Lauraine Jacobs

Food & Wine Writer

30 July 2014

NEW ZEALAND"S BEST PIE

We love our pies. We eat them on the road, as a snack, for lunch and dinner, and whenever we are hungry. Our favourite is the mince and cheese of course. Especially when crowned with a buttery flaky pastry top.

Last night at the Bakels Supreme Pie Awards the Supreme Pie of 2014 was the Lamb Cutlet & Kumara Mash pie, baked by Michael Kloeg at his Clareville Bakery in Carterton. A fine example of kiwi food innovation as no two ingredients could be more iconic than NZ lamb and NZ kumara.

Too bad about broadcasters Sean Plunket and Marcus Lush who are so unsophisticated they declared this morning they couldn't even imagine how good this pie might be! I would happily travel the roundtrip to the Wairarapa just to try this pie.

More than 4000 pies were entered and some of this year's more exotic entries included rabbit and wild boar, caramelised rhubarb and wildberry, chilli con carne, spiced duck with bacon, and a ‘cheeky cheese’ slow cooked beef cheek and cauliflower cheese pie.

The gala event at which I was hosted was a bit of a circus; amazing circus antics from some very double jointed artists who had the audience enthralled. The best bit however was to see how humble gold medal winners were when presented with their awards. Many of these superb bakers are recent immigrants and they have truly embraced the Kiwi traditions of baking and are producing many amazing award winning pies. It was a privilege to be there to applaud their success.

24 July 2014

MUSINGS ON DRY JULY

Over the past three weeks I have had one only alcoholic drink. That was yesterday and it was a small glass of Dom Perignon 2004. It would have been extremely rude not to accept that as I was invited to an exclusive preview of the Dom Perignon Room, a new initiative at Clooney. (Very exclusive as there were just six of us.) But I am participating in Dry July so drinking anything much apart from water, tea or the occasional coffee is out for me.

My motivation was not to lose weight (I would go on a diet to do that) nor to wake up with a clear head (I always do that), and neither was it to support the Dry July charity (apart from my own generous donation, of course.) My reason was purely and simply triggered by the sign in the entry foyer at Auckland Hospital I spied while visiting my mother, inviting me to go a month without an alcoholic drink, and hopefully raise a little money to support the gifting of extra equipment and some treats that would make cancer patients lives more bearable. So, yes. I could be that strong!

I have been shocked and hurt by the response from the booze industry. Many who work in wine, spirits and associated promotion seem to have lashed out in wrath like a ton of bricks. It seems they believe their livelihood is threatened, despite the fact only 5,800 kiwis signed up which is a mere fraction of one percent of the two and a half million or more adults of drinking age in New Zealand. Some even suggested we could give up dairy for a month “The Cheese Freeze” or eat no lamb in September “Embaaargo” (sorry Rebecca, lambs of 4 weeks old are too young to eat in September anyway.) How silly. Yet there’s a huge movement called Meatless Mondays headed up by Sir Paul Macartney and family and I have never heard a single person bleat about that.

So I am completely puzzled as to why the poor souls who make our wine, sell hard liquor or produce drinks for public consumption believe their livelihood is threatened by Dry July and have even gone so far as to attack the Dry July Team’s administrative practices (“Do you know where that money ends up?” one critic asked.)

Dry July has not stopped me going to restaurants, not stopped me opening wine for friends and not stopped me buying wines to stock our cellar. But it has enabled me to make a couple of really important observations that I want to share, and believe me this month has really woken me up to:

• Never drive even after one drink.

• And never post anything on Facebook or Twitter after a night drinking, at home or out in the company of others.

(And also thanks to the one anonymous person who donated to DRY JULY in my name!)

24 July 2014

A PUSH FOR FOOD TOURISM

Why does FOOD not have top billing on our tourism agenda? The fastest growing area of any tourism thrust around the world is Food Tourism. Yet New Zealand with some of the world’s freshest and cleanest food and wine, seems to be ever so slowly waking up to the possibilities of promotion.

Ireland (Good Food Ireland) and Ontario (Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance) have long had exemplary programmes to attract and encourage tourists to indulge in the superb eating opportunities. Australia has just announced a major initiative for food tourism which they’ve called Restaurant Australia. So why is our tourism focus on hobbits, thrill seeking adventurers and stunning scenery? When did you last see a tourism posted exhorting traveller to visit for food and wine?

Our food and wine are rarely publicised and rather understated, just like much in the kiwi psyche. We base much of our working economy on the export dollars earned by sending our food products overseas, so why not encourage the world’s food lovers to visit and indulge in our excellent cuisine here in the very place it is grown and harvested.

Elle Armon Jones, an energetic and enthusiastic food lover started a food tourism business in Auckland, The Big Foody. Armon Jones is out almost every day with food tourists as she designs bespoke food tours to showcase the Auckland Region and beyond.

“Clients find me on the web, email with requests for my tours but also want to know everything connected with food. They will pay around S165 per person for five 5 hour tour, and certainly forgo flash hotels so they can spend more in our very best restaurants. They are curious for the stories, the tastes and to experience the food production side of our country,” she explained. “Once they finish my tour they will have introductions to other producers throughout the country, have lists and reservations for the restaurants I recommend and know exactly which specialty foods to look for. I take delight in giving them a ‘braggable’ experience. They return home talking about unique experiences like a visit to the Whangaripo Buffalo farm, seeing the herd being milked and tasting the cheeses, or picnicking on goodies bought at a local farmers market under the shady olive trees at a large olive plantation.”

Visitors to New Zealand also want authentic Maori experiences with genuine activities, so she arranges to gather clams and cook them over an open fire by the beach, helps them make Maori fried bread or spend an hour or two out on a waka in the harbour with a feast to follow. She knows that the dollars tourists spend have a far greater impact when they go direct to local producers. Visitors spend on memorable tastes, unique edible gifts and take the stories home with them.

Armon Jones focussed her sights on bringing the World Food Travel Association’s summit to New Zealand. Working with the assistance of ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development) and NZ Tourism, she has landed the rights to the 2017 conference to be held in Auckland. This will be a serious opportunity to showcase the best food and wine of all our regions.

The time has come for the vision for a food and wine trail to stretch from North Cape to Bluff like the cycle trail currently under construction. Apart from a few places where regional pride in food has established an advertised pathway around the district such as the very good Hawke’s Bay food and wine trail, the Central Otago wine trail, or a stunning fortnight-long event like Wellington on a Plate, we’re hiding our most shining light from the glare of possible publicity. Every region has food specialties and what better to seek them close to where they’re grown – it wouldn’t be hard to create and co-ordinate a blueprint for a trail of all things delicious and to promote that internationally.

This piece was published in the Listener as part of my cover story on Kiwi Kai.

24 July 2014

WHO KNEW? FOOD INNOVATION

A well-designed modern facility in the maze of roads surrounding Auckland airport stands out from the other industrial sheds. It is the Foodbowl, a state of the art resource where our people are leading with some of the world’s food innovation and development projects. With gleaming stainless steel benches, modern high tech equipment, a highly developed security system and access to experts and food scientists, it provides a national web of science and technology resources created to support the growth of food and beverage businesses.

We all hear mutterings of new foods, but the New Zealand Food Innovation Network is forging ahead helping small producers with great ideas to get some clever products into the international and local markets. As Angus Brown, manager of the Foodbowl explained, New Zealand can’t feed the world from our tiny islands, but we can provide premium products that will earn more export dollars than simply exporting the raw materials we grow so well. It is all about adding value and providing the food solutions the world seeks.

Products like the healthful beverages of the Homegrown Juice Company which are raw-cold pasteurised so that taste and nutrition are not diminished and the natural flavours seem to leap from the bottle, or Genevieve Knight’s smooth gourmet pâtés and her latest creamy Mahurangi oyster mousse, Henry McKenzie’s IAMSAUCE, a tasty seasoning sauce relatively low in salt with no additives, preservatives or added sugar and a two year best by date, and the superb Fresh As range of freeze dried fruits have all been developed here. And a host of others as both large and start-up food companies take advantage of the facilities during the development stage of their new and exciting food products.

Additionally there are experts to assist and advise with food safety requirements, documentation, packaging and export marketing. Most importantly confidentiality is guaranteed so that no-one else can gain from the intellectual property that is the result of the development process.

Food Innovation Network, funded by regional councils, central government and Callaghan Innovation, is the umbrella for work being carried out at Food Waikato, Food Hawkes Bay, the Food Pilot at Massey University and the associated Riddet Institute, and Food South Island. Each of the territories and four regional food product development centres has a different focus depending on the needs, maturity, strengths and capabilities of local businesses. Between them, they offer a complementary suite of services. The Innovation Network also works alongside Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to get our value added foods into overseas market - proudly supporting New Zealand grown and made.

1 July 2014

THE GREAT NEW ZEALAND COOKBOOK

The Great New Zealand Cookbook, published this month, celebrates the emerging diversity in our cuisine. Leafing through the pages you will not blanch at the variety displayed in the range of recipes from 80 of our best cooks, chefs and bakers. That’s our food!

Vibrant cuisines of immigrants and travelled chefs have stamped bold influences on the way we eat. Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Greek, Italian, Thai and Polynesian recipes inspire the fare we savour and devour every day.

I am honoured to be part of this book; it is an amazing slice and insight into the contemporary food scene of New Zealand. That's my page and there's no prize for guessing what season my recipes represent.

The team that pout this together are amazing and were such fun to work with. thanks Murray Thom Music for including me!

On sale everywhere now but please buy your copy at your local New World as they have been so generous in support of this terrific project.

1 July 2014

MEREDITHS WITH A CAUSE

It was far too long since I had been to Merediths. But the thought of a special night with a special cause was a no brainer.

Michael Meredith is one hugely talented chef. His food is often quirky and always carefully thought through and delicious. His insistence on the degustation menu was our stumbling block as six or eight courses at night is quite tough when we usually only have one or two courses.

But for now on Tuesday nights, Merediths Restaurant will be supporting the Fred Hollows Foundations through "Dine by Donation" by offering a Four Course Degustation menu (cost by donation only, beverages additional).

So we went to this stunning restaurant last week and had four 'experimental' courses of delicious food. Standouts were the clever play on a Caesar salad and the terrific duck dish pictured above.

The restaurant itself has been refined and I loved the plants, the decoration and the intimacy. A superb evening. Don't miss this opportunity to eat well and support a great cause.

to make a donation: givealittle.co.nz/cause/365eyes

Merediths, 365 Dominion Rd T 09 623 3140

15 May 2014

LOST IN TRANSLATION

“Here’s a recipe that will change your life.” When I read something like that from Amanda Hesser, I take notice. The former NY Times writer (did you see her playing herself in Julie and Julia?) has a website, FOOD52, which is a treasure trove of recipes, food stuff, competitions and really knows how to connect with keen cooks.

The recipe turned out to be, wait for it: Peanut Butter Pavlova. As a New Zealander I was outraged at such a travesty. The pavlova was invented here, and I have previously published the definitive recipe in my Listener food column. Baked often by my mother, it was passed to her by my grandmother who actually baked it for the young Queen Elizabeth when she was on her 1952 tour of the South Pacific (my grandfather grew the strawberries specially.) Peanut butter in this lovely meringue concoction? Poof!

But then I noticed the recipe had been created by Alice Medrich. I love her. I met her at an El Rey chocolate dinner in San Francisco many years ago. She is the queen of chocolate cookery and a great baker. After reading my tweet that expressed such indignation, Alice contacted me. I agreed to bake her recipe before squawking anymore.

But here’s the catch. America, the land of innovation that led the world in techie stuff, and is the mother of most inventions has yet to discover metric measurement. So cooking any American recipe is fraught with difficulties. My oven does not register Fahrenheit, my scales only measure in grams, nobody knows what an inch is any longer and what the hell is a cup? Added to that my own experience tells me that cornstarch is cornflour, superfine sugar is caster sugar, parchment is baking paper, and heavy cream is probably cream. Does everyone know that?

As for peanut butter, Alice told me in a message to use smooth peanut butter, not the sweetened type. Sweeten peanut butter? Yikes! Why? Only in America. I have no idea just how our peanut butter differs from the American stuff, and I was not sure how to measure half a cup, but I boxed on.

I followed Alice’s instructions as well as I could. And they were very clear and precise. But my peanut butter pavlova looked nothing like Alice’s. It crumbled around the edges. I suspect I overmixed the peanut butter into the meringue. I may have baked it at too high a temperature. Perhaps Pic’s peanut butter, made in New Zealand with organically grown Australian peanuts is nothing like American peanut butter? Maybe recipes really do get lost in translation?

But here’s the thing. I took the peanut butter pavolva, topped with cream and persimmon slices in place of strawberries which are no longer in season, to my 91 year old mother. She adored it! She really did. The proof is always in the eating. Go Alice and Amanda!

The peanut butter recipe can be found on the FOOD52 website.

15 May 2014

A TASTE OF CHABLIS

For lovers of good wine, I am going to share a secret.

Last night my husband booked us to a Chablis tasting at Maison Vauron in McColl St in Newmarket. For those who don’t know this culinary destination in the back streets, this may be the fastest way to get to France without buying an airplane ticket. Jean Christophe and Scotty run a little café/wine warehouse where downstairs you can have a coffee, buy French inspired snacks, experience the most amazing selection of French cheeses and feel very Parisien. Upstairs the warehouse is stacked with a huge array of everything good that comes out of a bottle in France – wine! But not the expensive snobby stuff that is waxed on about by Robert Parker. No.

Jean Christophe and Scotty go to France several times a year and find absolute treasures from small producers in a range of prices to suit every good palate without breaking the bank. And they are such neat guys. Every so often they organise tastings like our Chablis tasting.

We worked our way through nine wines. And we learned so much about Chablis. JC is so funny, almost without knowing it. He told us Chablis is the Sacre Coeur of Burgundy – the star that shines above all else just like the famous church does over Paris. We tasted one ‘Petit Chablis’, two ‘Chablis’ three ‘Premier Cru Chablis’ and three magnificent ‘Grand Cru Chablis’ wines. They are priced from $31 to $80 and my favourite was the Denis Race Chablis Grand Cru Blanchots 2011 - a wine I could have happily sipped away on forever.

But there was more! We were served Clevedon Coast oysters in the shell to start, then one warm oyster Florentine topped with champagne sabayon. With the second flight of wines, a very generous portion of flaky ocean fresh hapuku with vegetable julienne. The third flight were the Grand Cru wines, accompanied by fabulous cheese. Oozy Chaource from Burgundy and the wonderfully savoury Comte from the Savoie.

An amazing evening. Get on Maison Vauron’s mailing list for future wine tastings, and in the meantime go visit this little corner of France at 5 McColl St, Newmarket 1023, T 09-529 0157

19 April 2014

HUXTABLE & COCORO

As a food writer and food lover I get to eat a lot, and often. There are some occasions, some dinners that I wouldn’t miss for the world. The most recent was an evening filled with fun, deliciousness and some fine wine. It was a collaboration between two fine chefs; Makato Tokuyama, originally from Japan and now chef at Cocoro in Ponsonby, Auckland and Daniel Wilson, originally from New Zealand and now owner chef at Huxtable in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Daniel invited Makato into his kitchen during the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival to cook an omotenashi dinner.

Perched at the bar, I could see the chefs hard at work. Huxtable, in an area that has fast become trendy since Daniel opened his doors (he has Huxtaburger across the road, one of five sites for his excellent and ever growing custom burger bars) is cosy and small with about 30 seats. The kitchen and bar take up almost half the area and it was incredible to watch the precision and speed of the two chefs, a couple of assistants and skilled front of house staff as they plated and served seven complex, intricate and detailed courses.

First up, an Aussie tiger prawn wrapped in crisp filo, and then an intricate platter of sashimi that included scampi, octopus, trevally, oyster, paua and tuna – wow! so fresh! Next the course in a Japanese dinner that is pure comfort and one of my favourites – the savoury chawanmushi custard that was silken and smooth, with spanner crab and scallop. Following that some Ora King salmon with delicate vegetables and the surprising note of cinnamon.

Then a lovely dashi stock that was a play on spaghetti vongole, crammed with clam and diamond shell clams and the fabulous flavours of nori and shiso. The final savoury course was grilled antarctic toothfish with fabulous veggies and zesty yuzu foam. To end: soy sauce icecream and panna cotta with strawberry, chocolate, praline and some delightful lemon balm cress.

Each course was accompanied by a specially selected sake or wine (loved the Greywacke sauvignon blanc.) It was a seamless performance with such detail on each and every plate. I would love to have the evening all over again. At the very least I know I will dine at Huxtable if I return to Melbourne, and can eat Chef Makato’s food in Ponsonby regularly.

Huxtable: 131 Smith St, Fitzroy VIC, ph 03 9419 5101 Cocoro; 56A Brown St, Ponsonby, ph 09 360 0927

17 April 2014

PERFECT DINNER IN MELBOURNE

Three weeks after our dinner at Attica, Melbourne one of the friends we had shared the meal with commented that he was still awestruck by every aspect of the experience. Attica owner/chef, Ben Shewry, the boy from Taranaki, has become one of the world’s best known chefs amongst those-who-know. He’s respected by the leading names around the globe and was championed by none less than the famous Rene Redzepi of Noma restaurant in Copenhagen. Rightly so!

I hadn’t been to Attica since I organised a dinner there during the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival about six years ago. That had been a great occasion as at the time I was a food editor at Cuisine and I persuaded Martin Bosley to cook alongside Ben. We arranged Cloudy Bay wines, the two chefs each cooked three courses of their own and some Cuisine readers even drove from NSW for that occasion. It was a fun night and the standout was Ben’s seashore dish – briny and brilliant.

This time every single detail seemed brilliant, and the restaurant seemed to have really grown up to become almost a temple of sophistication without any pretension. After a welcome glass of Champagne, we chose to go with the Eight Course Menu with Matched Wines ($305 per person.) Does eight courses sound over the top? Well it wasn’t, as we actually had about sixteen different dishes, plus a smart little pie and an exquisite ice cream, from a cart in the herb garden, served about three fourths of the way through the meal. And that herb garden at the back of the restaurant is devoted to basil – 13 varieties. I’d love to see the full chef’s garden nearby at Ripponlea.

I’m not going to go through a bite by bite account of the meal. We started with seven tiny amuse gueules, each a bite of deliciousness.

We then moved onto the “Eight Courses” and were wowed by the tastes, the textures and the loving care of each and every course. The kitchen at Attica does not torture nor transform food. The chefs get involved in growing the food in that garden, and sourcing the very best seasonal ingredients. Everything is delicate, beautifully conceived and complete with gorgeous herbs.

My favourite courses were the ‘Ten Flavours of St John’s Wort’ – five tiny tomatoes, peeled, slightly cooked and bathed in the most delicious dressing with herbs tips to garnish, ‘Cucumbers, Holy Flax, Sauce of Burnet’ which was the most perfect cucumber salad imaginable, and ‘King George Whiting in Paperbark’ where the delicate fresh fish had been topped with crab and citrus and baked in rolled up tree bark.

Service is seamless and relaxed, everything is utterly professional and there’s almost a hushed tone in the dining room as everyone seems bowled over by the occasion. The only thing I would do differently is to order a bottle of wine I loved and was familiar with, rather than go for the matched wines. They were a fairly esoteric collection, well chosen of course, but I was there for the food and that’s what I really wanted to concentrate on.

And a word of advice. Make your reservation at the restaurant for this sensational dinner well before you book your flights. Tables, especially at the weekend are pretty well booked ahead for 2-3 months!

ATTICA 74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea, VIC. Phone +61 3 9530 0111

PS. That salad in the pic accompanied my beef with cherries course. Detail, detail, detail!