In the language of the Native Canadian Iroquois tribe ‘akera’ means ‘my story’, so what could be a more fitting title for chef Jonny Taggart’s pop up at this year’s Wellington on a Plate? Adopted at birth, Jonny decided recently to dig into his background and uncovered Native Canadian roots. Since then he has been discovering and exploring more about his culture through the medium he knows best: food. Which leads us to Akera, the sell-out event that introduced Wellingtonians to frybread tacos, a staple of post-colonial Native Canadian cuisine. “Frybread tacos came about through necessity,” Jonny tells me. “Forced reservations were put in place, so people couldn’t hunt any more. They came to rely on food parcels and so the diet moved away from corn to wheat-based bread. With large families, they had to come up with creative ways to find food that was cheap and could feed a large number of people.” Finding that frybread similarly featured in the Māori food story drew a neat parallel for him.

Lacking access to Canadian ingredients such as bison or elk, Jonny chooses instead to top his tacos with sustainable New Zealand options such as venison and wapiti (a type of deer). The Middle Eastern/Turkish-focussed menu at Kisa restaurant, where he is executive chef, also gives Jonny ample opportunity both to unleash his creativity and stand firm on his commitment to feature ethically sourced ingredients such as tahr, wild goat and sustainably caught fish, and he is proud of his relationships with suppliers such as WithWild and Awatoru Wild Foods, Better Fishing and Ocean Speared. “New, different, sustainable and ethical is my thing,” he says.

So is there any conflict between representing an authentic cuisine and being innovative? Jonny thinks not. “For me, respect for tradition is of utmost importance. For research I explore every single avenue I can so that I can understand the flavours. Middle Eastern food has so much complexity and depth, but it has a freshness and brightness that is uncommon to the European palate. I love playing with such dark, rich flavours that for me are new and very exciting.”

Recently he’s been researching different types of pizza, taking a foray into Detroit-style and US tavern-style pizza. It’s proving tricky though, as he’s discovering that everyone has their own, deeply held, opinions on the ‘correct’ way to do things. “I’m just going to figure out what works for me and forge my own path,” he says. That, then, will weave its way into the Jonny Taggart story. TRACY WHITMEY