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A Taupō chef and a German doctor are each dishing up their favourite foods, side by side. Obstetrician-gynaecologist Lilith Howe and her chef partner Hare Rewi have opened two vastly different cafes next door to each other, in downtown Taupō.
Hare's Te Wharekai eatery focusses on hearty Kiwi fare that harks back to his Māori heritage, though with a contemporary twist. So the mussel fritters come with a house made chilli-watercress mayonnaise and the frybread may be laced with garlic and served with salad.
Alongside, her Positive Kaibration establishment specialises in whole foods and caters for vegans, coeliacs and others with dietary needs or preferences.
Despite their obvious differences, the two cafes share a kitchen and the owners – they are partners in business and in life - have similar philosophies. Both value whānau (family), they appreciate fresh produce and love to nourish body and soul through food.
Hare, who is Tuhoe and Ngāti Uenuku, has cooked all his working life and was overweight, unfit and destined for major health problems before he changed his diet. Immediately before meeting Lilith, the chef shed 30kg, quit both smoking and alcohol and he took up waka ama paddling.
Dr. Howe has long been a self-described “health nut” who wants to help other people stay out of the medical system by eating and living well. When she had trouble finding an eatery that served the kind of food she wanted to eat, Lilith suggested that they open one themselves. It wasn’t a hard sell for Hare; he has wanted to open his own place for years.
“We love to inspire others to take the same journey.".Lilith
In Lilith’s case, that means serving smoothies, teas and juices that are often customised using nourishing additives like hemp hearts or medicinal mushrooms.
Bowls laden with raw vegetables and nourishing sauces can be topped with organic chicken or wildrange eggs. Sweet treats are made without refined sugar and a latte is likely to include fresh ginger and turmeric as well as cinnamon, pepper and cardamom.
Next door, Hare is serving versions of the kind of food he grew up with, refined by decades of working in fine dining restaurants, hotels and cafes.
“My mum was a good cook, using old cast iron pots and baking over the fireplace,” he says, of his first culinary teacher.
“She’d cook for everybody; the shearers who came to the farm, my aunties, cousins, grandparents and she threw me in there. I was eight years old when I learned to cook."Hare
“Now, I’m usually the one taking the lead when we have an event on the marae, cooking for hundreds and hundreds at a time.”
He is determined everyone from tamariki (children) to kaumātua (elders) will feel welcome inside Te Wharekai, where photos show the Rewi brothers digging a hangi and fixing a fence, as well as the marae his grandfather helped to build. Hare’s sister manages Te Wharekai, his cousin cooks and his daughter helps out in both businesses after school and during holidays.
“I’m really proud. I’m proud of our culture, proud I can represent the whānau and I’m stoked to see a lot of Māori coming in here because we’re doing our sort of food and because they feel like they’re at home.
“They’ve said that, said they feel comfortable here.
"They can have a feed, have a laugh, let the kids run around and we welcome everyone like they are family."Hare
And they can also see healthy food does not have to taste like crap.”
At Te Wharekai, Hare’s interest in health is not immediately obvious; diners can still opt to buy fried bread or hot chips. However, they have plenty of salad choices, too, and Hare is quietly cutting back the cream and salt in some traditional recipes. His approach is more ‘health by stealth’.
The cream sauce on his loaded fries utilises coconut cream and generous quantities extra mussels, paua and watercress.
Flavour boosts come from stocks and additional vegetables and herbs, many grown on the whānau farm at Raetihi. The family’s honey is often used in place of sugar, too.
Lilith, meanwhile, is seeing demand for her unashamedly healthy Positive Kaibration fare grow from curious locals as well as international travellers who like to eat the way she does.
Shelves of herbal tea, healing balms, handcrafted chocolates and health-inducing items reflect the discoveries she has made on her travels around New Zealand.
The couple like the fact that a family or a group can choose food from two different cafes and eat together at the same table. Everyone’s culinary needs can be met, whether they seek a keto protein smoothie with chia seeds or a classic Kiwi burger.
At weekends, the busy pair operate a food stall at Market Central Taupō.
In town for the Taupō Summer Concert and/or the Fatboy Slim gig happening Waitangi weekend 2023? Why not fill out your visit with some of the region’s famous attractions?! Read on for a list of great activities that will make your long weekend unforgettable.