When the stars rise in Blenheim

You Can Walk Bike Drive Or Trolley Your Way To The Plant
You Can Walk Bike Drive Or Trolley Your Way To The Plant

When the sun sets and the stars rise, a little place in Blenheim called The Plant often comes alive.

An Interview with Matthew Hellriegel and Tatiana Märtzová from The Plant, Blenheim - By Ashleigh Barrowman.

Matariki is a time to come together and surround yourselves with whanau and some good kai. It’s a time to reflect on the year that has passed, and think about the year ahead. What have you achieved? What would goals do you have in sight? It’s also a time to remember those loved ones who have passed, and celebrate the friendships you have been blessed with. When the sun sets and the stars rise, a little place in Blenheim called The Plant often comes alive. And it’s the first place I thought of in regard to the spirit of Manaakitanga (hospitality). I’m sure most people in Blenheim would agree, if there was ever a place that welcomed its doors (and arms) wide open, it’s the lovely Matt & Tatiana who have created the music venue The Plant. Their mana for sharing, cooking and providing a space where people can come together is like no other, and before The Plant existed, Blenheim was starved of such a place. I wanted to acknowledge their contribution to this small town, and sit down with them to learn more about how The Plant got started, vegan cooking, and music and what inspires the lovely duo.

Tell me about yourselves, where you are from and how you have you both ended up here?

Tatiana: I’m from Slovakia. I grew up there and got curious and started traveling straight out of university. In my mind, New Zealand seemed so exotic and exciting. It was very high on my priority list. I had thought I’d maybe travel here when I was a bit older but, because of certain circumstances I found myself here way earlier, and I’m glad about that!

Matt: I grew up in Mahakipawa, which is only a forty five minute drive from Blenheim but I never got to know this town until I opened up a coffee shop here with my mum when I was 24. Since then I’ve felt proud of Blenheim and its ability to punch above its weight, or, exceed it’s reputation in many respects.

You’ve both travelled extensively, so what do you think makes NZ food unique?

Tatiana: What makes it unique to me is that NZ is such a cultural melting-pot. Growing up in Slovakia, we ate a certain kind of food in our house – traditional Slovak dishes. Here there are so many options, Asian food, or South American – you could eat food from another part of the world every night of the week!

Matt: Y’know we had a party out in Mahakipawa a while back and the next morning, this guy was rifling around in the bush and dragging things up - explaining what we could eat. At one point he whipped the frond off a Mamaku, and said “Cook this up. Delicious!”. That really opened my eyes. My dad wasn’t too pleased about his Mamaku getting hacked up though!

This guy was rifling around in the bush and dragging things up - explaining what we could eat. At one point he whipped the frond off a Mamaku, and said “Cook this up. Delicious!”.

You are both vegan – how did you make this choice and what lead you down this path? Do you think NZ has a special ability or ease of access to vegan/vegetarian food compared to the rest of the world?

Matt: I moved that way after meeting Tati’ – I had thought my eating habits were pretty good, conscious or whatever, but in reality they were lousy. It was the ethical side which pulled me in originally. Reading up on Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher. Watching debates. Hearing both sides was helpful, and trying to keep myself honest about why I was actually eating meat, rather than just feeling attacked. Essentially, I realised that the only reason I wasn’t vegan was because it wasn’t as convenient as my old habits were, and, as a male, growing up in rural NZ, the fear of going against the social grain was confronting. I try not to get all self-righteous about it - assuming you’re eating in the most ethical way possible just because you’re a vegan is pretty lazy I reckon. I eat almonds, and that comes with its own environmental baggage. Bananas too. Today for lunch I had sushi, which I bought packaged up in a plastic container.

In NZ it’s easy to eat this way if you’re not struggling financially. But it’s easy all over the world. There are supermarkets and fresh food markets everywhere you go. One of our favourite things about travelling was figuring out how to cook with local ingredients. And our budget was about bugger all!

Tatiana: I just became curious, and started asking questions and the answers I got were not always what I expected – it made sense and still makes sense to me to eat this way.

Talk me through the process of making Tempeh. How, Why, Where etc.

Tatiana: Well traditionally tempeh is made from soybeans. It’s a staple of the Indonesian diet. We make our tempeh from other legumes or grains but essentially the steps are the same. They go pretty much like: soak beans overnight, skin if necessary, dry, mill, cook, add a specific tempeh culture, then get them into the incubator to ferment for 36 hours or so. In Indonesia they just grow the tempeh out in the open, so our incubator is basically trying to recreate the Indonesian climate. Being interested in tempeh probably came from keeping an eye out for vegan proteins.

Because The Plant is open intermittently, every time you are open it is a celebration – was this part of your plan? To link food, music and people together every so often that has never become a chore but always a special evening?

Matt: I believe in food and music and community so much! Sometimes it’s easy to take credit for an idea in hindsight. Yes, we wanted to celebrate these things. I think the main reason we open as frequently as we do (2-3 times a month) is to keep the quality of music at a level we are happy with. But also, we don’t want to tire out the locals. Haha, funny you used the word chore! We run The Plant on top of our other full-time work, so we definitely want to enjoy it too! Less frequent shows help with that for sure! On the topic of celebration, we also try to price things in a way so that everybody can partake. That kind of grew out of a punk-rock mentality, y’know, the Fugazi thing - they only charged $5 for shows the whole time they existed. I remember when Prince was doing his solo ‘Piano & Microphone’ tour, and tickets were, what, around $200 or something like that. And man, so many people who love Prince wouldn’t have even dreamed of being able to go see him. And I’m sure it was great and everything, but suddenly there’s a tip that happens, a sort of shift to - “well it was great, but it should have been for $200” y’know. So yeah, accessibly priced food and entertainment, to me, brings things back to their basics. It un-muddies the water. Do you know what I mean? Also, Princes overheads must’ve been fuck all on that tour!!

I believe in food and music and community so much!

You can walk, bike, drive or trolley your way to The Plant

Does this beautiful rhythm to The Plant with its intermittent events reflect your approach to life?

Matt: It helps me to not confront my horrible time management!

Tatiana: I wish there was more of a rhythm to my life!

Being a vegetarian / vegan based menu, are you more conscious of the seasons than ever? I'm assuming you have to be always on the hunt for fresh produce – how do you source this, where from and what planning goes into each event you host here? Where do you get your produce from for The Plant?

Tatiana: I’m definitely conscious of the seasons. I like buying seasonal food. In NZ the Winter isn’t that harsh, so you can still grow a lot of beautiful vegetables, whereas, in Slovakia you can’t grow anything… the ground is frozen! We get a lot from the local farmers market or the Saturday Nelson market, or from Williams’ during the week. It depends which day of the week we put a show on.

In NZ the Winter isn’t that harsh, so you can still grow a lot of beautiful vegetables, whereas, in Slovakia you can’t grow anything… the ground is frozen!

Is there a seasonality to when you will open the Plant based on what food is available or is more dependent on when musicians are available.

Matt: Yeah generally summer is a bit more hectic, I think more muso’s tend to tour more at that time, and definitely punters are keener to get out and about when the weather is warmer. Food-wise it doesn’t make much of a difference – we just keep it local and seasonal!

The Plant is a place full of hospitality, you’ve created something really special. Have you achieved your original vision or has this morphed into something else?

Matt: Thank you so much! I think it’s nice to have a vision in mind, but to leave enough space for the thing to show you what it is. I don’t think you can force it too hard. We try to be kind and support music and food which we believe in. We built up the leaners and a couple of walls from pallets because that’s what we could afford. It’s hard to know what kind of space people will feel comfortable in. We just use ourselves as the gauge.

Some of the stars of Matariki represent the water, earth, ocean, air and the bounty that came from them: could you link something from The Plant to each of these elements?

Matt: Well yeah that’s it eh! Air, water, ocean, earth – that’s what gives us life! Those are the things that gift us food. And then of course there’s music! What a beautiful expression of life!!

The Plant is a place where people come together, share food, music and each other’s company regardless of where they are from or their taste in music (and food) – which is what Matariki also celebrates. Do you consciously try to offer something each event that everyone can enjoy (music and food wise) or do you mix it up to cater to different people each time?

Matt: We think of ourselves first. It’s just easier that way. If we believe in something, we can wholeheartedly shout it out – “COME TO THIS THING THAT WE LOVE!!!” It’s hard to think about what other people might like, or not like. Whenever I try and think “what do people want?” I feel like a sort of sleazy person - all gross, and I get a sore tummy and top of that, I’m wrong about it more than half the time!

Tatiana: I always hope that wherever you’re from or what your musical preferences are that you can come to The Plant and find something to celebrate!

What does Matariki mean to you?

Matt: Usually it reminds me to honour the relationships in my life. Winter has a way of keeping you at home sometimes eh.

Did you get a chance to view the Matariki?

Tatiana: No, unfortunately we didn’t – we should be looking up to the stars more often.

We should be looking up to the stars more often.

Piripi (June/July) means huddled close together and Hōngoingoi (July/August) is being inactive and crouching, due to the cold – what is keeping you busy during this these Winter months?

Matt: Playing music, reading, potlucking, planning shows, writing odd little stories.

Tatiana: Yeah, work and friends and a few hobbies pushed in between

Part of Matariki is to write down your hopes, dreams and aspirations for the year: can you share with me what yours are?

Matt: I think just to keep inspired and be kind, and to be more invested in the conversations I’m having. Less distracted. I’ve been battling away on a music zine. Hopefully that’ll be all dusted soon.

Tatiana: I don’t usually make any sort of New Year resolutions, but throughout the year I hope I can reassess and revaluate where I am and what I’m doing and how I’m feeling. Is there anything I’m missing? Do I need to tilt/twist/bend?

The Plant is an intermittently open hangout with an emphasis on outsider music, vegan food and celebrating local collaboration. You can find out more about The Plant, what is happening next and the two loveliest people behind this beautiful venue on Facebook & Instagram

View more images from The Plant here.

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Words and Images by Kaitaki Collective Member Ashleigh Barrowman- Writer. Natural Wine & Regenerative Agriculture Enthusiast.

Ashleigh has spent the last 4 years working back to back harvests with some of the greats in the natural wine world with the hopes of one day having her own organic vineyard. Normally barefoot and conscious of her ecological footprint, when Ashleigh is not working amongst the vines, she is promoting independent, natural winemakers through Wine Diamonds NZ, including the launch of packaging free wines. In her little spare time, you can find her pottering around her ceramic studio (read: garage) or in the garden, learning more about growing nutrient dense food. You’ll find her over at @smaaashed and working behind the scenes of @Winediamondsnz and @Everydaywine.

Words by eatnewzealand