Lauraine Jacobs

Food & Wine Writer

15 November 2014

ARTDEGO 2014

Every picture tells a story. Above 'The Big Breakfast' - a collaboration between chef Ian Harrison of CLooney and Stafford Allpress an artist from Geraldine who makes miniature works with everyday objects. It was one of five courses of this year's ARTDEGO, organised by the very talented Courteney Peters of Gather and Hunt and a huge team of equally innovative and talented friends.

It was the third ARTDEGO, and possibly the best, and most challenging to date. Set in the stunning Auckland Art Gallery, an evening of art, food, drinks and amazing experiences unfolded.

First the clever, clever canapés in the foyer by Liam Fox were paired with Rogue Society gin cocktails by Laura Lopez (loved the Shimmering Cloud with Asian aromatics and grapefruit bitters. Then we were seated upstairs, performance artist Ryan Ballinger ran 10,000 metres on a treadmill while we were sustained with plastic tubes of oats, liver, green pea, apple & honey and a dry sherry. This is not art as I knew it - pretty challenging in every respect of the word!

The pic above was ...... to be continued...

5 November 2014

EATING WITH RUTH REICHL IN AUCKLAND AND CHRISTCHURCH

And now for something completely different. Everyone always asks me what’s new, where’s good to eat and what my favourite places are. But when the world’s most well-known food critic arrives in New Zealand what am I to do and where should I take her?

Imagine being charged with the responsibility of eating around the town with Ruth Reichl. Reichl is an author, an editor, a blogger, is deeply caring about the future of food and was here in Auckland to speak at events organised by the Auckland Writers Festival and to attend WORD, the literary festival in Christchurch. She’s the ideal dining companion; gracious, witty, erudite and loves food.

“I want to eat as much as I can,” she told me a month before she arrived, and so it was agonising to have to make the decisions where to eat, especially as we have so much good food in Auckland. I decided to avoid fine dining, even though I would happily have led her to The French Café, Sidart, Michael Meredith’s, The Grove and Clooney – all exemplary restaurant around our city. I would love her to have had the simply delicious food at The Engine Room, but it was closed for a winter break. And call me a chicken, but I was a bit too scared to invite her to my house as my last attempt to cook for an American celebrity, the late and revered Charlie Trotter had seen some very tough lamb on the table. I did not want to risk a country’s primary industry with the former New York Times food critic.

So the first night Ruth was in town we went to The Depot in Sky City’s Federal St. Al Brown ate with us and I can affirm he is a generous and gracious host. As the oysters and clams arrived immediately from the raw bar, he plied us with champagne and explained his aim for that restaurant was to recreate the feeling of the Kiwi bach. And he has. It is casual, unpretentious, lively and the food never seems complex or fussed around with. I would go as far to say that he has distilled the essence of New Zealand.

The oysters won Ruth over immediately and oysters became a theme in almost all our meals. “I love your oysters!” she said, “they are briny, firm and taste of the sea. They are the only oysters I have ever had that you really want to chew.”

We ate lots. We drank lots. Ruth loved Al’s pastrami, carried in from his Federal Deli next door, and high points were the sticky seasoned lamb ribs, a fabulous cauliflower salad and tuatua fritters. And that lovely Millton chenin blanc. It was the sort of good night that you go home very happy and then have to plumb the depths of your mind next morning to remember everything you ate and drank. Such fun and so good.

Next: Lunch on the deck at Soul, on a calm, sunny day. It doesn’t get much better than this and the sassy owner Judith Tabron completely charmed Ruth Reichl. Jude really knows restaurants and the pair shared tales of the food scene in both Los Angeles and New York. Oysters again, of course. Amazing kingfish and amazing scampi. All sweet and so ocean fresh they almost swam to the table. But for Ruth, it was Soul’s pasta dishes that really knocked her out. I was in heaven with the rags of pasta garnished with scampi and an intense scampi bisque, while Ruth was still talking about the pumpkin filled pasta pockets five days later.

Our final Auckland dinner will come as no surprise to Ponsonby residents. As I collected Ruth from The Langham she told me she was exhausted. (I was too.) But a welcoming glass of sparkling sake at Cocoro proved to set the world right. Chef Makato excelled himself with his degustation menu.

Oysters to start. A Bluff oyster freshly shucked sat beside a Kaipara oyster. A wonderful contrast and just the ticket. Sashimi of alfonso and FARMED tuna. (My capitals there as had we been served ocean-caught bluefin tuna Ruth would have been embarrassed. She eats ethically, wherever she goes. So this fish, flown in from Japan impressed our guest.) Another nice touch on the sashimi course – the freshly grated wasabi grown in our South island.

I knew Ruth was a fan of Japanese food and had recently been on a very swish trip to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, as I had followed her eating adventures on Twitter. (She has reinvented the art of the tweet with her imaginative and evocative tweets that almost always use the maximum 140 characters.) So I had confidence that this Japanese dinner, cooked by the effervescent Makato would be superb yet simple. It was.

The freshest of fish from Leigh Fisheries, some superb organic foods from Japan, a stunning chawanmushi, and perfect kingfish and pikopiko tempura served with seaweed, buckwheat soba grains and an intense miso scented broth.

The meal, with a couple of well selected sakes was the perfect end to Ruth Reichl’s (and mine for a while) eating adventures in Auckland.

But there’s more! Her next stop was Christchurch. I was there too, as I had been invited to interview Ruth on stage at WORD. Post-earthquake Christchurch moves forward like a snail but at least there are no longer any ‘no go’ zones. The Transitional Cathedral where our session was held is very impressive. Our conversation was a delight as we ranged through our worlds of food which hold many intersections.

And ta-daa! We had three good meals together. I include them here as it is always good to know just where to eat in another city.

King of Snake is a trendy Asian fusion restaurant very close to the city centre in Victoria St. Spicy dishes are the boost you need when everything around you seems chaotic or even depressing. I am happy to recommend the platter of oysters, sweet clams with XO sauce, spicy prawns in a stunning sauce and a fresh vegetable stir fry accompanied by, as Ruth remarked, ‘a bowl of excellent proper rice.’

Two new places we ate at embody the spirit of the city as it renews and reinvents itself. The first is an intriguing use of a recycled brick building in High St, known as Brick Farm. Surrounded by urban gardens to supply the kitchen, it is open for a simple breakfast on weekends, and offers delicious dinner in the evening. It is charming, rustic and personable.

And cannot speak highly enough of Shop 8 in New Regent’s St. The brainchild of Liz Phelan and chef Alex Davies, it is a tiny place with an impressive fit out using furniture and art from Rekindled. All the materials are recycled from material found in the city. The wooden tables were decorated with flowers foraged from abandoned nearby gardens. We ate the ‘taste of everything’ on the menu, including pig head ramen, chicken liver pate and hearts with radishes fried in duck fat, and a sustainably caught terakihi with oyster and shiitake mushrooms in an intense broth. And three perfectly ripe pieces of cheese to end as Davies confessed he does not like making dessert. Ruth’s comment, “This young chef has a huge future.”

A compliment like that from the queen of food doesn’t get any better. And how lucky was I to share those meals, and how lucky are we to have fine New Zealand fare like this to share with visitors.

13 September 2014

EXPERIENCES BEFORE YOU DIE

Last night, a dinner that added to the rich cauldron of eating experiences my life has dished up. A tiny jewel of a restaurant in a narrow cobbled lane in the historic Portuguese town of Evora is where Domingo Canelas and his wife Florbela cook for just ten diners at lunch or dinner, five days a week. No reservations so we arrived at 6.45pm to claim our place in a small queue.

Seated at the counter, with a wall of wine to gaze at, the evening was personal, exciting and friendly. Very like a true experience in a backstreet secret sushi place in Tokyo. The chef does not speak English but a real rapport is established immediately. He suggested what was good and that sounded perfectly good to me

We ate thin slices of dark rosy pate negra ham, roasted mushrooms filled with local olive oil and crunchy salt, then shared a stunning whole grilled sea bass with a simple salad of tomatoes, cucumber and finely sliced white onion. A glass of white wine for me, red for him. To finish, a Portuguese custard tart for me and fresh sliced mango for Murray. Perfectly simple but breathtakingly delicious.

But for me this experience reinforced just what a new book I have contributed to is all about. 1001 Restaurants to Experience Before You Die is due out at the start of October. The restaurants are chosen for their authenticity, their food (of course) but above all for the special experience they deliver. Botequin da Mouraria is one of those places. A genial host, simple fine fare and an unforgettable atmosphere.

There are 13 New Zealand restaurants in this book which reaches around the world. You may never get to Evora but we do offer heart stopping dinners at home in NZ too! I will surprise and delight you hopefully with my choices - just as I was surprised and delighted last night.

11 September 2014

EATING ADVENTURES WITH THE ODD WINE OR TWO

Presently I am in Portugal. I have survived the most amazing week in Beaune.

I was with an intimate group of eight fellow wine and food aficionados, led by the remarkable Richard & Lynley Bunton from Dunedin. They took us on a journey through the Burgundy region, savouring and devouring everything that is worthy in that remarkable region.

Highlights were a 90 minute exploration of the historic Hospices de Beaune museum ( I am not a museum lover but this, led by local guide Annie, was spectacular and I hung on every single word Annie uttered), a wine tasting of three grand Crus in the vineyards they'd grown in, and some spectacular meals in the fine restaurants of Burgundy accompanied by more great wines than I thought it possible to drink in a night.

Foie gras, gougere, Abbaye Citeaux and Epoisses cheese, tender lamb, rich flavoursome beef, desserts to die for, girolles and other mushrooms, truffles, langoustines, tomatoes at their peak with burrata, jambon persille, and not much salad!

Perhaps best of all was a 25 km cycle trip on the route des Grands Crus and a superb cooking lesson and lunch at The Cook's Atelier with Majorie Taylor.

Please go to my Facebook page for the photos and much more.

22 August 2014

GIAPO ICE CREAM QUEEN ST

It is not often, in fact never before, that I get a press release and rush to post it on my blog.

I am usually an early adopter but for some reason, the amaaaaazing Gianpaolo and Anna Rosa of Giapo Ice Cream in Queen St Auckland had not been in my sights. What a culinary crime on my part.

These guys are geniuses and not only is their work stunning, their philosophy of fresh, organic seasonal ingredients is pure and admirable. So don't expect to see summer fruit flavours right now, nor will you get grapefruit in March! The texture, the taste, the edginess of their ic ecream is stunning.

And now this. An All Black ice cream creation for this weekend's Bledisloe Cup. Perfect!

You can get Giapo ice cream at their store adjacent almost to the entrance to the Civic Theatre on Queen St. Just look for the queue and join it. Just do it!

16 August 2014

IMPROMPTU PART ONE

Open the fridge, scour the pantry, twenty minutes later; lunch!

I love cooking at the beach, even if it is winter and there's slim pickings in the farmer's market until the weather get warmer (and drier.)

This was our lunch today. A riff on the Genoese classic, cappon magro. Traditionally this is a cold seafood dish, cooked as a Christmas treat. Italy is weathering winter around late December so this is appropriate for mid winter in New Zealand.

Carrots and cauliflower star in the dish. So that's where I started. There's no need for exact quantities. I included a small cauliflower, chopped and blanched and about half a dozen baby carrots, halved and blanched. I layered these with an assortment of lettuce and mesclun leaves plucked from my pot plants, one large acid free tomato chopped, two hard boiled fresh free range eggs from Jenny Quayle at Matakana Farmers market, a chardonnay vinaigrette with freshly chopped mint.

The piece de resistance? A tin of ALBO pulpo - delicious octopus in a salty olive oil which I always keep in my pantry. (Sabato import). YUM!

31 July 2014

INNOVATIVE FOODS

I love meeting new food producers, tasting new products and seeing old friends. I went to the food show today and my first stop was the Auckland on the Menu precinct. Huge congratulations to ATEED for pulling this showcase together and assisting some of our local innovative food heroes to put their products to the market under their organisation.

Do not go past that area without checking out Greg and Kath of Salumeria with their new pork and leek sausages, the fabulous Tringhams of Curious Croppers with their amazing pasta sauce they have created with Sean Connolly’s help, Rob and Lisa Hay of Mahurangi Oysters, Genevieve’s stunning mousse she has made with their Mahurangi Oysters, the Black Garlic Aioli made by four young enterprising students from Manurewa High School, Dollop, Hot Samoan Boys and so much more. Here are my top picks of the show:

Best of the Show:

• The brand new West Coast Cocoa Merchants. Everything was fantastic from the packaging and the presentation of the booth, through to the totally knock-out cocoa to the flavours of silky rich chocolate drinks and The Chai. The Chai. The Chai. I loved it all. My top pick of the year.

More Great Stuff:

• Salumeria Fontana’s pork and leek sausages – the most meaty, flavoursome, sophisticated sausages ever.

• Chantal Organics four flavours of tahini, their new rice syrup, some amazing peanut butter and organic kale powder, ready for your smoothies.

• Satya’s new Indian spice range; the picks for me were the dark roasted cumin and their garam masala mix, ready to grind in a purposeful jar.

• Heilala Vanilla Virgin Coconut Oil – more coconutty flavour than every other coconut oil

• Giapo tiramisu ice cream – smooth, creamy and brimming with the very best ingredients. The stuff of dreams.

  • Genevieve's new Creamy Mahurangi Oyster mousse - sublime on thin hot toast. This woman does everything so well!.

• Urban Bakery’s Ginger and dark chocolate cookies

And it was also good to catch up with Wilcox potatoes from Pukekohe, the happy team from Uncle Joes with their Walnut oil of Marlborough and other newly awarded oils they’d claimed in a London exhibition, Cloudy Bay clams, genuine organic Urban Hippie miso from Nelson, and full marks to the Heritage who had their chef Jinu Abraham cooking the remarkable raw and vegan food you can experience in the hotel. Loved his raw cocoa nib truffles!

And don’t miss the food from Brazil and all the lovely folk on the large Korean foods stand. And stop by and chat with the guys at Taste mag, Food mag, the Healthy Food Guide and the effervescent talented Mike McHugh of Mindfood.

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.