(Ngâti Kahungunu, Ngûpuhi)
by Helen Martin
Anyone used to a night out at the local RSA will recognise Malisha (Milly) Walker who, with her two employees, prepares meals under the umbrella of her business, Millie’s Kitchen. (Milly was away when the sign was made, which explains the alternative spelling of her name on the board outside the RSA). She has a long connection to the area. When she came here with her family from Auckland as a one-year-old, many in her extended family lived here and her grandfather James Luxford Peeti Walker had been well known as the local dentist. Milly’s stepfather was also raised in Helensville.
Cooking always came naturally to Milly. Her mother Daena was a chef and worked at the Kaipara Tavern and The Kiwi Connection (now closed). While still at Helensville Primary, Milly was cooking family meals “My parents always worked, and I was the oldest, so I did the home duties, looking after my siblings after school and learning to cook early,” she says. While she was at high school, first Westlake Girls, then Kaipara College, she always had a part time job, including working on her father’s recycle trucks and at his insulation business. Her first job on leaving school was also with her father, labouring at Skyrise Apartments in the city, a job she says earned her good money and kept her fit. “The job was to clean up after the tradies. There were nine stories with 30 rooms on each floor, so it was hard work.”
All the jobs that followed involved food. Milly worked in takeaway shops and cafes and ran a takeaway shop in Helensville until her second child was born. She later ran the restaurant at The Parakai Tavern (now Te Whare Oranga o Parakai). “That was a great learning curve. Back then social media wasn’t very big and there was a lot to learn about advertising.” When her partner Jimmy Yakas was off work after being injured playing league for the Kaipara Lancers, Milly worked three jobs, doing Helensville Primary school lunches, Bridgewater Estate wedding food and cooking for Peggy in the RSA kitchen, called in those days The Gold Diggers’ Inn.
When Peggy decided to leave Milly established her own catering business and took on the RSA as one of her clients, happy to be working for herself at last. “I was motivated to get where I am because I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mum,” she says. “Having my business keeps me sane.”
As a caterer her views about food and menus stand her in good stead. “I buy from Gilmore’s and from Sunny’s in Helensville, because people like their food fresh and local. They also like a simple menu, so they don’t have to spend hours deciding what to order. I also know through trial and error that in a small town like this it’s not economical if you get over-complicated.” With a staff base of two permanent workers and two casuals, she now also has some local contracts and caters for private events like weddings and birthdays.
Milly and Jimmy have four daughters. While she has been here most of her life and likes living in Helensville, she says she wants to be out of Auckland one day. “We have a dream of living up north. Jimmy is from the Hokianga, where you can collect all your own food and it’s very relaxed, but there’s no work up there. At the moment we’re happy in a small town where everything’s familiar and we can make a living.”
(Ngâti Kahungunu, Ngûpuhi)