Archive for October, 2010

Big, fat and succulent, the escargots of New Caledonia’s Île des Pins are surely the best in the world.


L'escargots de L'ile des Pins

The early French colonists must have thought it was Christmas when they landed on the island and saw these gorgeous gastropods lumbering across the forest floor. The bulime (Placostylus fibratus), with its elegantly conical shell, is much bigger than the petit gris of the Charente, larger even than the prized Burgundian variety. And, unlike most of the snails I’ve eaten, which are more texture than taste, these guys have a subtle meaty flavour that’s evident despite the garlic with which they are served. (more…)

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New Caledonia: Part One

New Caledonia

There is nothing like a trip away to revitalise the culinary repertoire – except perhaps a new cookbook, which would have been a lot cheaper than a week in New Caledonia.

Usually I like to self-cater on holiday – it’s much more fun prowling the markets if you have a reason to buy the produce – but this time it was a hotel holiday and we ate out most of the time.  The restaurants in New Caledonia offer a range of French, Pacific and Asian cuisine – most of it, very good – but after a week of menus I was itching to get back into the kitchen.

Now that I’m home I’ve shaken the sand out of my suitcase and already I’ve been down to Moore Wilson stocking up on the sort of fresh produce that will help me recreate the tropical feel of Anse Vata and the Île des Pins.


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A Blind Date

I’ve just been on my first blind date. The mystery wasn’t the man, it was the meal. We ate in total darkness on Monday night, blindfolded at Capitol Restaurant in Wellington.

The Blind Dining Experience was a fund raiser timed for World Sight Day with proceeds going to cbm – an organisation funding cataract operations in the developing world.

It wasn’t meant to be a comfortable experience but I hadn’t expected to feel quite so disorientated. From the introductory sound of knives being sharpened to the somewhat upsetting experience of missing my mouth with the spoon, my senses were on high alert. Without the visual cues would I be able to guess what I was eating?


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The Molecular Chef

Molecular Chef, by Maddie Tait-Jamieson


Imagine eating something that has taste without texture. I’ve been thinking about this all week – ever since I attended a video presentation on molecular gastronomy organised by the NZ Institute of Food Science and Technology.

Scientist Dr Fabrice Riblet was beamed in to Wellington from his lab in Geneva where he had whipped up a bowl of foam infused with grapefruit. The foam was composed of large bubbles containing so much air they immediately evaporated on the tongue, registering flavour without feeling. Imagine that. And, he continued enthusiastically, imagine if the foam was infused with the essence of smoked ham. Well, I tried to imagine that and figured it would be rather like licking a rasher of bacon that disappeared before I could bite into it. What would be the point of that?

The point, for this scientist and others who work with him on Le Jardin Expérimental, is to use experiments in molecular gastronomy to explain and understand the processes of cooking.


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Food Hero, Ludovic Avril

He may be a Frenchman, his residency status not yet confirmed, but Ludovic Avril deserves recognition as one of the capital’s leading food heroes.

As cheese importer for Le Marché Français, he is the man responsible for supplying Wellington with regular consignments of fabulous raw milk cheese. His first shipment in June marked a relaxation of the cheese rules, and since July we have been able to buy a wide range of hard and soft rinded cheese made from unpasteurised cow, sheep and goats’ milk.

It’s now possible for dedicated cheese lovers to make comparisons with Le Marché’s standard range.Does a raw milk St Nectaire or Brie de Meaux taste appreciably better than its pasteurised counterpart?

Not always, says Ludo, who is happy to enter the debate with his customers at the City Market on Sundays. An ex-banker, he has all the passion of a convert and while he says he is still learning, it’s obvious he is a diligent student. Did you know, for instance, that a true farmhouse cheese from France is marked with a green stamp? It is barely discernable beneath the rind but scrape it lightly and the green circle appears. If it’s red it will have been made by a bigger producer.

Not all the cheese he imports is from France. You will also find Spanish Manchego and Italian Tallegio. The latter is one of my all-time favourite cheeses and one in which the raw milk version has a much more complex flavour than the pasteurised one.

Happily the prices are similar. Despite higher wholesale prices for the raw milk cheeses,  Ludo has reduced his margin to encourage more people to try them. And they are. He is now selling to Moore Wilson Fresh, Gamboni’s delicatessen in Karori and a small number of restaurants in Wellington who are proudly promoting raw mik cheese on their menus.

It’s worth noting that four months down the track, there have been no reports of illness following the consumption of this previously forbidden product. Instead Ludo’s cheese has brought a great deal of joy to food lovers in the capital, a fact Immigration may consider when reviewing his work permit -will he stay or will he go?

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Curly Kale


My friend Jen Scott, a mad keen gardener from Island Bay, gave me some kale from her veggie plot this morning. In fact, she tore off an armful of leaves, stuffed it in a bag and told me to chop it all up and cook it with butter and garlic.

And that’s what I did, except I couldn’t resist squeezing half a lemon over the top before closing the lid on my sauté pan. A minute or two was all it took to wilt the leaves, cooking them gently without losing the fresh green colour and slightly sweet flavour that distinguishes curly kale from other cabbage-like greens.  Then I tossed in some salt crystals and a few grinds of pepper. It was wonderful. Thanks Jen.

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Food Allergies

As restaurant reviewer for Wellington’s Fishhead magazine, I booked a table at Cafe Polo recently. Having taken down a name, number, date and time, the person on the end of the phone asked the now requisite follow-up questions in a tick-the-box sort of way. Did I have any dietary requirements? Was I vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free or afflicted by food allergies of any sort? “No”, I said, “I eat absolutely everything.” He perked up immediately. I think I made his day.

The food-intolerance trend – if I can call it that – is the cause of much private grumbling in the hospitality industry. Private, because restaurants really do try to please everyone all of the time and they wouldn’t want you to think otherwise. It’s why diners are asked upfront if they have any special needs, and why menus are planned and coded with options GF V VG or DF.   Even so most restaurants can relate stories of misunderstandings where a plate has had to be returned to the kitchen because of a misplaced mushroom perhaps, or the overlooked presence of gluten. Sometimes that means meals for the entire table have to be plated up again so that everyone eats at the same time.

So what is happening here?

Are food allergies on the increase, or are we just identifying them more accurately? Are there more vegans/vegetarians out there or are they just more forthright about having their needs met?

Is there something about the gluten in modern strains of wheat, or the lactose in our milk supply that has increased our sensitivity to both? Or are we simply becoming a nation of picky eaters?

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