From Prison Gate To Plate - Photography courtesy of Emma Sturmfels

 

When you think of prison what is the first thing you think of? Low lives, criminals, wasters? I was the same until Wellington on a Plate and Martin Bosley hosted a recent dinner called From Prison Gate to Plate. It is a meal which is created for the public to experience prison life and more importantly the hard work that goes into rehabilitation. I know with this article I will take and accept a bit of flak from the people out there who was the same as me before this day. “Criminals are criminals and deserve nothing more than what they get.” It really is more complex than that, these guys are still humans and will be released, without us giving them a chance on that release what is the point? I think it is quite immature to expect that all prisoners are losers and low lives.


Firstly my expectation before the night – Martin Bosley is a great chef but what can you do with 6 criminals some serving very long sentences, only so much even if you train them for 9 months! Chef Bosley firstly was incredibly noble to take on such a daring challenge which could of gone so wrong in so many ways but from what I expected to what I got couldn’t of been further away.  I expected that we would turn up get a few canapés and head off to the dining hall to get what can only be described as a well presented Lone Star meal. Then the prisoners would talk a little and I would go home thinking that was nice to see the inside of Rumataka prison.


What actually happened – Martin Bosley is a great chef and what he did with 6 criminals and more as wait staff was incredible. The meal which I will go into in more detail soon was miles above what I expected and could have easily been served at his restaurant in Wellington cooked by his top chefs.


We arrived and went through very tight security which included removing, phones, cameras and temporarily my crutches and then being checked out by the drug squad dogs that can now also smell for mobile phones! After a small briefing and a constant reminder in an emergency we would be the priority we were shown through to the visiting room which wasn’t the glass shield (unless you have been playing up) you see on TV or the square face to face tables but round wooden tables with octopus like design so you sit in a group with your family. There was also a display of the correction dogs, Corrections Maori weaponry and old correction uniforms.

We were then served with refreshments (alcohol free of course) like homemade lemonade and ice tea and our canapés. Delicious canapés! They consisted of:-


Line Caught Snapper, Almond Rosemary Praline, Cauliflower puree

Falafel with mint yoghurt

Gruyere Gougeres, Fantail Grove Walnut Mayonaise

Freedom Farms Pork Belly, Miso Mayonnaise

Savoury Tuile with a Sunblushed Tomato Pesto

And last but not least the show stopping Cedar Planked Ora King Salmon with Chive Butter Emulsion

Judging by the reaction of my fellow out mates these all went down an absolute storm!

 

We went up to the dining room next which wasn’t the big dining hall where everyone gets ‘shanked’, it was the training room for the work to release program where they have a kitchen and restaurant. Oh and on this point there is an actually no dining room at all, instead all prisoners always eat alone. Food needs to be shared, there is nothing sadder with food than eating alone for 10 years, it would drive me crazy.

 

 

After several more exchanges with the exceptionally polite, hard trying and hardworking wait staff who had received only 3 days training it was time for the service of the main course.

 

Savannah grass-fed beef fillet, mustard, duck liver parfait, black currants, salt roasted potato, spiced heritage carrots, watercress, oxtail sauce

Followed by a

 

Whittaker’s Dark chocolate terrine with chocolate mousse

The steak was perfectly cooked and all the flavours really blended well, it was a perfectly presented dish and there are plenty of chefs who couldn’t achieve what these guys did with this dish. The terrine was a chocolate lovers dream and far too rich for me but this is totally irrelevant as it’s a personal preference. I enjoyed the cheese course more!

 

Then it was time to meet the kitchen crew, there was no back up from “real chefs” just 6 (well one was missing as he wasn’t allowed to come out of the actual prison gates so 5 really) in mates who would give a heartfelt thankyou after we was to hear from the conductor Martin Bosley about his experience as well as the prisoners.

 

The chef spoke about how he walked into the kitchen on the first day to see one of the prisoners hacking away at some chicken and the tip of the knife was missing and he remembered wondering where the tip of the knife is.

 

He needn’t worry though a prison guard of 27 years told us ‘there is an unwritten rule with the prisoners, no incidents in the kitchen’ this is because after an incident the area in question is locked down and nobody out of the 900+ prisoners would want the kitchen shut down. He also went on to talk of his frustration that only 5% of the time something really serious happens and the other 95% things are fine but we only hear about the 5%.

 

Meal and speeches over it was onto the part that really started changing my thoughts on the prison system. The commissioner had spoken passionately earlier about lowering the re-offending rate and we felt as though we could genuinely see this in action. We had been desperate to engage in conversation with a prisoner and ended up with the two guys who had been serving us so well all night and had been in for a couple of years.

 

One especially explained how he fully knew his mistakes and being away from his daughter was enough to change his ways. He has actively moved away from Rotorua and won’t be going back as he knows if he returned he had a chance of ending up back in prison, he has secured a job and is determined to never reoffend.  The other guy had also secured a job and it was with his previous employer who was only too happy to have him back, they are both due for release next year.

 

It’s hard to describe in words but it was there reaction and sentiment and the way they talked, they longed to see their baby girls and longed for next year to roll on where they believe they will be released. You have to imagine a well-built guy who looks at you and tells you his misses the smell of trees it’s a strange experience.

So the whole night was a brilliant experience one of which I am sure not everyone will appreciate or understand. I used to be hardliner 100% thinking prisoners are all awful human beings with no redeeming qualities. I am not saying I now love them and think they are all angels, far from it. But I am more like 70/30% split now. I just hope the guys we spoke to do keep their word and don’t end up back inside and I certainly wish all the guys well in their rehabilitation.