In general, seaweed as a food has gotten a bad rap. To start with, the name sea ‘weed' implies it’s not edible or is an overgrown menace to it’s environment. Not true, Secondly, it has been relegated to a certain cuisine or to one type of food (sushi) even though it has grown and been used by coastal cultures all over the world for centuries. Finally and because of the first two points, most people don’t really know it’s nutritional value or the range of it’s uses as an ingredient and so it sits on the shelves of (primarily) Asian food stores unappreciated by most of us. That is, until the early year 2000s when Doug and Louise Fawcett decided to get into promoting seaweed as an ingredient for health & innovative cuisine.
Years before all the TV chefs started talking about umami and the flavor profiles of a good dashi, NorthIslander Doug and his Canadian partner Louise decided they wanted to get out of the IT business and work with a food that is both healthy & innovative. In 2002, they set a goal of making seaweed an integral part of the western diet for both its culinary & wellness benefits and promoted it to Chefs and heath-focused customers. Over the years, they have expanded the range in NZ and have also developed relationships all over the world to import unique plants that are not available here in order to create a wide range of products that broaden the spectrum of use for food and for wellness. Pacific Harvest won the 2004 Matua Valley Wines & Cuisine magazine Innovation & Excellence Award for their new range of seaweed products.
Bottom line – seaweed is not only a vegetable, it’s one of the worlds original superfoods. Expanding from six to ten times it’s dried size and with up to 20 times the mineral value of kale and other dark green veg, and has a wide spectrum of minerals which our bodies need and can’t get from land sourced vegetables here in NZ. In fact, Louise tells me that when our bodies crave salt, what we really are craving is a range of minerals - including iodine and selenium - which are all included in this sea vegetable*. If we can’t get this kind of food and satisfy those basic cravings, we replace it with heaps of salt, which lacks the broader base of minerals we require like magnesium, zinc, potassium etc. all of which are in seaweeds.
On top of all this, Doug and Louise really want to help people understand the culinary value of sea vegetables in everyday kiwi cuisine. To that end, they’ve created a range of products which can be used as seasonings in soups, salads or on meats as well as beautifully sourced and meticulously prepared (hand harvested, cleaned and tested) seaweeds which can be an ingredient in it’s own right. Their web site has a huge list of recipes that will blow away the average concepts of using seaweed in everyday cooking.
The idea here isn’t to change your diet but rather learn to add seaweed to your current meals, to consider this superfood with a fresh look at an old ideas. For instance, I grow a lot of kale in the garden and love cooking it down as a soup with the fantastic sausages made by our local butcher David at the Raeward Fresh in Queenstown. Over a couple of hours, the sausages and kale make a kind of unique stock which flavours everything’s perfectly. Then, I started adding Pacific Harvest Garlic Furikake seasonings (a mix of sesame and and various seaweeds) and it took the dish to a whole new level. Instead of pushing it in the direction of Japanese food like I expected, it actually formed a flavor profile I had not expected. The flavors got brighter and deeper at the same time.
You’d have to experience this for yourself to see what I mean. I suggest you head to your local Raeward Fresh and grab a few of these products from Agar to Dulse to Kombu (and much more) and try them in your own recipes. There’s something uniquely kiwi* about most of these seaweeds (some are imported) which has been forgotten. This ‘other seafood’ is something Pacific Harvest is bringing back to light - which is, that embedded in our shores is a food our body craves, needs and happens to be super delicious.
One of the main themes that has run through this blog is how New Zealanders (and new New Zealanders) have been able to travel the world and bring something marvelous back home - contextualizing it for kiwi culture by adding their own particular twist. For the most part these innovators have reinvented known European foods from delicate oat cakes to fine chocolates. Every now and then they have formed bridges between more diverse cultures by creating say, NZ made masa (for tortillas) or a Goan / Christchurch take on chutney. But never in my relatively long life have I come across someone who has so deftly embraced another land and successfully brought back a complex and rich part of their culture - keeping in tact every aspect of it’s long traditions while being MADE IN NZ.
David Joll is an extraordinary soul. Raised in Whanganui where Tui, DB or Lion beers largely defined the extent of cultural extravagance, David jumped at the chance to go on a high school exchange program to Japan. At a time where most people were heading west to the US, David went very very east. While there he was taken with the culture and in particular, saw how stunning and well curated the food was. Especially when it came to alcohol and dining. Back home, drinking / eating culture hadn’t quite come together while in Japan, the taking of sake with your meal was a well considered part of the overall experience. As with tea, the Japanese had made an art of celebrating the various accompaniments of food and drink around the table and sake (a fermented rice based alcoholic drink) was a central part of this.
After the high school experience, David decided to study Japanese at uni in Auckland after completing his degree he did two years post grad study at uni in Japan, staying on afterwards to work there. It was during this time that David discovered Ginjo for himself, a very high quality sake making a comeback after years where the industrialization of the method had become the norm. Traditionally, sake is fermented over a painstakingly long process where there alcohol and sugars naturally form while being monitored daily for temperature and development. What had become the rational production process by then though was a quickly produced sake where distilled alcohol was added to the drink. Traditional sake breweries “kura’s” were still in practice but was is the case around the world, mass production in the second half of the last century was killing off a craft and a product that not only had deep roots in the forming and maintaining of the culture, but was an integral part of it’s health.
For instance, traditional sake is naturally brewed in the way that say Méthode Cider is. No additives, naturally occurring yeasts brewing in the purest water you can find. When David did return to NZ after 22 years he had a longing to bring something of his experience and wonder home with him. Eventually, together with the support of his wife and long term mates and business partners, he chose to find a way to brew traditional premium sake. In the beginning, he thought they would set everything up and hire an experienced brew master to make the sake. However, once he’d gone back to Japan to learn all the methods, took classes and got certified, travelled the world to learn from other producers, together, they decided that David was actually the best guy for the job.
David and his forming team chose Queenstown to start NZ's first and only sake brewery. Aside from a specially milled rice that still comes from a sort of “contrôlée” in Japan, the other most important ingredient in an outstanding sake is the water which can be as distinctive in the final product as the rice that’s used or the method of fermentation / pressing. Lake Wakatipu water happens to fit the bill of being very pure, soft and super cold - all elements that make for a distinct flavor that is traditionally Japanese, but as judges around the world have found, also distinctively New Zealand.
To achieve this kind of recognition (for instance, winning a Gold and Silver Medal at the World Sake Challenge in London hosted by the International Sake Sommelier Association) there is something extraordinary happening. Producing sake at this level has requires an old soul, a Japanese one at that, who understands not only the nuances of the process, but has the patience and character to love the drink into being. David is that kind of guy. Whether he’s wrapping blankets around the fermenting pot to get just the right tenth of a degree in temperature or deftly balancing the cloudy (lees in the sake) and clear mixes to get a flavor profile that delights his inner Sensei, there is something going on here that few people can achieve.
Most of us can travel and appreciate the wonders of other cultures. Some of us can bring that back home and whip up some decent huevos rancheros. In my opinion though, David Joll has gone deep into another place and embodied it back in NZ through his sake. In some cases, host cultures can be offended or even mock efforts such as these (I don’t want to point at anyone in particular but tu sais de qui je parle.). In David’s case, he has earned only praise from abroad and for good reason. He is demur, attentive, respectful and yet deeply intelligent and passionate about his craft. It’s these inner qualities, I think, which truly qualifies him to be the NZ ambassador of sake that he has become.
I could say much more about Zenkuro’s (translated means All Black) processes and products (five and growing). I could mention numerous recipes that sake pairs well with or could be used for as a fine ingredient in other dishes. I could give you my personal opinion about the quality of David’s sake. But you would do better to head into Raeward Fresh and grab a bottle of this hand made limited quantity sake yourself, take it home and have a taste with your next meal. Warmed to 48˚ or chilled - start your own cross-cultural culinary adventure and let David know how it’s going.
In my experience, the perfect salted caramel chocolate must have three things going for it. The chocolate has to be dark, perfectly smooth and thick enough to balance the caramel. The caramel should also be a bit darker - in the direction of an Argentinian dulce de leche - and not too chewy. Finally, if it’s a salted caramel, the salt should be significant enough in quantity to stand on it’s own alongside the other two strong flavors. Typically, most companies get one or two of these things right. Tanja Schwindt of Wanaka’s The Chocolate Workshop nails all three of these things with a kind of beautiful gusto - like a person who isn’t afraid of taking some standard fare and pushing it right out to it’s own limits. I love that.
I also love how Tanja is reimagining other classics like her dark or milk chocolate peanut butter cups while taking entirely new directions with, for instance, pairing traditional Japanese ingredients like Sake or Wasabi in the creation of specialized chocolate bento boxes. Whoa! Who does that? This girl must have grown up with French patesserier parents living in a foodie ashram somewhere up near Shangri La right? Nope. Tanja grew up in Mannheim Germany, which, while not quite being the Detroit of Europe, is not really known for it’s culinary history. So how does this add up, I had to ask.
Tanja tells me that Mannheim did indeed have a variety of different foods and cultures but that wasn’t her inspiration. She did live close enough to France to be influenced by patisserie culture there as well but it was actually during her degree in Hotel Management in Germany where she took a pastry course that went deep into her psyche, something that would emerge years later. She continued working for a hotel chain until the feeling of being suffocated in a crowded city became too much and she took a job offer from a friend in Wanaka. Arriving in NZ, even while managing a back packers and later working in food services, Tanja loved the sense of open space, open minds and the general positivity of the region.
As Tanja returned to being her self again, the idea of making chocolate reemerged. She started at home, making treats for the local market which went so well that she decided to form The Chocolate Workshop in 2012. In 2014 Tanja bought the Wanaka Chocolates business as well. The purity of her ingredients, flavours and pairings had always been a strength of Tanja's and she continued to push those envelopes until she grew from the markets right through to our shelves at Raeward Fresh. But this is only the beginning, or new beginnings for Tanja.
As we’ve seen with so many of our wonderfully creative producers, the melding of other cultures and histories with the spirit and environment of New Zealand amplifies their ideas and products, upping everyones food game. For instance, when Tanja made her bento box of chocolates, she collaborated with David Joll (of Zenkuro Sake, the only Kiwi brewing Sake in NZ) of Queenstown to create this unique pairing of cultures. It’s this place, and these people of different origins and experiences that makes the kinds of products at Raeward Fresh, the market stalls around the country and even the shelves of stores around the world shine with a kind of foodie wonder - where you pick up that box of salted caramel chocolates and just have to say “Wow”!
Why is it, one wonders, that on average, one in three steaks we buy will be chewy and the other two, well, not so much. From rump to sirloin, getting a tender cut of beef can be a bit of a lottery in New Zealand. Of course there are some cuts that are more tender than others, but even within these categories the quality of meat is hugely different from week to week. Actually, from cow to cow which means from farm to farm - the aggregate thereof being all thrown together into a large meat processing facility which has no rating for tenderness aside from general cuts. That’s why on any given supermarket shelf you will find a massive difference in the quality of steak as all rumps are not raised equally. One farmer may be taking amazing care of their cattle - producing great tender meat - while another may have had grass issues resulting in lower feed rates and tougher meat. Both farmers are getting paid by the pound regardless though so when the meat hits the market, it’s all mixed in together. As good a cook as you or I may be, we're all taking a punt here.
As tends to happen though, when industries get a bit out of balance - in this case, with the growing aggregation of meat processors - there are often market correctors who see the opportunity to look differently at the entire chain, adding value and often returning to traditional ways of getting a particular farmer's goods to the people who will appreciate them the most. For instance, I had a steak the other day produced by a particular farmer growing grass fed Wagyu in New Zealand. I could see through the packaging that the marbling was at least BMS6 or 7 on the Wagyu scale and when I got it home to cook it, it of course turned out perfectly. Super tender, lovely flavour and probably the best steak I’d had all year (at home). Looking closer at the company then (First Light), I could see that these guys have taken the problem mentioned above and turned it into an outstanding New Zealand solution aiming to bring a consistently great meats to home cooks and hospo crews alike. The really interesting thing to me about First Light though, is that while many Kiwi’s will head out into the world and bring what they’ve learned back home - where it usually stays put - First Light have taken the best of kiwi innovation (at least in the meat industry) and brought it back out to the big wide world.
I learned this from Jason Ross, one of the three founders of First Light - a company that aims to take the best of NZ’s grass fed farm culture, it’s fresh water and outstanding agriculture and create the tastiest meat available for NZ and abroad. Looking through their web site, you immediately get the feel that these guys are a kind of huge extended family that honours not only the fantastic farmers of NZ, but of other nations, their histories and ongoing stories. Jason used to work in commodities in Australia and I think it’s this initial vantage point that allowed him and fellow partners Greg and Gerard to see the larger need in the world (back then, for leaner healthier meats like venison, and today, a grass fed quality cut of Wagyu). They formed a strong network of great farmers from Canterbury to Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture to Northern California who shared histories and breeds and paired this with a world class team of logistic, sales and marketing pros. The result is this big family of quality buffs who have taken on one of the biggest challenges in meat making history, namely, to create grass fed Wagyu that is even better than the original grain fed cow.
To appreciate how hard this is, you have to remember that the Japanese Wagyu breed has been fed on cow chocolate (grains) and beer for hundreds of years. While this may be compared to the force feeding of ducks to make foie gras, the result is an amazing fat marbling that creates a steak that literally melts in your mouth. The cost to both the cow and the consumer ultimately is not a good thing though and the lads at First Light wanted to put their kiwi ingenuity to work on making what they felt could be a NZ first - outstanding grass fed Wagyu. Same marbling, same buttery experience, but with healthier animals and healthier environmental and consumer outcomes. To do this, they worked with a Japanese farmer who had come from Miyazaki to Hawkes Bay to raise Wagyu and paired his experience with Kiwi farmers around the country. They developed a grass feeding regime including leafy crops of kale, chicory and other grasses consistently available to keep up the weight and fat ratios. They allowed their cows to mature at a healthy rate (over 3 years) with kiwi farmers who invested their talents in creating quality beef. After 10 years of research and hard work by an extended team of people, NZ Wagyu is now an outstanding reality. In fact First Light have already been exporting this stuff for a few years to the likes of Whole Foods in the US and other places around the world.
As is often the case though with kiwi’s either appreciating and returning home with a great new idea, or coming up with one here - the culinary tall poppy issue arises. Do New Zealanders even want a perfect steak to slap on some rusted steel plate BBQ or will the budding home cook seek out an opportunity to have some friends over to baptise their Big Green Egg or Infrared grill with a proper Wagyu sirloin? Do we want to have something special, consistently, that we know carries with it centuries of craft and tradition, but made in Hawkes Bay or the Canterbury Plains with a New Zealand spin even if we’re not living in Ponsonby? Will we eat this kind of quality meat five times a week, at these price points? Probably not. Not every day. But that’s also part of the ethos of First Light, and I believe, of a growing body of kiwi’s who choose to have something extraordinary a couple of times a week because eating meat and three veg every day is not only boring, it’s unhealthy for everyone involved. I would completely love, however, to have a piece of First Light’s steak a few times a month. Maybe more with different cuts as they hit my local Raeward Fresh shelves. These guys are an amazing resource for a country getting caught up in aggregate food processing, heading down a similar road to other nations that learned the hard way and now have outfits like Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms (in the U.S.) to be their market correctors. The brilliant thing about First Light in this regard is that they are spreading these ideas to a national community of farmers who will not only bring us amazing new cuts of grass fed Wagyu but will continue to maintain a high standard of New Zealand farm practice while being paid directly for the quality they create. That’s worth every dollar in my book.
One of the things New Zealand does for people is to create a bit of room to grow. Some fresh air if you will. As relatively small as these two gorgeous islands are, they seem to create heaps of space for people to either build on their diverse past, or, to reinvent themselves. The results, especially in the world of food, becomes something as fresh as the land itself. This is truly the case with Line Hart and her light, airy and delicious Knækbrød (crackers, but not, but yeah). Line has found the space in NZ to reinvent a traditional Scandinavian food, taking it to new places in terms of flavour, texture and use. At Raeward Fresh, we like to think we’re creating a kind of daily farmers market where these products - representations of the place we live in - can be celebrated and shared with our communities and we’re stoked Line is one of those ‘farmers’.
Line (pronounced "lee-ner”) Hart grew up in Denmark where food was (and still kinda is) pretty straightforward. Until the weekend that is, when as Line says, people let their hair down (the long blond kind I imagine) and get baking. Line still remembers wonderful weekends in the kitchen with her grandmother which probably inspired her next move coming out of school, working in fine dining restaurants. During the daily menu conversations, Line was prepped on all the ingredients used, the pairing, and what customers would be experiencing. These connections went deep and would later form the basis of her own pairings in Aotearoa using local beers, harvested sea salts and herbs among other things.
After an apple picking visit to NZ in her 20’s, which blew Line away, and then a longer stint in the UK, she settled back in NZ with her family and started making all the things she loved from back home but couldn't find here (rye bread, marzipan…). During one visit from her mother, the two decided to make the traditional crisp breads from the old country. By old, I mean Scandinavians have been making these ‘hard breads’ for their long winters ever since 500 AD. Having lived in this fresh as country for a while though, Line naturally started to let her own hair down in the switching up of ingredients. To the befuddlement of her mother, Line took a more modern approach and made a seed based cracker to which she added - of all things un-Danish - cumin. Since living in NZ, Line has loved seeing how international ingredients find their way into foods here, the general cultural openness and resulting fusion in the culinary scene. These influences, combined with her own great sense of pairing has led to some stunning ideas.
To give you a better idea of how all this works in the making of a deceptively delicious item such as a Danish hard bread, Line has combined these old-world cracker making techniques (Line rolls all her Knækbrød by hand) with spent grain, for instance, from Hallertau's #3 Copper Tart Red Ale to create an award winning product. As in, the Cuisine Artisan Awards 2017 Supreme Winner kind of product! Another great kiwi pairing is Line’s Rosemary Knækbrød with Hauraki sea salt, the product of a new collaboration with Greg Beattie who has worked for years in developing a commercial hand harvested sea salt flake from the Hauraki Gulf.
To bring this all home though, I think it’s important to think about crackers themselves. Like white bread, Kiwi’s have always appreciated the basics in life, to which we add our whitebait - or like in the film Boy, butter on some days and crayfish on others! Same with crackers, we have all kinds of white crackers for which to put our stunning Akaroa salmon on, or home made rocket pesto and feta. But just like those crusty European sourdoughs which have finally made their way into our bread boxes, so too are European crackers - like those from Bonnie’s Oatcakes. Most of us though, have never had sweet brown cheeses or dill soaked Norwegian salmon on large dry rye knekkebrød. So there’s no real bench mark here. But if you for instance, take one of Line’s Danish Beer Crackers and place a thin slice of cured salmon on top, you will be entering the NZ of the 21st century where all good things come together. Same with her Cumin Crackerbread paired with feta and pesto - amazing. I promise you that the light, crips nutty flavour of the cracker itself will be such a delightful experience, that you won’t know what to do with that typical packet of white crackery stuff in the pantry. And maybe that’s one of the gifts of living in God’s Own, that we continually appreciate both the past and the future afresh each and every day.
For heaps of New Zealanders who have traveled abroad over the years and tasted amazing Mexican food, coming home to a lack of great ingredients has been more than a bit disappointing. In fact, having grown up in California and lived in Mexico, I was a bit shocked with my first exposure to Mexican food in Auckland a while back where white bread had been used in the place of tortilla’s. Things changed - albeit very very slowly - until one day I saw that beautiful, familiar little orange can on my Raeward Fresh shelf with the face of La Morena smiling back, offering her smokey Chipotle’s and changing NZ life forever. Sometime later, I started to see masa (corn flour used to make tortillas and tamales), dried ancho poblano chilies and then, decent corn tortillas on the shelves. What angels were at work here and why were we being so blessed despite our use of second rate salsa’s with our “cheese flavoured” (Ay, caramba!) corn chips?
Apparently, Faine Alexander (the angel in question) has been working behind the scenes for quite a while now, gathering some of the most authentic and delicious Mexican ingredients in order to deliver them to a country who has seen the light. Her ability to bridge the distance between the best of Mexican ingredients and the curious foodies of NZ is extraordinary so I spent some time with her recently, trying to understand why and how she’s done it via her company - Tio Pablo.
Faine grew up in Walnut Creek, California, a town in a state rich in Mexican culture and cuisine. She grew up pouring over gourmet Mexican cookbooks and loved their broad ranging recipes, food she could try out at any given strip mall in town where mom and pop shops would be serving some of the best Mexican foods around, recreating Oaxacan or Yucatan specialties. She later married a Mexican American who’s beloved uncle Paul (Pablo) would eventually become her Kiwi companies name sake. When the couple moved to NZ for work, Faine longed for a decent tortilla among other things so she decided to start making her own. She bought an old tortilla machine and started production for what would eventually hit the local markets and then grocery stores. The machine wasn’t great but Faine was convinced it was the way of the future (bringing some of Mexico’s food heritage to NZ) so she mortgaged the house and went to Pico Rivera in order to buy a tortilla maker (as you do) and started producing heaps!
Along the way, Faine dove deeper and deeper with family and friends to discover what really makes for authentic Mexican cuisine. For instance, she found that there was a distinct Mexican Oregano which came from lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora family) and gave a rich flavour to salsas among other things. Also, the use of Amaranth, used by the Aztecs for centuries, was largely forgotten and was due for a comeback. As these lessons kept flowing, so did the number of products Faine and Tio Pablo introduced. As more great ingredients hit these shores, the Tio Pablo crew started making an impressive array of foods that you could simply break out for a killer snack (as I write, I’m munching on their amazing Totopitos- simply the best corn chips I’ve had in the country - dipped in Tio Pablo’s Salsa de Pepita) or add to proper breakfast of Heuvos Rancheros (using Tio Pablo’s proper corn tortillas and salsa verde), or, spice up your next fish taco lunch with their Mayan Gold spice mix.
The thing Faine is doing so brilliantly here is providing deeply thought through foods which use solid, authentic ingredients our Mexican brothers (and their mothers) would smile upon. She’s doing the research and the hard work of getting the good stuff into the country, and, she’s making it available to the rest of us! Now, we’ve all seen Mexican food supplies growing like tomatillos on our store shelves. Kits and packs of taco shells (warning, you won’t find ‘taco shells’ in Mexico) with spice mixes, cans of black beans and even the odd dried chilies etc. These are okay as far as quality and flavour (mostly), but are a kind of disservice to authentic Mexican cuisine which is actually super varied, ancient and amazingly delicious when done right.
Take for instance, the making of a mole , a staple in Mexican sauces. These rich, often dark sauces, are a bit of an art form in Mexico (check out Chef Enrique Olvera on Netflix’s Chef’s Table). They form the basis of many dishes or are added onto many more producing a kind of Mexican Umami. To achieve the well rounded flavour profiles, you HAVE to have the right chillies at the heart of your mole. Guess who has the best in the country? Yep, dried Guajillo chillis, Habanero if you dare, chilpotle of course, Arbol (one of my favourites), Morita… the list goes on. Tio Pablo has taken these ingredients so seriously that anyone in the country now has a shot at producing excellent Mexican mole or for that matter, the broader cuisine. I for one think this is quite a thing. Not just because I grew up in California and need my fix, well, maybe, but because one of the things New Zealanders shine at is starting with the best of what other countries produce and then to take it to a whole other level, like the fellas at Taco Medic down here in Queenstown who use Tio Pablo’s outstanding masa (now with blue corn, yea boyyy) in their own hand made fantastic tacos.
This is what Faine and crew do at Tio Pablo, honouring their roots and bringing the best of Mexico and NZ together. Have a look at their impressive recipe list first and then head into the store to grab some of these ingredients, snacks and meals for yourself.
This one will get you started on your first Mole! http://tiopablo.co.nz/chicken-mole/
Nut milks (or mylks depending which side of the ‘60s you were born on) are notoriously difficult to get right. The earliest adopters made home brews that tasted great but only lasted a few days. Large food manufacturers responded to the developing trend by making tetra pack versions that would last through the apocalypse - complete with a range of sugars and preservatives that tasted like they could go the distance. Some companies have gone with nut butters that you hydrate yourself while others have gone with glass bottled versions that would only last a week, so you’d have to make a habit of it. Now, there’s Covet - a nut milk company that has taken all this history into account and made something special.
The company started when colleagues of a business in Hawkes Bay producing protein powders and sports nutrition kept running across friends and customers who either had lactose intolerances or just wanted to be more dairy free but could not find a well balanced (flavour and longevity) nut milk. With their expertise in nutrition and bottling, the group sought to create nut milks with clear flavours and a mouth feel that could compete with cow milk. Creamy and yummy, I guess. They also decided that their product needed to be:
• 100% natural
• Dairy free and therefor lactose free
• No refined sugars
• Nothing artificial
• No carrageenan
• More nuts than most nut milks
As for yummy; Covet has added just the right kind of ingredients, for say, their Almond Spiced Vanilla milk. A little brown rice syrup and coconut nectar paired with vanilla bean paste and spices makes a lovely, almost Christmassy kinda drink. And, the chocolate Macadamia milk speaks for itself. Chocolate. Mac nuts. Enough said. It tastes delicious. The straight up almond or macadamia nut milks are also really nice and do a perfect job complimenting cereals, smoothies or used in baking.
As for mouth feel, there’s a super nice creaminess in Covet’s milks. You do need to give them a little shake before drinking as nuts and water will separate. Covet does use naturally occurring Xanthan and Gellan as stabilisers which keeps the milks uniform in their smoothness without adding the strange flavours artificial preservatives will. For me though, aside from tasting a cheeky drink out of the bottle, I look for how a nut milk preforms with coffee and in particular, when it's steamed. Cow milk produces a lovely foam as the proteins get ‘stretched’ with steam. All of Covet’s milks produced lovely foam and art in my latte’s and flat whites. The taste was well balanced too as some nut milks can actually taste too much of almonds, for instance, in a latte, when really what you want is for the nut flavour to be enveloped by the espresso beans and add just a hint of nuttiness.
Covet can be forgiven for getting their nuts from Australia - as you must do these days - but the Aussies are onto it as it states on Covet’s site:
"The Australian Macadamia industry invests in initiatives including the regeneration of rainforests on farms to preserve the natural ecosystem, developing biological controls to combat pest and disease and reducing CO2 in the atmosphere through a massive carbon sink of 6 million trees. The almonds also come from South Australia, with many almond farms located on the iconic Murray River. The farmers adopt a dense tree planting technique as this has proven to reduce water and fertiliser needs which makes the business more environmentally sustainable long term.”
All good news. As is Covet’s new entry into this area which could always use a bit of kiwi innovation and good common sense. Pop into a Raeward Fresh near you to check them out, I think you’ll like what you find.
So here’s an interesting lad. Dan Pearson grew up in Northampton England, a town who’s culinary roots span back to the proper paleo’s, then the Romans, the Danish and of course those ever-present scrappy English, who refused to give over to a protein centric or pasta based cuisine. Notwithstanding the dark, rich history of the place, Dan could not wait to leave. Noting that the life of the cook was an itinerant one, he promptly got himself through catering school by the age of 17 and set off to other locales - looking for a better party.
Working in the kitchen came easily for Dan, who had a flare for diversity and a strange penchant for deep cleaning. The hustle and bustle also suited his energetic soul and he found himself working through various stations (chef de partie) until he landed a job as sous chef at London’s Michelin decorated Mandarin Oriental. It was here that Mr. Pearson shifted from cooking as getaway vehicle to a being a chef. One reason; the Oriental’s practice of partnering with Rosa Aplina in Switzerland provided Dan with both inspiration and exposure to an extraordinary breadth of recipes, ingredients and practices that would be brought to bear in his later entrepreneurship.
Working in London, Dan met his dual citizen wife Jo who hailed from New Zealand. The couple took a ‘vacation’ to New Zealand which was supposed to last seven weeks but is now eight years and counting - with not surprisingly - zero trips back to Northampton. Most of us who live here totally understand why someone from the UK would want to reconsider the antipodes, but for Dan it was a complete release from the way “London would wind you up like a spring, then expend you”. A good time for some, for a while perhaps, but for Dan, God’s own was a God send. Until he started working in restaurants that is.
Eight years ago, New Zealand was not the culinary destination that it is today. In fact, moving from the vibrant experiences Dan had in London to the developing kitchen scene in Auckland was not great. Dan was in transition at the time as well so there were deeper motivations to be sorted. Children were had, parenting became a joyful priority shift, and Dan moved into contract work. With a growing family and an entrepreneurs heart he started to lose his love for the professional kitchen.
A few years on and working on contract in the Waikato, Dan was deep into the mess of a restaurant he was tasked to sort out. With the place in disarray, and a staff unwilling to listen to him, Dan locked himself in the dry store one day and took to one of his favourite habits - deep cleaning. The solitude of the pantry, surrounded by ingredients in need of sorting and love, Dan started pairing this fresh turmeric with that tarragon or this juniper berry with that pink peppercorn. His immediate goal was to create a rub that the most average of cooks could press into a bird and serve a delicious meal with, regardless of the larger condition of the restaurant.
Back home, Dan chatted with Jo about the possibility of taking this love of pairings and flavours seriously. Ultimately, he wanted to bring the best of his kitchen experiences into everyone else's every day kitchen - all in the form of practical and delicious rubs. For instance, back in London while working with a chef from Rosa Alpina, Dan watched with wonder as the Swiss Italian created a rub with cacao, cassia, chilis and a few other ingredients pressed into a venison loin which transformed the meat. He knew that he could do the same for a number of meat or veg dishes and decided to take a crack at it.
Starting at the Pukekohe markets, Dan started selling a few rubs, which then went to the Hobsonville markets and on and on from there. In less than two years now (with 20 years of back story of course) Dan now has a range of beautifully packaged rubs for each meat type and of course for fish and veg, salads, you name it. He’s wisely moved from the hectic north once again and settled in Port Chalmers, Dunedin where he’ll be setting up shop to showcase the world of spices according to the ex-East Midlander - a smart lad who’s seen the world and wants to share the taste of it all. In the mean time, we’re pretty stoked that at Raeward Fresh, you can chat with our butchers who’d love to pair some great cuts with Dan’s Wild Fennel & Co rubs.
PS. I’ve had the pleasure of using Dan’s “Sheep’s Seasoning” (sumac, cumin & mustard among other things) on a lamb rack with beautiful results. The same for his “Chicken Seasonings” (mustard, onion and tarragon) in a tray of roast veg and sausages. Super easy and the added depth of flavours a treat!
Recipe tip: press a package of Wild Fennel Co.'s Sheep Seasonings into a boned leg of lamb and wrap with a decent grade of plastic wrap many times until completely sealed. The pop it in the oven overnight at 70 or 80˚C for around 12 hours. The next day, place it in the fridge until you want to serve it. Heat the oven to 200˚C and unwrap the lamb, placing it into a baking tray. Bake for around 45 minutes, glazing every now and then with your favourite BBQ sauce. This will form a glaze on top of the rub. The lamb is cooked perfectly pink inside while retaining all it’s juices. The rub and glaze give it the perfect finish.
Michael Matsis and his sister Meropi grew up in Whanganui surrounded by the river and the sea. Their parents immigrated to NZ from Cyprus and bought with them a love for fresh dairy products, hard work and a vibrant family culture. The hillside on which the Matsis’ grew up had three houses on it, all filled with family from the same Greek island which formed a culture within a culture. Meropi remembers growing up amidst kiwi treats at school and in town but at home, her mother Lefki would make halloumi and ricotta from scratch (she still does) along with a host of other Cypriot favourites. Michael and Meropi’s father ran a local fish restaurant serving up some of the best fish and chips in town, again with a passion and commitment to completely fresh ingredients. This was the everyday experience for Michael and Meropi growing up; fresh foods made from scratch, no skimping on ingredients or quality, and a slow integration (the children spoke Greek first, English later) into an NZ lifestyle.
It’s no wonder then that some years after their university degree’s (Michael in Food Tech with honours and Meropi in Science), the siblings decided to make food their vocation (the word in Latin - vocatio -means ‘calling’). Michael had been researching cheese making techniques around the country and noticed that halloumi wasn’t even on the NZ radar at the time. In 2000 then and placing a VAT machine on Meropi’s Wellington property, he decided to start producing what he loved growing up, along with feta, which got the attention of local restaurants and cafes. There were a growing number of quality cheeses becoming available during this period but getting halloumi and feta this rich and dare I say, perfect, was something out of the ordinary. Another thing that was out of the ordinary was the company name - Zany Zeus - which came about during a family brain storming session. Being close as a family has contributed this, and many other things to the company along the way including recipes, quality assurance and of course, mum’s watchful eye as she still shows up to work at the factory when needed.
Moving forward in 2003 Zany Zeus added an HTST Pasteurisation System, homogeniser, separator and bottling plant to the growing company. Sourcing a wonderfully rich organic milk from the central North Island (which isn’t to say it’s as good as South Island organic jersey milk, but they can be forgiven for this:-) Michael, Meropi and crew extended their range of products, which I have to say, are extraordinary. For instance, the greek yoghurt is hands down the best you’ll find in the country. With no stabilisers, gelatines or sweeteners added, this super thick yoghurt is the result of a patient process, that when scooped out of the container and given a little stir becomes a heavenly experience. I’ve added the creamy stuff to cereal with quince, to pulled lamb tacos, green apple crumbles... where it both stands up for itself and nicely compliments at the same time. You seriously have to try this yoghurt to see what I’m taking about. It is of course, more expensive than the typical offerings but if you want yoghurt this pure, this creamy and thick and this, dare I say, perfect, then it’s easily worth it. Especially if you’re going for quality over quantity which I think is one of the best things about today's slow food movement.
Moving on to other products, Zany has a range of feta’s (classic, creamy, chilli and fresh mint - keeping things just a bit Greek), creams (sour and fraiche), creamed cheese and mascarpone and now a wonderful Indian style paneer and a slovik style brinza with a difference (an intense, Manuka smoked cow cheese) which they smoke to a tasty effect. The paneer has a lovely texture, ready to soak up whatever masala or tikka or tomato soup you’re keen to add it to. The halloumi comes out of the packet beautifully flavoured and ready to eat straight up at room temperature with melons, or as part of an antipasto platter. Of course if you’re like me, you’re going to fry it up with some foraged mushrooms (field and birch bolete’s tonight) and add that to the tomato soup from the glasshouse’s last effort. But if you really want some super authentic recipes to use these restaurant class products, you’ll need to go to Zany Zeus’ web site where they have a deliciously diverse list of ideas ready for you to dive into.
Having tried some of Michael and Meropi’s (and of course, mum’s) creations, it makes sense that these products went straight into some of the best restaurants in the Wellington region. The complete focus on quality, fresh ingredients and the lack of additives has created a long line of best in class cheeses, creams and if you’re lucky enough to be near their cafe, ice cream’s (and a cake which Scarlett Johanson recently reported as being the best she’s every tasted). The products are special, like your grandma would have made which actually tasted like dairy, and result in the kind of ingredients you may want to add to a special family meal, or to treat yourself to each morning. Like the people who every now and then would show up at the Zany Zeus factory door and ask for some retail sized products, we’re pretty glad at Raeward Fresh that we too can now get a bit of that Matsis family culture in our own chillers.
If you’ve ever been to India and had the chance to stay in a friends home, where their mother or grandmother was in the kitchen, then you’ll know something about how years - even centuries - of tradition, skill and love go into the array of dishes being served. Even the smallest dish on the table, a chutney, would have layers of storied ingredients and techniques producing a deeply flavoured kiss to whatever it’s combined with. Back in NZ, you might pick up a jar of chutney from the supermarket hoping to find that same compliment to your rice dish or cheese toastie. What you’d typical be met with however is an overly sweet, gooey approximation of just one level of what you experienced in India, say with mango flavours or chili. Super disappointing. What’s needed is someone’s mother, grandmother, and their aunt to have placed all that skill and love into a jar full of the same complexity and beauty you tasted in Goa.
Jennifer Viegas grew up between homes in Goa and Mombai enjoying the food her mother, aunt and grandmother prepared. The Portuguese history of the South (1500’s to 1960) paired with the Mughal influences from the North gave Jennifer a diverse and tasty palate to enjoy. Access to fresh shellfish, Portuguese spices like smoked paprika, piri piri (from the African coast), cinnamon and bay leaves, and, the fruit of the south were all part of a larger pantry to work with. A combination of Indian and Portuguese pickling techniques also allowed the family to store abundant crops of mango or aubergine which would later become family favourites as Jen then raised her own kids on this unique cuisine. After travelling to Doha and living there for a long while, Jen and her family moved to Christchurch for the boys education.
Back then, one would struggle to find ingredients in a New Zealand store that enabled you to make a proper mango chutney, let alone a delicious carfreal (a pungent herbed chicken dish). Today however, you can get coriander, haldi, jeera and tamarind but what’s still missing are those mothers, grandmothers and aunts putting it together because if their last name is Wattie, it ain’t gonna taste like Goan cuisine. So, after the boys had moved out Jen finally got to build the kitchen of her dreams to run cooking classes passing on the techniques of her family traditions.
As people enjoyed the rich complexity Jen was creating in the class, they asked if they could buy even more. This encouraged Jen to take some of her favourite Prawn Balchão and Mixed Veg chutney’s to the local Mount Pleasant Farmers Market where the developing Kiwi palate was ready to understand and enjoy what Jen grew up with. From there to Jen started selling to stores like Raeward Fresh and now we can get the benefit of her storied, rich history and that of Goa in a jar. Well, kinda, because of course there’s so much more to those places… you know what I mean.
Anyway, I got the chance to try Jen’s range and I must say, it’s like being back in the south of India where I lived for a short while. Those same complex notes, hints of a thousand things going on, combinations of pungent, sweet, spicy, meaty, fresh…, it’s all there. I absolutely loved the prawn foundation of her Balchão while the red chilis and vinegar (also a gift from the Portuguese, well, I mean they brought it with, having conquered and all so not a gift, but now that they’re gone, it’s kinda a gift… Anyway) create this spark of acidity to round out the flavours. Great on sourdough toast ruined with raw garlic. My other favourite was Jen’s Lemon Chutney which was brilliant on cheese toasties. Took them to a whole nother level. The mango or aubergine or mixed veg chutney’s were solid examples of condiments that would go so well with white fish, a sandwich wrap or of course, a delicious Lamb Sarapatel and roti.
Jen is now moving on to create spice blends, also passed down through the ages to give us a taste of a Goan Masala or a killer curry powder. All of which allow newbies like me to add a small touch of Jen;s familial history and depth to my own cooking. From all of Raeward Fresh, we say thanks to Jen’s and her entire family’s Cozinha (Kitchen)!
Who we are
This blog is written by Patrick Dodson and is a collaborative effort from the entire Raeward Fresh team of purchasers, chefs, nutritionists, butchers, grocers, baristas and other food creatives.
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