There is no doubt Ryan Fong had his five plus a day growing up.
The 25-year-old chef and entrepreneur is the son of successful market gardener Allan Fong, owner of The Fresh Grower, and is the third generation to grow vegetables on the family-owned plot.
Having trained and worked as a chef, Ryan, the face behind Ryan’s Kitchen, is now making a name for himself serving up fresh and healthy meals from his food truck at various events and locations around Auckland.
Ryan will be cooking for hungry visitors at the inaugural Taste Franklin Festival on Saturday March 21.
With support from principal sponsor Bayleys, the festival at Karaka Sports Park will be a celebration of the region’s artisans, food and drink producers, growers, anglers, butchers, brewers and wine makers.
Bayleys South and East Auckland general manager Raymond Mountfort says it is about time the hard working producers of the Franklin region are celebrated.
“Now more than ever people are becoming more conscious of where their food comes from and for many Aucklanders, and even further afield, a large portion of it comes from Franklin.
“Taste Franklin Festival is about giving these producers a platform to show their wares and that there is a smiling local face behind the food and drink they consume,” Mr Mountfort says.
Ryan’s grandfather pioneered the business in 1948 when he began growing a select range of crops on a 12 hectare holding of Pukekohe land.
Allan left school at just 16 to take the helm and, together with his younger brother Colin they have grown the business to supply produce nationwide to Farro Fresh, Nosh, MyFoodBag and a long list of top restaurants. Recently they have expanded to Hong Kong and air-freight fresh produce twice a week.
Despite what people might think, Ryan says he wasn’t a typical grower’s son.
“Dad used to work really hard and long hours and so I was looked after by my mum and sister.
“Mum was always cooking hearty meals; lasagnas, soups, cakes and always using fresh vegetables. Her father was a chef and that was a big influence on me,” Ryan says.
From age 11, Ryan attended cooking school and it was there he says he discovered his passion for food.
After graduating from AUT, Ryan worked in kitchens both here and overseas before making a return to Pukekohe to join the family business.
Fertile volcanic soil at the family farm helps the Fongs to produce a range of specialty lettuces and Asian greens, bellaverde or sweet-stemmed broccoli, kale, fennel and baby leaf mixes.
The family takes pride in every lettuce and stem bearing The Fresh Grower label and advocates for sustainable growing methods and biological pest controls.
Ryan uses The Fresh Grower produce in his dishes and is fast earning a reputation for his innovative approach to healthy eating.
“A lot of market garden businesses they just grow veges, sell to the market and never really see the end result. I am trying to have a different take on it and show people how to fully appreciate fresh produce,” Ryan says.
The United Nations has labelled 2014 as the ‘Year of the Family Farm’, a treasured Kiwi institution that is one of many things to be celebrated at Taste Franklin Festival next year.
“Franklin, it’s where I’m from and this festival is a great opportunity for people to see that they don’t need to venture far from their own back doorstep to get the best fresh produce,” Ryan says.