Written by Joanne Barrett
Photography by Lottie Hedley
Little Bird Kitchen on Summer Street in Ponsonby is not just an eatery, an unbakery or a retail products range, it is an innovative plant-based kitchen created by chef and founder Megan May.
What was the motivation behind the quest for Little Bird Organics’ founder Megan May to investigate and deliver alternative, organic plant-based food options? She reveals it was the debilitating food intolerance-related health issues she experienced as a child and in her teenage years that drove her to look for alternative ways of eating. Consequently, in adulthood and as a chef, she set out to craft quality, ground-breaking plant-based food that would not only meet her dietary requirements but also deliver on taste.
Megan maintains that as recently as 10 years ago, organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, plant-based diets were almost unheard of, and what was available generally lacked flavour. There is no doubt her work has been instrumental in pioneering the shift from plant-based food being labelled as bland, tasteless and hippie as she has successfully demonstrated just how delicious, innovative and exciting it can be.
“We share our love of food through our products, our two best-selling cookbooks, our top-10 list recipe app, and educational workshops and events.”
Megan recalls, “Little Bird Organics was almost born by accident. To begin with, I didn’t think we would have much interest and to be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. To my surprise, we had queues out the door; it seemed many people were looking, albeit subconsciously, for what we were delivering.”
Every year since opening, Little Bird Kitchen has consistently made the Top-50 Cafes List. However, Megan says, to be placed in the Metro Top 50 Restaurants List is a whole other ball game, so her decision to open Little Bird Kitchen for dinner Wednesday to Saturday has certainly paid off.
Little Bird Kitchen has expanded into an award-winning eatery and achieved Metro Top 50 Restaurants List within two months of opening for dinner.
With dinners, she says she can be far more fluid and flexible with the menu which seems to have gone down well. The response has been incredible so far. Megan says it still blows her away when she receives positive feedback from people discovering Little Bird Kitchen for the first time.
“There’s a more diverse range of people including more men coming through the doors now than there was in those first few years,” says Megan. “As a mum my heart melts when I see all the ‘little bird kids’ chow down on plant-based burgers, cheesecakes and pakoras. It’s in these moments that I’m reminded why we’re doing this, and I think how much easier my childhood would have been if I could have eaten somewhere like Little Bird. You can find the current dinner menu here.
Megan says she rarely drinks alcohol, but when dining out she found the alcohol-free options often a little boring. For Little Bird Kitchen, the idea was to create non-alcoholic options which tasted just as good as their alcohol-based counterparts by using Ecology & Co. alcohol-free spirits, botanical infusions, cold-pressed juices and superfoods.
“Natural, organic plant-based foods and beverages will be beneficial to the planet, our health and our future.”
Likewise, with the wine, beer and cocktail offerings, only top-quality natural, sustainable and organic alcoholic beverages from producers who don’t use synthetic chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides, make it to the Little Bird Kitchen drinks list.
Much of the fresh produce used at Little Bird Kitchen is sourced locally from Kelmarna Organic Community Gardens located in Ponsonby just a short distance from the restaurant. Working with what is available means the menu changes regularly in response to the day’s fresh produce.
Megan says, “We love to work with whatever is available that week, including wild weeds which end up in our Creamy Wild Weeds Smoothie.”
When it comes to sourcing dry goods, Megan makes no exceptions. Before collaborating with a new company, she thoroughly vets the working practices of that company to make sure all ingredients are ethically and sustainably procured.
Organic wines are made without sulphites, which are often used to preserve and stabilise conventional wines. It is the sulphites that can contribute to headaches and dehydration.
Some wine producers take this one step further using a method of organic farming known as biodynamics. It means they look at the vineyard as a natural ecosystem, use only traditional slow farming practices and concentrate on the quality of the soil in which to grow the grapes. Biodynamics also extends through to the winemaking process where, rather than use the addition of yeast or acidity adjustments, wine producers allow the fermentation process to occur, naturally.
“We cannot afford to keep pumping chemicals into our environment and expect both the ecosystem we rely on and our bodies to just deal with it.”
Organic farming helps support and nurture our environment and ecosystem, whereas conventional farming and intensive horticulture that we know is having a detrimental impact on our waterways. Some areas in Pukekohe are now too toxic for any housing to be built – the damage speaks for itself.
“So, choosing organic whenever possible is important,” says Megan. “Not only is organic produce better for our health by being naturally more nutrient dense and free of harmful chemicals, it is also better for the long-term health of our environment and ecosystem.
“If New Zealand focused on organics and low-input farming, making real organic wholefoods available for everyone, we would be healthier and more productive as a nation, thereby reducing the cost of our health care considerably.
“Ultimately, if through Little Bird Organics’ food and beverage offerings we can make someone truly happy and inspire them to lead a healthier lifestyle for both their family’s health and the health of the planet, then we are contributing something positive to this beautiful country.”
Visit the Little Bird Organics website here.