On a quiet corner in Thorndon, a lovely leafy and genteel part of the city of Wellington, you will find the Indus Restaurant and Bar.
It is just a few minutes drive from Premier House, the official residence of the Prime Minister of New Zealand.
One of the specialties of the Indus is their saag and Indian cheese curry.
It is the favourite dish of the new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who at 37 years of age has just completed her first hundred days in office and whom opinion polls tell us is not just the youngest, but the most popular democratic leader in the world.
In Australia I have to think all the way back to Bob Hawke to remember such an unusual conjunction of the words “popular” and “leader”.Jacinda Ardern and partner Clarke Gayford. (60 Minutes)
Despite often dealing with folk only a little less popular than typhoid, in the interest of the story journalists must sometimes ingratiate themselves.
So with my interview in mind I did visit the Kiwi PM’s preferred Indian restaurant to savor what I had learned was her favourite dish.
I have in common with the PM a love of the cooking style of the northern Punjab.
In particular I relish the saag dishes, which turn the unappetising childhood dish of spinach into a delight.
At home I now grow a tonne of the stuff that caused me so much misery as a kid.
At the Indus I tried the PM’s favourite saag and cheese dish and it was fabulous.Ms Ardern gives reporter Charles Wooley a tour of Premier House. (60 MinuteS)
I also felt obliged to try the lamb saag, the beef and the chicken.
It wasn’t so much “currying favour” as establishing some common ground, which I thought might help break the ice in tomorrow’s interview.
For a political profile we need a certain engagement. If the interview has no warmth, neither has the story.
In Australia I tend to deal with somewhat semi-frozen political leaders who fear de-frosting in case they might appear human; they really shouldn’t worry.
As you have seen, my culinary preparations were completely unnecessary though certainly were not wasted.
As it turned out New Zealand’s new young Prime Minister is so warm, charming and natural I need not have worried but still in return for my arduous efforts, dining on the front-line of journalism, Jacinda Ardern rewarded me with a funny story.
On their first night in the official residence the young couple, Jacinda and her TV star husband Clarke Gayford decided they wanted their favorite Indian food.Ms Ardern is expecting her first child in June. (60 Minutes)
Unless there is an official function the PM and family do their own cooking, so Jacinda and Clarke opted for takeaway.
They rang the Indus and made their usual order of saag paneer, the spinach and Indian cheese dish with all the usual trappings.
The dish is best eaten with naan bread and some chutney on the side.
At the end of ordering the restaurant asked for the delivery address. Jacinda ingenuously replied, “Premier House”.
It says a lot about this straightforward, down-to-earth PM that it never occurred to her that in the free world ordering takeaway to the White House, number 10 Downing Street, the Lodge or even Premier House may not be the most natural thing on earth.
She was even mildly surprised when the order never turned up. The restaurant thought it was a hoax.
That story says much about why Jacinda Ardern is so loved in her own country and why visiting journalists from less favoured lands fall head over heels in love with her.
Her present approval rate is around 70 percent and with the whole nation on “baby watch” I imagine it can only rise.
After June, having a baby in the official digs and a glamorous “first bloke” to look after him/her (she wouldn’t tell me) won’t do any harm to her personal ratings.
As we know only too well in Australia, it is often just too hard for women in politics.
In NZ perhaps this is where the PM’s baby is a political clincher and equaliser.Mr Gayford, Wooley and Ms Ardern bonded over a shared love of Indian cuisine. (60 Minutes)
There has been a lot of carping criticism from Jacinda’s male political enemies, questioning, “how can you be a mum and run the country?”.
In fact I think the Tories are on a loser here.
Half the population is mothers and the other half has mothers.
They know the question should be the other way around: “How you can run the country and still be a mum?”
The PM plans to take only a few weeks off after the birth and then it’s back to running the country.
This is of course where Clarke Gayford, the first bloke, comes in.
He is going to give up the fun of producing his TV fishing programme in order to fulfill fatherly duties.
How much will the magazines both sides of the ditch love that story?
I reckon those popularity ratings will remain high for the cool modern family in Premier House.
And saag paneer will become the national dish.
For more on 60 Minutes, head to: https://www.9now.com.au/60-minutes/2018/extras
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