Archive for the ‘Food Events’ Category

The celebratory dinner hosted by the French ambassador Florence Jeanblanc-Risler in Wellington on Monday night (21/3/16) was everything I love about French dining. Beginning with an aperitif and polite conversation, we moved to tables graciously set with a regiment of silver, and proceeded to work our way through an elegant procession of dishes representing the best of French cuisine.

The occasion was the launch of Goût de France, an annual event (now in its second year) that celebrates French gastronomy in various restaurants worldwide. It’s all about honouring the legacy of the greats – we toasted Carême, Escoffier, Vatel, Brillat-Savarin – and recognising the techniques and ingredients that remain the backbone of contemporary French cuisine.

In New Zealand eight restaurants are combining local ingredients with French inspired recipes this week (commencing 21/3/16) – Hippopotamus, Jano Bistro and Whitebait in Wellington. Bracken in Dunedin. Hopgood’s in Nelson, Kazuya and The Grove in Auckland, and Pacifica in Napier.

Each will bring their own style to the event. The Wellington menu  was fairly traditional, as befits an embassy occasion. The ambassador’s chef Fabien Le Gall worked with former embassy chef Veronique Sauzeau (now Le Marché Francais) and Laurent Loudeac (Hippopotamus Restaurant) on a six course menu beginning with consommé and ending with chocolat. French and New Zealand wines accompanied each course.


Entrée of salmon, three ways

Laurent’s signature dish of Aoraki salmon served trois façons (ie, confit, tartare and wood smoked) was followed by a classic pot au feu (tenderly poached filet de boeuf in bouillon with ‘forgotten’ vegetables and a dash of truffle oil). It came with toasted walnut bread that was slathered with bone marrow and salt crystals – it was the perfect rustic counterpoint to the refined bouillon and I confess I had to dunk it. Discreetly, I think.


Pot au Feu, filet de boeuf

The dessert was a degustation of chocolate – crowned for me by a dark chocolat ganache with a sliver of candied orange peel.

The cheese course was magnificent: an oven baked Mont d’Or with sautéed oyster mushrooms and crispy fried parsley to garnish.


Baked Mont d’Or, Vacherin

We  broke through the crust and took it in turns to spoon the melted cheese on to our plates. It was unctuous. No one does cheese like the French.  Ripe and savoury, sensual, sophisticated – it was un vrai goût de France.


…the end.

Read Full Post »

Beervana 2014 took place in Wellington over the weekend. My son and brewing buddy, Jimmy, and I went along to represent NZ Life & Leisure in the Media Brew competition. After letting his stomach settle, he wrote up the following guest blog.


Jimmy and Anna outside the Panhead stand

My usual experience of the Westpac Stadium concourse is the traditional half-time queue for hot chips and Tui, served in paper punnets and plastic bottles. It goes well with a game of rugby – and the concourse can be a welcome break from the swirling stadium wind – but it’s hardly a taste sensation.

So it was a welcome surprise to walk in through the ticket gates on Friday and be confronted with a fairground of elaborate and colourful stalls set up the country’s craft brewers (and a few from overseas).

Beervana has been going on for a little while now – 13 years in fact – but this year was my first one. Getting the chance to help out Mike Neilson of Panhead in the Media Brew competition was the perfect opportunity. By opening day, we’d brainstormed our spring-themed entry, brewed the beer, done the photo shoot for Life & Leisure, and even come up with a suitably automotive name for our ewes milk wheat beer: Lamb Chopper. I just hadn’t tried it yet.

But before sampling our creation, there was a festival to check out.

A Taste of Portland

Down one end of the concourse, behind some tall black drapes, was the Taste of Portland seminar.  This year, Beervana brought over three brewers and a chef from Portland, Oregon to run a bar and a beer and food seminar, hosted by John Holl, author of the American Craft Beer Cookbook and journalist for the seminal publication, All About Beer. (When John saw my Life & Leisure media pass he said, “That’s a nice name for a magazine. Mine’s better though.”)

Ben Love, from the Gigantic Brewing Company, explained that the city of Portland is actually known as “Beervana”. There are 57 breweries in Portland and 77 in its wider metropolitan area – all that for a city about the same size as Auckland. Ben explained that in Portland turning up at a party with craft beer is the norm and that Portlanders know and frequent their neighbourhood breweries.

Each brewer presented a beer, along with a matching dish prepared on-stage by the chef.  My pick of the three was the Nova Pacifica, brewed in collaboration between Commons Brewery and Tuatara. The two ends of the Pacific came together in the mix of Nelson Sauvin hops and Oregon Meridian. It was a fresh, fruity and strong ale – Commons are known for their Farmhouse Saisons – and went down well as the first drink of the day, accompanied by a Kingfish salad.

The craft beer market in the States is booming, but fierce competition for taps keeps the brewers innovating. So, what’s next in the world of craft beer? Joe Casey, of Widmer Brothers, predicts the rise of lagers. Hopped-up pale ales have ruled the craft beer world for long enough: “Sometimes people want a beer that’s not going to rip their tongue off when they drink it.” The goal is to convince people that lager is more than just a mild, crisp beverage that comes in a green bottle.

On the Concourse


The Garage Project stand was one of the most popular

The concourse was really starting to hum by the time the Portland seminar had wrapped up. Many of the breweries had decided to launch new beers or create special releases for Beervana so there was a lot to try. The focus of the festival meant that brewers (and the beer-enlightened drinkers) were eager to push the boundaries further than the supermarket chiller allows. Some of the highlights for me were:

  • Garage Project’s Two Pot Flat White, a double-poured beer made up of a bottom layer of rich coffee-flavoured stout and a separately-poured, heavily-frothed head, topped off with chocolate sprinkles

    Two Pot Flat White

  • The sour beers on offer (a new flavour for me), including 8 Wired’s potent Wild Feijoa nine-and-a-half-percenter and, perhaps more sessionable, Hallertau’s NZ Wild Ale media brew entry
  • The effort that went into the stands: a Tuatara smashing its way out of the gable of a weatherboard shed, the Aro Street garage projected in grey-scale on concourse walls and, this year’s undisputed best stand, the Panhead “beer and tattoo” parlour with its dentist’s chair and resident tatooist, Simon Morse
  • And when you needed something to line the gut, the food on offer was a step above the stadium’s usual pie+chips combo – I’ve heard the pulled pork from Grill Meats Beer was a highlight for many, but I can’t imagine a much better match for craft beer than the pork buns, hot off the spit, from Big Bad Wolf.

The Media Brew


The most adventure to be had was down in the Harbour Zone at the Media Brew bar.  There were some truly weird creations. ParrotDog added lamb bones to the boil to create their Dogbone and topped it off with add-your-own fresh thyme. The beer’s bark was probably worse than its bite: it had the deep brown colour of gravy but its taste was more subtle than I expected. Monteiths chose sweet over savoury. Their creation was labelled Raspberry Lamington Wheat Beer and tasted like someone had been particularly generous with the raspberry milkshake syrup.


Milk on tap

But the beer I’d been itching to try was our Lamb Chopper. Poured in the glass, it had the pale cloudiness of a wheat beer and the citrusy hop aroma matched the spring theme. On the palate, the spicy, clove flavours kept the beer interesting. But what about the secret ingredient, the ewes milk? The beer, fortunately, didn’t taste milky beyond a slight sweetness and a lingering coating on the inside of my mouth after I finished my first mouthful – just like you get when you drink a glass of cold milk.

Lamb Chopper didn’t win a prize (robbed!) but the judges enjoyed its colour, cloudiness and farmyard nose. The bottled special edition is currently being rolled out, finished with a drawing of a ram on a motorbike by Simon Morse (the tatooist). Thankfully, it’ll be in bars soon – I haven’t been weaned off it yet.

Read Full Post »

Only two sleeps until Beervana and the launch of what I’ve been excitedly calling ‘my beer’. It is in fact a collaboration between Panhead Custom Ales and NZ Life & Leisure magazine, one of twenty-five entries in Beervana’s hotly contested Media Brew competition. I’ve been itching to take part – “pick me, pick me!” – since the event started some three years’ ago. This year, I was not only one of the chosen but I was able to pick my brewer. I entered the event with my son Jimmy (my homebrew partner) and I opted for MIke Neilson at Panhead because his Upper Hutt brewery is a driveable distance and because Jimmy and I really like his beer. I’ve written Mike up in the next issue of NZ Life & Leisure (Sept/Oct) in an article about my – I mean our – beer.

Jimmy at Panhead

Jimmy at Panhead

The ground rules of the competition are reasonably open to creative interpretation. The theme changes each year – this year’s it’s Spring – and the brew must include an “intrinsic New Zealand ingredient”. Last year’s winning beer contained red, white and green jet planes; this year I’ve heard rumours of karengo, sea water and horopito. Our own brew is now kegged up and ready to go, so – having managed to keep it a secret so far – I’m ready to spill the beans.

The process began several weeks ago with a brainstorming session that culminated in the idea of Spring lamb. Mike immediately got carried away with the idea of making molecular spheres that, when dropped into the beer, would release the essence of slow roasted lamb. Well, that was never going to happen – it was far too outlandish and hideously complicated – so we abandoned the idea of making a beer that would taste like lamb and decided instead to make a beer that a lamb might drink. (more…)

Read Full Post »

It seems disloyal to rave about Aussie craft beers from my home in the beer capital of New Zealand but full credit to the brewers from across the ditch who swept in to Wellington last week with a swag of top brews from the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA).

They were here to take part in the Brewers Guild of New Zealand International Beer Awards and the Beervana festival, and they matched Logan Brown restaurant course-for-course at a wonderful lunch and tasting session co-hosted by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and Cryer Malt. I’m not sure how I slipped into this event since I’ve only ever made two batches of beer in my life (and these were hop-doctored IPA’s based on off-the-shelf brew kits). I put it down to my enthusiasm for craft beer and the people who make it.  I really like spending time with brewers – they’re smart, good fun and they don’t take themselves too seriously.

A Generous Tasting of Aussie Craft Beers

A Generous Tasting of Aussie Craft Beers

Brewers are also very collegial. It was a lively event with lots of mutual admiration and none of the tiresome trans-Tasman rivalry that accompanies so many other Aus/NZ events. Still, I was interested to know how the two countries compared. The objective view, from NZ malt king David Cryer, is that while craft brewing took off much earlier in New Zealand, Australia has more than caught up.

My own experience last year in Melbourne was that whenever I asked for a craft beer in a café or bar I was presented with a standard brew from Little Creatures, which was rather like finding nothing more interesting than Monteiths. The  Australian brewers I met at the Logan Brown lunch told me that situation, which was largely due to trade arrangements with the big breweries, is changing rapidly. They say boutique brewers are now well represented in bars and on ‘wine lists’, particularly in cities like Melbourne. And so they should be. Like wine, a well considered beer match adds an extra dimension to a dining experience.

And that brings me to lunch. Shaun Clouston and Steve Logan have been matching beer with their menus for some time now, and it shows. I won’t taunt you with a blow by blow description of the Logan Brown lunch  – just two of my favourite courses:

entreephotoFirst up, Logan Brown’s buttery paua ravioli (left of photo) was matched with this year’s Champion Australian Beer, Alpha Pale Ale from the Matilda Bay Brewing Company. Its full malt flavour was perfect with the rich beurre blanc sauce and the citrusy hops perfectly aligned with the lime and coriander flavourings. The paua got a little lost but the rest was so good that I can’t say I missed it.

The  tuatua fritter (right of photo) was partnered with  Bridge Road Brewers  India Saison  (a collaboration with Norway’s Nøngne Ø brewery and an AIBA gold award winner) Shellfish loves hops and this is a bright hoppy beer, with the same hint of citrus that sits so well with orange and fennel. pie photo

Mid-menu, I fell upon Shaun’s wild boar and muttonbird pie. It was the best thing I’ve eaten in ages and was made even better with a double match – a dark barley wine from Bootleg Brewery and a malty red ale from Holgate Brewhouse. Interestingly, the latter was one of three beers on this menu brewed in collaboration with the previously mentioned brewery in Norway. Australia and Norway? Intriguing. I should have asked.

RISphotoSome of these beers were available for tasting at Beervana, one that wasn’t was an off-menu bottle I was lucky to try at the end of the Logan Brown lunch. It was one of only 250 bottles produced and it was brought to our table by the man who brewed it: Simon Walkenhorst of Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company, in the Yarra Valley. The original brewery was burnt to the ground in Victoria’s 2009 bush fires; a new, better brewery was built six months later and it has continued to produce some of Australia’s best handcrafted beers.  The big black bottle we opened was the Russian Imperial Stout, 2012. It won a gold at the AIBA that year and my lunch notes describe it as deeply delicious. It was all chocolate and coffee, roasted malt, smooth as velvet and made to be aged, just like a wine from the Yarra.

Read Full Post »

I’ve always wondered how people get those photographs of a perfect sunny side up fried egg. My recent food styling course with Denise Vivaldo revealed the secret and left me wondering, for the umpeteenth time during the weekend workshop, how could I have been so naiive? I may be telling all you food stylists out there how to suck eggs (so to speak) but the following method came as a revelation to me.


Doctoring an egg white

The problem lies in getting a nicely set white with a runny yolk. So here’s what you do. In a heavy pan, on a very low heat, heat oil to a depth of 1 cm. Separate white from yolk and slide the egg white into the oil. It should cook very gently with no sputtering. The egg should be fresh so it stays compact and doesn’t spread too far. When fully set, remove from pan and using a cookie cutter remove a yolk sized disk from the middle of the white and pop the raw yolk into the gap.

Almost perfect. The next bit is more challenging. Inevitably there will be some unwanted craters in the white which need to be filled with – wait for it – denture fixing glue. The glue is just the right colour and consistency to smooth over the holes; vaseline is a second best.

So there you have it. For years I’ve wondered why my eggs don’t look as good as the pictures in magazines. Now I know. But I’m comforted by the thought that the eggs I’ve cooked for the camera have always been scoffed after the shoot and they’ve never got stuck to people’s teeth. However, I do like the picture-book look of my workshopped egg, especially the yolk – notwithstanding the fact that it’s raw.

_1TJ6086 (1)

My styled egg

Read Full Post »

I arrived back from Australia a few days ago with my head reeling from a weekend workshop at the Sydney Cooking School. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it but I discovered a side of the food business that has nothing to do with creating good tasting food – food styling is all about making inedible stuff look tasty. And man, there is such an art to doing it well!


Not Real Ice Cream

The weeekend workshop was run by Denise Vivaldo, an American/Italian based in Los Angeles. She was in Sydney at the recommendation of my friend Harriet Harcourt, a cook and a food-stylist who lives in Perth. Harriet helped organise the course and told me I should sign up – you’ll love it, this woman is brilliant.

And she is. She is warm, funny and hugely entertaining. More to the point, she has written the bible of food styling based on 25 years of experience tricking up food for televison, film, cookbooks and multi-national food companies. And she is so good at it that during her Sydney course I found myself salivating over food that may well have killed me.

It’s true. The crushed ice in a refreshingly cool looking cocktail came from a jar marked poison. Nearly as bad, I licked some delicious looking caramelised chicken juice off my hand before realising it was the brown stuff I’d been using to paint a raw chicken. The thought of salmonella had me sluicing my mouth out with what I hoped was fresh water.


‘Roasting’ a Raw Chicken

Painting raw chickens to make them look roasted was just one of the mind-bending exercises I worked my way through on this eye-opening course. My chicken was only so-so but I did quite a good job of making a pre-prepared Weight Watchers risotto look reasonably appealing. This is not something I’d ever have to do in my professional life but big food companies pay big money for this sort of thing and I suspect my fellow students had ambitions in this area.


The ‘Pizza Pull’

I was more interested in making food look attractive for my blog or the occasional magazine recipe and I’m happy to say I now have quite a few tricks up my sleeve. I know how to do a “pizza pull” so you get those yummy strands of mozzarella looking just right, I can present a perfect fried egg and I know how to get great-looking grill marks on a hamburger bun – an eyebrow pencil fills in the gaps. I’ve discovered how to fake ice cream and cappuccino froth, and I have zillions of uses for Scotch Guard.

The problem is, I’m not sure if I can actually bring myself to use all these tricks. I had my doubts during the chicken painting lesson but by day number two I was having a full on ethical attack. Was it honest? I hit Denise up about this. Honey, she said, would you want to be photographed without makeup? Or words to that effect. Well, I rarely leave the house without lipstick at least, so I can see where she’s coming from.

We had an interesting discussion – she’d obviously given it some thought – and the upshot is, it depends. It depends on the context and the degree: is it enhancement or falsification?  Foundation or facelift? The comparison with makeup and fashion photography is a good one. We know the clothes have been altered for a perfect fit on the model and we know the cosmetic pics have been airbrushed – we accept it because it makes for a great looking photograph and even ‘though we know we won’t look as good if we wear that dress or that lipstick, it gives us something to aspire to.

Food photography works the same way – it has to look better than it does in real life. That’s why we learned how to paint a ‘roast’ chicken. A real roast chicken doesn’t look half as good when it’s photographed: partly because it collapses and looks tired and wrinkly before the photographer has set up the shot, and partly because we can’t smell a photograph so it has to work twice as hard to make us want to eat it. So we stuff it with paper towels to plump it up, give it ten minutes at 180°C to stretch the skin, then paint it with a mixture of gravy browning and food dye. A sprinkle of paprika and and a spritz of oil finishes it off and it will stay looking good for hours. I would also challenge anyone to tell the difference if it had been styled by a pro.


Denise Vivaldo with assistant food stylists Harriet Harcourt (left) and Kirsty Bryson (right)

Since I got back from Sydney I’ve been examining food photographs in quite a different way, especially the ones you see in advertisements. I now know if I was to bite into one of those high rise hamburgers, the beef would be raw, the buns would be sprayed with scotchguard to make them sauce resistant, the mustard would shine with glycerine and I would be rewarded with a mouthful of pins and make-up pads. However, I also know that if the picture on the poster was a real hamburger I would never even open the box. Ditto for the Weight Watchers’ Risotto.


Weight Watchers’ Risotto Inside and Out: the reason why we have food stylists.

Read Full Post »

I’m not sure which was more exciting – cutting the seaweed ‘ribbon’ on our newly built boatshed…


…or pouring the beer we brewed for the occasion.


At any rate it was a great party, a perfect night in early January, and the culmination of many months of hard work – the building I mean, not the brewing. We invited about forty guests – anyone we knew within sailing distance of our bay in the Marlborough Sounds – and we welcomed them with ice cold beer and punchy margaritas.


The evening rocked on with an opening ceremony, speeches, a Mexican feast and a concert from the hastily assembled Marlborough Sounds Ukelele Orchestra.


James, Jimmy and Dan Tait-Jamieson

The food was a labour of love. Four of us had spent the previous day hand-pressing 125 tortillas which we presented with bowls of spicy pork, chicken, beef, chilli, avocado, coriander, tomatillos and anything else we could rustle up. I’m now sold on tortillas as a way of feeding the troops. (The proper maize flour and the requisite cast iron tortilla press can be bought from Ontrays in Wellington).


Tortillas toasting on the barbecue

I’m also sold on our Boatshed Brew as the perfect drinking partner for a chilli-based meal.

ImageMy son Jimmy and I brewed it back in October (see previous posts), an IPA with an extra dose of cascade hops. I think it was the hops that gave it such a fabulous nose – refreshingly citrus with a touch of blackberry. To be honest, it under-delivered on the taste. I found it a bit lean and short but Jimmy reckons it’s a great ‘session beer’ so we’ve tweaked the recipe and made another batch for late summer drinking.

The label, by the way, was designed and drawn by daughter Maddie. The black blob at the end of the jetty is a fair rendition of Jeb, the dog.

Read Full Post »

It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words but when it comes to food I’d much rather describe the experience in words. Food photography is an incredibly difficult field. I’ve tried and I’ve always failed to convey the flavour and appetite I’ve felt when presented with a plate of something delicious. I mean, how do you photograph taste?

I’ve worked with some professionals who manage to do just that: photographers who make me want to eat the images they create. I’ve always wondered how they do it, so when food photographer Murray Lloyd and food writer Ruth Pretty offered a food photography workshop as part of Wellington on a Plate, I was one of the first to sign up.

Food photography workshop with Murray Lloyd (right).

Ruth and Murray have collaborated on five cookbooks over the past few years and created hundreds of photographs. Each one takes several hours to produce, beginning with a brainstorming session to define the sort of look they want to achieve. The workshop took us through the process from concept to shoot. We learnt how each dish is styled, what props are used, how it’s lit and how it’s composed in the frame. Murray prefers to work with natural light and the only trickery Ruth uses is a paintbrush and a little oil to make the food glow.

Chicken and Cranberry Pies

Our first assignment was pastry. We had half an hour to style and photograph a group of small pies using a choice of plates, fabrics, cutlery and coloured card backdrops. We had to consider light, composition, texture, colour etc. It was quite a lot to think about. We were also advised that an uneven number of pies would look best on the plate, which meant I had to eat one of mine. It was really nice: chicken and cranberry. Anyway, after much rearranging of props I managed to get everything in frame. This is my picture of Ruth’s chicken pies.

Notice how I have used an S shaped composition and also repeated the circular forms of the pies in my choice of material. I was rather pleased with my effort but the pies still look flat  and lifeless – I blame the natural light, which naturally hid behind a cloud just as I was ready to shoot.

Next up was poached salmon with pesto and micro greens. The dishes were plated by Ruth’s sous chef Kirk and they were supposed to be photographed as if in a restaurant, which was good practice for me because this is the sort of situation where I do sometimes have to get a shot that’s fit for publication.


I’m not sure that my salmon photo cuts it but I did like the artful positioning of the fork in my salad closeup (below).

The main course was slow braised pork shoulder with apricots, prunes, lima beans and cavalo nero. It tasted fabulous but it was really tricky to photograph on account of the cavalo nero which looked limp, wet and much too black.

Braised Pork Shoulder

Interestingly, Murray picked this shot out, kindly illustrating the clever way in which I had positioned the orange chair in the background to echo the orange of the carrot on the plate. I could see how this did make the colours “sing” but I hadn’t planned it that way. And therein lies the difference: a real food photographer would have left nothing to chance; my success was entirely accidental.

And unlike a professional shoot, where you really don’t want to eat the food that’s been fiddled with for hours, we polished off the lot. In fact, it all looked so good that by lunchtime my creativity lost the battle with my appetite; after a cursory effort I swapped my camera for knife, fork and napkin.

So what did I learn? If in doubt, zoom in close; and if the food looks lifeless, toss in a few flowers. But seriously, I have a new appreciation of  just how much work goes into making food look so good on the page. A slide show of some of the photographs from Ruth’s new book – one or two of which were the same dishes we’d struggled to compose earlier in the day – served to illustrate the point: we really do eat with our eyes. Here’s a sneak preview of the front cover. Ruth Pretty Cooks at Home is due out in October, RRP $65, published by Penguin. Photos by Murray Lloyd.




Read Full Post »

I’m a sucker for lemons. Lemon sorbet, lemons with gin, lemon juice on fresh snapper, lemon roasted chicken, lemon mayonnaise, lemon syrup cake. You get my drift. Lemons go with just about everything; they are an essentlal ingredient. I once got stranded on a North Island beach with no money and no transport. My friend and I had a tent and a bag of lemons. For two days we ate tuatuas: mostly raw. The lemons made all the difference.

My friend Mary Biggs is of the same mind. She’s a great cook (Cordon Bleu trained) and she loves lemons so much she’s created an entire range of products around that one essential ingredient. Her brand Lavender’s Green includes lemon cordials, lemon jelly, preserves pickles, mustard, chutneys and curds. My favourite is the roasted lemon chutney. I’ve recently written it into a recipe for Moroccan lamb sliders – my little burgers would be nothing without it.

I’ve just eaten that same chutney with Mark Limacher’s potted rabbit. It was part of a five-course Wellington on a Plate lunch in which Mary’s products added depth or zing to every dish on the menu at the Ortega Fish Shack.

Roast Duck and Smoked Warehou Salad

A beetroot and feta combination was spiked with a lively lemon pickle and the lemon mustard was a great addition to the salsa that accompanied the beef. My favourite course combined duck and softly smoked warehou on a crunchy juliened salad with tamarind and preserved lemon dressing.

We finished with lemon tarts that were good because they were simple – just fresh lemon curd spooned into individual pastry cases. Unfortunately they were accompanied by the only thing I really don’t like – liquorice. It looked great – whipped into ice cream and served with mini allsorts – but taste is such a personal thing. I’ve tried but I can’t do it. I know I’ll never learn to like liquorice, not even when it’s partnered with lemons.


Read Full Post »

I’m a sucker for a new gadget. My kitchen is stuffed full of ‘must-have’ equipment that’s used with great enthusiasm until the next thing comes along. It’s been years since I used my coconut scraper-outer and it took me a while to figure out what the metal thingy was that I found in the back of a drawer recently. It was a croissant cutter. I never used it. It was given to me by a friend who shares my weakness. She’s also given me an asparagus cooker, which was much more useful; and a pair of pink onion goggles, which just made me look silly.

Chef Chris Martinez at La Boca Loca

Yesterday, I fell for a new one. The nice people at La Boca Loca invited me to a cooking demo to celebrate the first birthday of their Wellington restaurant. La Boca is the best little Mexican in the coolest little capital in the world. The food is great, the atmosphere is fun and it serves the best range of top-flight tequila I’ve ever come across. The tequila may have had something to do with my latest ‘must-have’ enthusiasm, but I also blame chefs Chris Martinez and Will Mitchell for inviting me into their kitchen and showing me how they make up to 300 tortillas a night with a gorgeous cast iron tortilla press. It’s an amazing device. You roll out a golf-sized ball of masa dough, pop it on the bottom plate, pull the top plate over and press down. Voila! A perfect 3mm thin tortilla ready for the pan. It’s a rugged looking machine; the sort of gadget that must have been in use for generations. I imagine every Mexican kitchen has one. As I watched Chris make tortilla after tortilla, I started fantasising about making my own. I could take a press down to our boat shed in the Marlborough Sounds, buy a sack of masa flour and get in a load of tequilla. By the time Chris had finished pressing his tortillas, I was having a party to which everyone in our bay was invited. I had passed the point of no return. I had to have one.

Tortilla Press

But where in Wellington would you find a tortilla press? Ontrays, of course. Steven Shekter’s shop has everything. Last time I was there, I nearly bought a strange looking vessel that you use for brewing mate tea. Steven kindly talked me out of it and suggested I try the tea first. Anyway, Steven and I have been tweeting and he’s put aside a tortilla press with my name on it. I’m planning to pick it up tomorrow and introduce it into my kitchen where I can confidently predict it will replace the pasta machine on my bench top. Until the next thing comes along.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »