Archive for the ‘Food Hero’ Category

I love dumplings. Steamed, fried or floating in broth; warm podgy parcels or elegantly pleated purses; pot stickers that cling to the frypan or dumplings that bulge with their own soupy juices –  I love them all. 10256567_526618227465495_2595180234059251554_o

Every country has its own sort – from the gnocchi of Italy to the cheese stuffed pierogi of Poland – but I particularly like the Asian varieties and I’m right behind the current trend for dumplings with flavour combinations that cross culinary borders. I’m thinking of the xiaolongbao dumplings filled with foie gras and truffles that I ate in Shanghai and I’ve been reading about the dumpling houses in New York that offer combinations like pork and fennel or dumplings stuffed with lamb cheeks. There is even a restaurant famous for its Pac Man shaped dumplings with sesame seed eyes. (click for NY Times review)

Here n Wellington, New Zealand, we have the recently opened House of Dumplings owned by Vicky Ha who swears she takes no notice of trends but is bang on with her range of dumplings that include traditional flavours like prawn and chives alongside combinations like pulled pork and watercress, smoked ricotta and pumpkin.


Dumpling Queen, Vicky Ha

Her Nepalese spiced lamb dumplings, and Korean beef with sesame seeds are personalised renditions of national favourites and while some shapes are traditional, others have been invented by the dumpling queen herself. All are handmade from the stock to the dough, with ingredients that have been carefully sourced for their free-range or otherwise sustainable credentials.

Yes, they are more expensive than the ones you might buy from the freezer of an Asian supermarket but these are so much better – as good as the dumplings Vicky learned to make at home in Hong Kong. “I feed people with what I grew up with. The chicken dumpling is my mum’s recipe and there are good quality ingredients in there. I’m trying to do that same home quality at a commercial level.”

Vicky spent her early years in Hong Kong but was educated in New Zealand where she studied marketing and food science and then trained as a chef. Her eclectic food tastes were honed in the kitchens of Wellington restaurants (the White House and Cafe L’Affare) and her dumpling business began with a hawker bicycle cart at the City Market on the waterfront . The bicycle is now used to deliver dumplings around the capital and Vicky spends most of her time in the kitchen at the back of her Hong Kong styled dumpling house on Taranaki Street. She makes 200 dumplings a day all of which are wolfed down by busy urbanites who share her taste for what she calls the ultimate snack food.

“Every culture has its own dumpling, It’s comfort food for a lot of people  and I guess my job is to glamorise it – don’t eat a hot dog, eat a dumpling.”

Vicky’s dumplings are available to eat in or takeaway at:

The Dumpling House 117 Taranaki St 

Hole in the Wall 79 Manners St

City Market, Chaffers (Sunday mornings)

You can also buy freezer packs at Moore Wilson            

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Last week I ate at the White House restaurant in Wellington. It was a family birthday and we ordered the winning Visa Wellington on a Plate menu. It was the second time in one week that I’d eaten the chef’s rabbit pie with Otaki carrots. The grower would have cried tears of joy to see how brilliantly his humble root vegetable was prepared – not just boiled but also dried, powdered and sous vide – it was a mini degustation of carrot. It goes without saying that the rabbit was excellent too; Chef Paul Hoather is into the detail. He even makes his own butter from cream he’s cultured himself. And that brings me to the funky dessert which was not on the Wellington on a Plate menu but it did contain cultured cream. He thought I should try it because he’d read my blog post on the edible condom I ate in Hong Kong (scroll down to Sex on the Beach). I think he was suggesting I wash my mouth out with soap.

Milk Curd, Pistachio Sponge Cake and Honey at the White House

Paul’s soap was a gloriously rich chilled down, dense version of crème anglaise, tasty because it was made with his own cultured crème fraiche. The bubble foam was somehow infused with honey and the loofah was pistachio. It was the most difficult part to create but it made the dish with its contrasting texture and undeniable wit. It’s on the degustation menu.

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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.


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One of the best things about a New Zealand summer is the sudden influx of travellers from other parts of the world. I like meeting people who have come all this way to discover New Zealand, and it’s great to catch up with friends who come ‘home’ for a kiwi Christmas.  I love the enthusiasm with which they slip back into their jandals and reconnect with the things that make a New Zealand summer – fishing, camping, crayfish sandwiches, burnt chops and all.

Swedish Chef, Fia Gulliksson

A few weeks ago, while holidaying in The Marlborough Sounds, I met up with honorary kiwi Fia Gulliksson, a Swedish chef who used to live and work in Wellington. She’d come back with her family for a friend’s wedding. We got talking and, in line with the 2 degrees of separation that connects kiwis everywhere, we realised we’d met before, years ago when I’d delivered fresh pasta to her and Steve Logan at his restaurant, Brer Fox. The Thorndon restaurant is now Le Canard, the restaurant in which I have a half share.

Fia, it turns out, has become a food celeb in her own country.  She owns a tea blending company with her partner Martin and is well known for the booked-out dinner events which she hosts in her gorgeous lakeside boat shed. She also presents a food programme on Sweden’s national radio station. While in New Zealand she was filing interviews with producers and chefs for a kiwi-themed programme which I figured was going to demand a great deal of voiceover translation.

Scandinavia, once thought to offer little but root vegetables, pickled fish and reindeer, has, thanks to chefs and culinary entrereneurs like René Redzepi and Claus Meyer of Noma restaurant, reinvented a culinary culture that blends local ingredients with equal parts of tradition and innovation. The New Nordic Cuisine, as presented in its own manifesto, has a similar philosophy to Italy’s Slow Food movement. It supports a local artisan culture and it makes good use of plants and berries that are sometimes foraged from the wild and often presented in surprising ways.

In the Marlborough Sounds, Fia prepared cavalo nero leaves from my friend Jen Scott’s garden. They were roasted in oil and sprinkled with salt and toasted sesame seeds. We ate them as a crispy snack with pre-dinner drinks but they would also make a delicious garnish. Back home in Sweden, Fia crisps up other types of brassica leaves and sometimes seaweed. If I ever get round to finishing my collection of Marlborough Sounds recipes, this will be in it.

Roasted Cavalo Nero

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Biddy Fraser-Davies

I first met Biddy Fraser-Davies back in 2005 when I wrote about her for Cuisine magazine and produced a farming feature for Radio New Zealand. In those days she’d just started producing cheese on her farmlet and no one had heard of her or her much-loved cow, Gwendolyn. She was a real find, great talent with a no-nonsense approach and a cheerful eccentricity that fit her as comfortably as her bright pink crocs. Since then she’s starred on Country Calendar and been written up by numerous magazines and newspapers. Biddy and her milking cows – currently Sally and Molly – are the poster girls of the artisan cheese movement, and, as befits their celebrity status, they’ve just released their own DVD.

It’s called Farmhouse Cheese Making: an instructional DVD showing how Cwmglyn Farmhouse Cheese is produced. It features Molly the cow on the cover and stars Biddy the dairymaid in apron and boots.  A self-taught cheesemaker, she begins by admitting it took her a full year of trial and error to achieve the consistently good cheeses she sells today. The DVD aims to help others short track the learning process. Together with the comprehensive cow-to-cheese manual, which can be found on the Cwmglyn Farm website, it’s an excellent introduction to the cheesemaker’s craft.

Cwmglyn Farmhouse Cheese

I learned how to make cheese by attending a class run by Katherine Mowbray. Her courses are very good and I often refer to her book but what I like about Biddy’s DVD is that you can re-run it again and again. So if you can’t recall how firm the curds should be before you cut them, you can replay the episode.

Fresh Curds

Biddy demonstrates the semi hard, naturally rinded farmhouse cheese she produces herself, but the process is similar for most of the cheeses you’re likely to make. Factors like the type of milk, the culture and temperature all play their part but once you have the feel for the basic technique you can adapt it to recipes for soft white-moulded brie or pungent washed-rind cheeses like Pont l’Eveque.

I’m not sure if Biddy has ever been a teacher but I reckon she’s a natural. She manages to cover the technical stuff while making the whole process look as easy as it is – once you know the pitfalls. Listen carefully when she says: “Now this is important…” and you’ll avoid the mistakes that most of us make.

Homemade Cheese Press

Her own small cheesery is purpose-built and licensed for commercial production but much of her equipment has been adapted from every-day utensils – coffee filters are used to strain the milk and a perforated pasta cooker stands in for a cheese mould. Tips like this demystify the process and make the point that cheese making doesn’t have to be expensive.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned – and Biddy emphasises this again and again – it’s that you really do have to be super hygienic. The last lot of cheese Dan and I made got infected with blue mould and I’ve had nasty pink spots ruin the virginal bloom of an otherwise perfect goat camembert. But most of the time we get it right and sometimes our little cheeses are good enough to photograph.

A memorable goats' milk 'camembert' style cheese

Farmhouse Cheese Making: An Instructional DVD costs $40 plus postage. Details on Cwmglyn Farm website: www.modelrailway.co.nz

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I watched France take on New Zealand the other day – not on a muddy field but in the elegant surroundings of the French ambassador’s residence in Wellington. Still smarting from the Eden Park loss a few days before, the French pulled out all the stops in the kitchen, pitching Le Cordon Bleu chef Philippe Clergue against our own Martin Bosley.

With a team of helpers in the kitchen the two chefs each prepared five amuse-bouche sized tastes based on New Zealand ingredients. In a nice twist, each one was matched with a wine from the rival country, chosen by Chris Archer of Archer McRae and Alastair Morris of Regional Wines and Spirits.

Le Cordon Bleu event at the French Residency, Thorndon.

The match started with a Dumangin champagne and a Palliser Estate methode traditionelle, the bubbles replacing the rugby match anthems. Similarly, there was no intimidating haka but chef Clergue did manage to gain an early psychological advantage with the impressive height of his hat. Bosley admitted to being completely outclassed on that score.

Chef Martin Bosley

Chef Philippe Clergue














As to the food. The French kicked off by showing us exactly what to do with our greenshell mussels. Clergue presented a crunchy croquette, or ‘cromesquis’, with a velvety sauce that hinted of crustacean. It was matched with a Cambridge Road Arohanui Rose 2009. Bosley retaliated with snapper on cauliflower puree with asparagus and almond caramel, his try was trickier but not as succesful. The wine was a new one on me, a 2009 Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc, a lovely match with the fish.

The second round was salmon. Bosley’s was a mini version of his famous cedar planked salmon, served with a chive citrus emulsion and a sprinkling of wasabi flying fish caviar. Texturally brilliant and quite different to Clergue’s rendition. The Frenchman served his salmon raw. It was thinly sliced, silky textured, and it was wrapped around a delicious oyster tartare. Both were superb.

Clergue's Salmon

Bosley's Salmon







Lamb was next. Clergue partered his saddle of lamb with sweetbreads and fondant potatoes. Chef Bosley presented confit lamb loin, topped with fennel pollen and a Jerusalem artichoke crisp. It won my vote for dish of the match. And I’d love to know how he got hold of the pollen – did he shake it off the flowers himself or has he trained a few bees to do the job for him? Either way, you have to admire his commitment.

The beef fillet was too close to call. Bosley’s was a riff on steak béarnaise, topped with a gaufrette potato crisp.  Clergue  partnered his with chestnuts and a hint of juniper in a spiced wine sauce.

Bosley's beef fillet

Clergue's beef fillet












A Dry River Gewurtztraminer was possibly my wine of the night (I gave it 2 ticks so it must have been good) It matched Clergue’s orange crème brulée, which for classic simplicity beat Bosley’s more intriguing dessert – a combination of orange and pickled radish dressed with honey and yoghurt.

Overall winner? Our hosts were too diplomatic to hold a formal vote but I reckon France won by a whisker. Let’s hope they don’t do the same on the field.

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Mobile Still

A couple of days ago we were visiting friends in a small hamlet a few kilometres away from our own and I saw what I imagined was a bit of old farm equipment parked up in their neighbour’s field. The people here never throw anything away; they all have massive barns crammed full of stuff, some of it really old and some of it still in working order. The French are famously reticent about inviting you into their homes but they love showing you around the interesting stuff they’ve stored away in their ‘grange’.

John Franklin in his barn with a lightning rod from a local chateau

Anyway, sometimes the really big stuff spills out into the surrounding fields and it’s not unusual to see antiquated tractors or a rusty old plough with grass growing through it. But this was different – a sort of machine on wheels with big copper vats, chimney pipes and a rickety roof. Our friend John knew all about it. He’s an Englishman whose own jam-packed barn has made him a hit with the local French community. A mechanic by trade he loves old equipment and he knew all about this piece. It turns out it’s a mobile still owned by his friend Michel. The pair of them are fixing it up in in readiness for the ‘eau de vie’ season that starts in October.

For hundreds of years the people here have fermented part of their fruit crop and had it distilled into a potent sprit to help keep them happy and warm over the very cold winters. Presumably that’s why they named it eau de vie – water of life. I’d been told the tradition was dying out and that people now carted their barrels of fermented fruit to permanent distilleries but Michel told me this was wrong; his is one of about 25 mobile stills that continue to rattle along the country roads of the Dordogne every autumn.

John and Michael adjusting the pipes

Certainly the business is much more regulated these days. Licences are issued for a lifetime and the authoriites ensure the machinery is shut down and sealed at the end of each season. When the licence expires the police punch a hole in the still, which renders is useless until the new licence holder fixes it up. Michel’s still has three hole marks, one for each of it’s three previous owners; he is the fourth and this season will be his second on the road. His previous still (without wheels) is now gathering dust in John’s barn.

The mobile stills can’t move very fast so each one covers quite a small area. Michel says he travels around the hamlets in his circuit, parks up and builds fires under the two big copper vats. Fruit that’s been fizzing in people’s barn for months is tipped into these and boiled up to produce a vapour that’s directed through coils of copper pipe. Eventually the pipes deliver a primary distillation which is then put into a second vat where the process is repeated. The final distillate is diluted to around 45% abv. Michel charges 3.50 euros a litre to produce the spirit, which his customers bottle themselves with equipment they all seem to have tucked away in their barns.

Dordogne Distiller, Michel Pellisier

Friends have given us bottles of their eau de vie as gifts. The first couple of sips are always a bit of a shock but then it gets smoother and it really is a nice way to finish a meal. It is usually made with apples, pears, peaches or plums but some people make cherry or strawberry eau-de vie. My favourite is plum, but to be honest I’ve always found the fruit is all in the aroma; the fire in the spirit makes them taste much the same.

I asked Michel which fruit he prefers and he told me he never drinks the stuff himself, he makes it for pleasure. It’s doesn’t earn him much money but for six weeks of the year he enjoys the conviviality of turning up in a hamlet and stoking up the copper while people roll out their barrels and hang around to watch and talk, in the same way they have for generations in the Périgord.

During the rest of the year he works in the town of Piegut where he continues another local tradition – he  makes false teeth. I’m not sure if I should believe this but apparently Piégut has the distinction of being the denture town of France in the same way that Nontron makes knives and Agen has prunes.

Unsurprisingly the denture tradition doesn’t get much attention in a region that has so much else to offer, but it’s a business that’s likely to outlive mobile distilling – if only because the authorities are no longer issuing lifetime licences. Michel says he is one of the three youngest mobile distillers in the départment so he may well be the last. When he passes on, his still will be punched with one final hole and I’m guessing it will come to rest in a Périgord barn – a dusty reminder of how people used to live in these parts.

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Bill Allan, butcher. Gipps St, Wellington

This photo makes Bill Allan look like a fishmonger. In fact, he’s a butcher but he likes to experiment. He makes fabulous all-meat coarse-cut sausages, prepares his own bacon and at Christmas time he smokes hundreds of hams. His ham smoker doesn’t see much action at this time of year so he figured he’d try smoking salmon.

He prepares the salmon in his special ham brine (secret recipe – I tried twisting his arm but he wouldn’t tell me) and then he gently hot smokes it over manuka chips. I’m probably alone in this but I don’t really like manuka smoke – I find it too strong and tarry but Bill had been lighthanded with the smoke and his salmon was really delicious. The brine had made it very moist; it wasn’t dry like a lot of the hot smoked salmon I’ve tried, and it was only-just-cooked – in the way that all fish should be.

You can tell from the photo he’s pretty pleased with the result – I just hope he’s not thinking of closing the shop to go fishing.

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This is Biddy Fraser-Davies, the celebrated cheese maker from Tararua with her three cow herd: Sally, Molly and Emily.

Biddy the Dairymaid by Maddie Tait-Jamieson

Between them, and notwithstanding the needs of their own offspring, the jersey girls provide just enough milk to support Biddy’s small cheese making business. She produces two naturally rinded farmhouse cheeses each day and sells them to people who like to come and pat the cow that produced the milk that made the cheese on Cwmglyn Farm.
And what’s wrong with that? Quite a lot, apparently. The food safety people seem to think Biddy is a potential menace. She may not look it, in her pink crocs and purple apron, but the woman is dangerous; her cheese may constitute a health hazard. Not because her practices are unsanitary – all agree her standards are exemplary – and not because her cheese is substandard – it passes all the tests with flying colours. No, officialdom has it in for her because she failed to fill out the forms.
The Food Safety Authority woke up to the fact after Country Calendar profiled her last year. They came down on her with a tonne of paperwork and have spend goodness knows how much tax-payer money checking her out. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

Biddy Fraser-Davies

I spent a few hours with her recently as she made a batch of cheese, and I watched her dutifully document every step in the process. There was a form to record the heat treatment of each batch of milk from each cow and another that covered the cheese making process. All up each cheese required 7 temperature readings, 6 ph tests and 14 time checks. And it didn’t stop there – the documentation followed each cheese through pressing, maturation and point of sale; all in the name of traceability. Now that’s probably quite a sensible precaution for a big factory but it doesn’t translate to a dairy the size of Biddy’s. She has to fill out these forms for every cheese she makes. The compliance cost so far, including lab testing offsite, has come in at $5,000 – a huge chunk of her $20,000 turnover.
It’s enough to drive you mad – or out of business, and you can’t help wondering if that’s the idea. Are artisan cheese makers really such a threat to our dairy industry? Biddy has been making her cheese without a problem for 8 years. Her equipment is spotless, her cows are well cared for, their milk is checked regularly. You would think risk management requirements could be tailored to suit the size of small dairies like Biddy’s – especially now we are seeing such a resurgence of small scale cheese making. Encourage compliance by all means but don’t let bureaucracy kill the artisan culture.

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In Christchurch, pre-earthquake, I visited Pete and Joy McLeod on their organic free range  poultry farm at West Melton.

Their home suffered structural damage in the September quake; this time the house was fine but their business may not survive. With restaurants like Jonny Schwass’s now in ruins and most of their other customers closed for business, the McLeods are desperately looking for customers outside Christchurch.

Moore Wilson Fresh in Wellington has come to the rescue; they’ve just started stocking Westwood Chicken’s free-range birds. I bought one this morning and, yes they’re expensive, but so is all free-range poultry and I can’t think of a better way to help Canterbury’s small producers right now. Besides, these birds taste great and I can vouch for the way they’re raised.

Westwood Organic Free Range Chickens

The one-day old chicks start out in converted shipping containers where they have food, water and plenty of space to run around. Their houses are heated and they have a transistor radio with music to keep them company. After a few days they’re encouraged to venture out into a netted run, then in the third week, when they’re sufficiently hardy, they’re moved into the fields.

At night they’re coaxed into their shadehouses, but during the day they prefer to peck around outside in the grass, or under the tree line where they can hide from the hawks – an  unfortunate reality for birds who free range.

Westwood Free Range Chicken House

I’m not sure how you’d know if they weren’t happy, but to me they seemed quite content.

Free-range doesn’t always mean what we’d like it to mean. Giving birds the ‘opportunity’ to go outside is not the same as encouraging them to do so. The McLeod’s really get this. When I visited the farm, their chickens were ranging so freely I found it hard to get a good photograph.

Of course, they aren’t the only producers whose business is suffering post-quake, their story is just one of many. Canterbury’s small farmers, growers and artisans really do need our support; we can help by supplying and buying their produce.

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