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Rama Khalid. (Photo: Supplied; additional design: Tina Tiller)
Rama Khalid. (Photo: Supplied; additional design: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureFebruary 12, 2022

Takeout Kids is a celebration of food and whānau

Rama Khalid. (Photo: Supplied; additional design: Tina Tiller)
Rama Khalid. (Photo: Supplied; additional design: Tina Tiller)

​​​​From kids taking orders to high schoolers navigating classroom presentations, the new fly-on-the-wall doco series Takeout Kids follows four young New Zealanders growing up in their parents’ restaurants or takeaway shops.

What is it like growing up hearing the crinkling of fish and chip paper, the bubbling of frying oil and the jingling of telephone orders? Helping out Mum and Dad by sweeping floors, peeling vegetables and serving customers? What’s it like to see the value of a hard day’s work from a young age? The new documentary series Takeout Kids follows four young New Zealanders growing up in their parents’ restaurants and takeaway shops while attending school, hanging out with friends and juggling everything else.

There’s Rama Khalid, a kid with impeccable manners, even on the jungle gym, and whose parents run Jordanian restaurant Petra Shawarma in Auckland. Model helicopter pilot Brooklyn Jiang is on the cusp of high school – and nervous about it. His parents operate Sunburst Coffee Lounge in Thames. Keen e-sports player John Li, whose parents run Westminster Takeaways in Christchurch, laments that he hasn’t gone to the gym in days. And Martynique Roberts-Saolele, who likes thrifting clothes and whose eyes dart all over her glowing phone screen, works at Samoa’s Finest Island Food in Porirua, which her parents own and operate.

John Li at Westminster Takeaways. (Photo: Takeout Kids/Supplied)

The series is a way of peering into the worlds of people we encounter, but rarely interact with in our day-to-day lives, says director Julie Zhu (East Meets East, Conversations With My Immigrant Parents). “When we go to a restaurant or a takeaway shop or at the supermarket or you see cleaners – I’ve always been interested in what their lives are beyond what we see.”

Zhu, who was born in China and grew up in Tāmaki Makaurau, observed the four families as an outsider – her family never ran a business together. But the phenomenon of kids who hang around restaurants waiting for their parents to finish work is something she relates to. “For a lot of immigrant families I know, especially for lower socio-economic communities, parents do have to work such long hours that the kids are left to their own devices sometimes,” she says. “It’s not neglect, it’s just a different form of taking care of the family. I don’t think the kids ever feel that. That’s just normal life to them.”

Spending so much time with each whānau and being welcomed into their private homes was gratifying, Zhu says. Building relationships with them, including in-person visits, went a long way to easing any suspicions of being filmed for such a long stretch of time. But it paid off – five ten-hour shooting days per family meant the camera was often left running during periods that might have seemed mundane. Then all of a sudden, a phone would ring and the camera would capture a loving call between mother and son, for instance. “They felt like really special moments in these small moments.”

Anyone who’s been a child – ie, all of us – will find something to relate to in these four 15-minute episodes. We watch kids cracking smart jokes and coming across words and concepts they’re hearing for the first time. We watch their frustration at not being good at something, beating themselves up and talking down to themselves. As teenagers, we’re reminded how much those years mess with our bodies, minds and hearts – the stress, fatigue and self-consciousness. Zhu says she can see herself in each of them – the bossiness of Khalid, the shyness of Jiang and the one-syllable responses and teen awkwardness of Li and Roberts-Saolele.

Martynique Roberts-Saolele in the back room of Samoa’s Finest Island Food. (Photo: Takeout Kids/Supplied)

Petra Shawarma’s website reads “Family cooking is our main key here, we cook with passion and love”, and that best reflects what the series shows us – that food brings families, people and communities together, across service counters and around dinner tables. We see whānau not only operating independent food businesses but enjoying food themselves, whether that’s sitting down to plates of steamed vegetables and rice, or buckets of KFC.

Zhu hopes viewers enjoy the series for what it is and what it hopes to encourage: a conversation broader than its subject matter – cleaners finally earning the living wage, migrant youth workers being underpaid or cases of migrant labour being exploited. “Takeout Kids is not just about ‘representation’, but systemic change.”

Takeout Kids will be released in its entirety on The Spinoff on Tuesday, February 15. 

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