to her creative approach to cooking wild food.
But there's a lot more to Kaelah and her family than the beautiful photos and recipes she shares online. Kaelah is passionate about raising awareness of hunting, spearfishing, fishing, and greater self-sufficiency and food sovereignty. She also cares deeply about rekindling our connection to food and the land - that ancient part of us that's been lost in our world of supermarkets and fast food.
We'd been wanting to catch up with Kaelah and her whanau for a while, as she's one of our awesome Bushbuck ambassadors. We recently arranged to meet her in her family's hometown of Kaikōura where we tagged along on a hunting trip and got to experience a "day in the life". And, of course, we stuck around for the big cook-up at the end of the day. There's no way we were gonna miss out on experiencing Kaelah's famous wild kai.
Written by Kaelah James
Going hunting as a family is so special and one of our favourite ways to spend time together. Some of our best memories have been while we're out hunting, diving or fishing on the boat. Everybody benefits from being outside, especially our youngest son who has ADHD. When he is hunting he is so calm and focused, which shows just how beneficial hunting can be for the mind as well as the food gathering. Sometimes we decide to go hunting spontaneously, other times we plan ahead of time with a particular animal or recipe in mind. Obviously, the weather is important for us, especially because we bring our two young boys with us. We wouldn’t want to take them diving or fishing in rough conditions or if it’s pouring rain and cold. Sometimes we’ll wake up and go look at the water and, if it’s good, then that’s what we’re doing that day. Other times, our hunting trips are planned in advance. I usually do have specific kai on mind when we head out, sometimes we’ll want some goats or venison for the freezer or fish for dinner that night. On this particular day, we wanted to take the Bushbuck team out hunting for wild game in the Kaikōura back blocks.
We were up and ready to go at about 0530hrs and headed to a friend's land where we had permission to knock over some Red Deer. But after a few hours of driving and walking around we realised we were probably a bit late in the morning to have success on this block. So we packed it up and went to another mate’s land we usually hunt on as we know there’s always plenty of goats, Red Deer and Fallow Deer. Plenty of pigs up there, too, but they’re out of bounds as the owner of the land is a keen pig hunter so we leave them for him and his dogs to chase up and down the rugged landscape. By now its approximately 1000hrs with a nice cool spring breeze in the air so it's not too hot. We have about an hour's drive on the side-by-sides to get to our desired location, so with a bit of haste we begin our journey with a few stops along the way. As expected, there were plenty of goats on offer along the track which is a good sign for things to come. We also spotted some Fallow Hinds but they weren’t interested in hanging around to see what we were doing up there. We push on to reach our destination. Upon arrival, we thought we should cook up a quick feed for breakfast, some classic bacon and egg muffins cooked on the Cobb Grill were sufficient to satisfy the hungry troops.
And so it begins… after a quick discussion with my husband we decide to knock some goats over so at least we have something for the table if we don’t see any more deer. Two minutes later, I knocked over a young billy goat. I know these guys are delicious so he’s prepped and left to pick up on our way back.
Just a bit further along the track, I manage to drop another tasty goat. Now we’re at our spot to glass for some deer, so it's all eyes on the clearing. Mark manages to spot some approximately 250-300m from our location on an upward shot over a gully. After a bit of discussion and realising we probably won’t find a better vantage point closer to the animals, we decide to have a go. My husband Mikaere (Mike) stepped up to take this shot since I shot the goats, and it looks like he has to go for a walk to retrieve it. Better him than me! Mike managed to drop the deer from quite a distance. With a bit of guidance from my location, I directed the boys - Mike, Mark and Struan - into where the animal dropped. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for them to locate the animal and begin to make their way back to us.
We decided to call it a day as we have plenty of food to keep us going for the next couple of months. By now, it was about 1600hrs. Making our way back to the vehicles, we were able to reflect on the day with our son Kymani and it was safe to say we were all pretty stoked - another awesome whanau adventure done and dusted.
Hunting is about more than recreation and filling the freezer in our family. It feels great to be teaching our kids how to provide for themselves and their families in the future. But as parents, we also feel a responsibility to instil in our sons the connection and value to the food we eat and compassion and respect for animals. Being of Maori descent, I have a strong spiritual connection to both the land and sea, they provide a sense of identity and sustain our people. My general philosophy around hunting is not only to put food on the table, but more importantly about the connection to food. Certain parts of society have become really disconnected from their food, which is sad. It’s normal for me and my family to remember what the animal or kaimoana looked like, and the hunt story behind how it landed on our plate. I deeply value the fact it's organic and not pumped full of chemicals and stuff you can’t pronounce. Being closely connected to your food by hunting it, cleaning it and processing it, is primal and empowering. And by utilising every part of the animal you can to give its life value and respect.
We're really lucky in New Zealand to be able to go out and get food in the bush. And for me, to be able to get your own kai, feed your family, but also make beautiful meals is very empowering. My brain never stops thinking about food and recipes, it's pretty much a 24/7 thing. I have a notebook filled with recipe ideas that I jot down as soon as something pops into my head. When I find myself with kai that we've hunted or dived for, I usually refer to my book to whip up one of the recipes.
I also take responsibility for processing the kai so I cut the deer and goats up. I kept the backstraps and hind quarters whole, the rest was put through the mincer. The dog got the bones.
That evening, I decided to cook up a Sri Lankan Goat Curry with Coconut Sambol (see below for recipe) for the family. It's such a pleasure to produce beautiful, tasty, wild kai for the family that we've hunted and processed with our own hands. There’s always a buzz around the table when you sit down to eat the food that’s been hunted and harvested. There are plenty of stories about how the food on the plate came to be, lessons learnt from that hunt and so on. My absolute favorite is being able to feed my family from the hard work put into the kai gathering missions. Hearing the "mmmmmm!" and "Oh this is so good" comments from my family is pretty special too.
Wild Goat Curry
2kgs Goat Meat, diced into small chunks
3 carrots sliced
1 red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1cm ginger, diced
1 Tbsp Chilli paste
Handful dried curry leaves
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp coriander powder
2 Star anise
2 cans Watties Indian Tomatoes
1 cup beef stock
2 can coconut milk
Salt and sugar to taste and balance
1 cup desiccated coconut
½ red onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp chilli paste
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp pepper
Salt and lime juice, to taste
Wild Goat Curry
Preheat oven to 160 degrees fan bake.
For the Curry, add olive oil to heavy based pot, add onions and sauté for 5 mins.
Add garlic, ginger, curry leaves and spices to the pot and fry off for a couple minutes.
Add goat meat and brown.
Add carrots, tomatoes, beef stock and coconut milk, mix and bring to a simmer.
Take off heat, put the lid on and put into the oven for 2 hours or until meat is tender and sauce is thickened.
Stir a couple times during the cook.
Combine half of the desiccated coconut and the remaining ingredients into a blender and pulse into a rough paste.
Place the paste in a bowl and add in the remaining desiccated coconut.
Combine the mixture together using your hands until all the coconut is orange in colour.
Season with salt and lime juice to taste.
To serve, season curry with salt, lime juice and a bit of sugar to taste. Sprinkle a good amount of coconut Sambol on the curry, squeeze over extra lime juice and all the coriander. Serve with cooked rice, roti (or any naan style bread).
Kaelah James, aka Kaelah's Wild Kai Kitchen, is a New Zealand speafisher, huntress and incredible wild food cook. She's built up a following on Instagram by sharing her delicious recipes and she's now come on board as a Bushbuck ambassador and contributor to The Campfire blog. She will be sharing wild food and catch-and-cook recipes, as well as the stories behind hunting and gathering the kai.