by Helen Martin
Peter Brennan, who has lived on a three-acre block in Kaukapakapa with his partner Karen for the past 20 years, is well known in South Kaipara as a former award-winning restaurant owner and chef and a current real estate salesperson in Helensville. He is also known widely as a keen community advocate and activist, someone who’d rather get things done than sit around bellyaching.
He grew up in a household where his entrepreneur father and peace activist mother encouraged debate about politics and from an early age developed the interest in world and local affairs that has stayed with him all his life. At Orewa College Peter’s dyslexia held him back from achieving academically, but in the years since he left school he has made good use of his prodigious memory and work ethic, clocking up qualifications in several diverse fields.
At 16, leaving school to work for a bank, he studied mercantile banking accountancy through the Bankers Institute before moving to Palmerston North to take up his cousin’s offer to work in her hotel, a job he loved. This led to City and Guilds chef training through Waikato Polytech, where Peter gained distinction for both his written and practical exams. Seven exciting years contract cooking in Europe followed, with Peter honing his skills in restaurants in places like Switzerland, Greece, Spain and Portugal before settling in London, where he worked at prestigious J Sheekey in Covent Garden and L’Escargot in Soho. “It was amazing,” says Peter. “I would cook mains lunch for 150 people each day and I learned to be hyper organised and fast.I thrived on the pressure and the subculture lifestyle that comes with restauranting in London.”
Marriage to a New Zealander and a daughter, Cody, led to Peter settling in Auckland, where his adventures included running Le Bomrestaurant, catering for film shoots and sports events and managing the top Auckland restaurant Ferryman’s. For 10 years he and his new partner Karen owned and ran a garden centre café business, commuting from Kaukapakapa, where they lived with their son Buster. Forced out of that business by crippling RSI, Peter did a freelance journalism course but was drawn back to food, setting up a consultancy helping restaurant owners before taking ownership of Helensville’s Porcini restaurant, which he and Karen owned and ran for ‘seven fabulous years’, winning the hearts of the community and high praise from Metro Magazine, along with beef and lamb awards five years in a row.
Peter’s launch into community activism was prompted when he and Karen, dissatisfied by police response to a big Commercial Rd brawl, much of which took place outside Porcini, formed an action group to address this. They and others were successful in persuading the area commander to re-model Helensville’s policing practice and were subsequently invited to become involved in other community issues. They were delighted with the positive results from their first project, sponsorship of the local Thai kick boxer club, and later through the Health District Trust Peter became involved in what became the highly successful project to transform the former Parakai Tavern into TeWhareOrangaôParakai.
Karen and Peter moved to Kaukapakapaspecifically to lead a healthier life by growing their own food and, after overcoming many challenges, have turned their land into an abundant, hugely productive garden alive with beneficial insects. It’s not surprising then that Peter’s ‘food revolution’ idea to establish a gardeners’ cooperative and a harvest market became embedded in TeWhareOranga’s strategy for growing a healthier community. Peter, who has a deep interest in recycling, has also for the past year been involved in the Helensville Enterprise Trust and is proud that “since August 2015 we have diverted over 280 tonnes (3,500 cubic metres) of rubbish away from landfill,turning the bulk of it into money and jobs.” The Trust ultimately will look to invest in projects to benefit the overall community.
Peter followed Karen onto KARRA (KaukapakapaArea Ratepayers Association) and is now the Chair. So what drives him? “I’m motivated by idiots in power who make stupid decisions and waste my hard-earned tax dollars. I don’t want to sit around and talk, I want to do stuff. For example, KARRA has some really cool projects underway, like our action group set up to pressurise Transit and Auckland transport to connect the Peak Rd village up to the Kaukapakapa village centre, the construction of a playground behind the hall and working with landowner Ant Woodward to establish a greenway pathway between Kaukapakapa and Helensville.”
Peter loves selling real estate because he loves working with people and because the job is solutions-based. He’s lived here long enough to be confident he knows most of the properties from Helensville to Wellsfordand he loves the area. “We moved out here 20 years ago thinking we’d stay five years and now we can’t imagine living anywhere else.I’m in for the long haul with real estate.”
by Helen Martin