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)!
I opened my first bottle of Abel Methode Cider today, over lunch, with quesadillas of all things. I wanted something salty and rich to pair alongside the Nelson made cider to see how it would hold up with my memories in London and the heady pot pie & cider pub meals I’ve had. The elegant bottle delivered an effervescent stream of gold into my even golder hospice shop tumbler. You know the ones, made in the ‘70s of all shapes and sizes… The champaign-like bubbles I was delighted to see are the result of the ‘methode traditionelle’ or 'methode champenoise’ style where the maker prepares the cider (lovingly and painstakingly) in the bottle itself under high pressure mixing in the carbon dioxide most fermentation process allow to escape. When done right, this ‘methode’ allows the yeast and bubbles to remain just long enough to both properly flavour and sex up the cider giving it that very pleasing pour.
On first taste and without a bite to eat just yet, I found the cider dry, punchy and complex - none of which are some of my favourite things. I appreciate that a great cider is neither candy-sweet nor bursting with "raspberry overtones", but on their own I find a proper cider to be too much work. After a couple of bites of the hard cheddar & mince chutney quesadilla however the Abel completely came into it’s own. The pear and apple mix of the cider’s flavours caught ahold of the tart saltiness of the cheese and the deeper sweet notes in the chutney and the dance began. Over the course of the meal, I found the cider both mellowed in contrast to the food but kept holding it’s own in terms of delivering the compliments. The bubbles rocked on throughout the lunch.
Making this kind of cider is no cake walk. Mark and Sophie McGill have mastered a very old and very complex technique here. The French sounding name ‘methode’ actually harks back to a traditional English method of tightly bottling ciders with their heavier coal-fired glass making techniques which the French adopted some time later and used for their champagnes. Having both grown up with and worked in the wine industry, the McGills learned about these techniques first hand. Sophie grew up in West Auckland and then moved to Marlborough with her dad working the vineyards there while Mark grew up in the Wairarapa with his dad working the grapes as well. Sophie studied psychology to get away from it all and spent time in Melbourne working in hospitality. Mark was in the first batch of students at Lincoln University’s wine making program and went on an OE working vintages in the U.S., Australia and NZ. He also ended up in Melbourne where the two got married and started a family.
Comparing both life notes and tasting notes - mostly bad ones - of the ciders available to them at the time, the two decided to put their business nous (both had great small business bosses they learned heaps from) to work making a truly great product. Mark had seen how the traditional wine making process could be applied to cider and decided to buck the rather average cider trends and put some history to work. The two moved to Nelson where they could source some outstanding heritage apple and pear varieties in the Upper Moutere and set up shop.
I’m not sure what it is that inspires two kiwi’s like these, who come from such a relatively young country with very little history in these methods, to so quickly produce a traditionelle cider that can hold up to any in the world. Maybe it’s that down to earth upbringing that makes sense of leaving apples to ripen on the tree giving them just the right brix reading, or crushing the whole fruit and then letting the heavy glass bottle do the magical part. Maybe it's their passion for the product itself and their heritage coming through that draws out the very best of NZ fruits. Whatever it is, we’re stoked at Raeward Fresh that we get to have their elegant results on our shelves, celebrating their ingenuity and their love of good things. Cheers Mark & Sophie!
Exceptional foods usually have an exceptional personality behind them. What I usually find encapsulated in a unique bite of chocolate say, is a combination of ingredients, experiences and ethos that come together in that product. It’s like the flavours, mouth feel and endorphin reactors are all responding to the creators history, discoveries, craft and whimsy all at once. I think this is true in experiencing the first sip of a perfect latte as it is in a spoonful of homemade ice cream or the first bite of a perfectly aged steak. But there’s something special about the first bite of chocolate made by Marie-Loic Monmont that seemed to speak of a larger story that I wanted to understand. Perhaps it was the spunky fruitiness of the cupuaçu she incorporates. Or maybe that her cacao source, blend and process was masterful - which it is. Or maybe there was something compelling about Marie herself that was coming through the chocolate? What I found is that it was all of the above…
Marie grew up in Lyon, France and knew very early on in life that she wanted to be a chef. So early in fact that she left school at the age of 14 and went through a rigorous French culinary education which lasted for six years. After focusing on chocolates and patisserie in Europe she went on to work with the Ritz Carlton hotel in their kitchens in Los Angeles, Fukuoka, Cape Town, Windhook, Lyon, Budapest, Prague, Kiev and New York. This international experience also led Marie to work in Australia and eventually in NZ at the Intercontinental in Wellington where she fell in love with the kiwi way of life in what was to her, an accessible and family oriented city. Her and her husband settled down, had children, founded and ran La Patisserie in the windy city and when baby No. 3 was conceived, they decided to get Marie out of the kitchen and allow her some space to focus on the children.
For Marie though - an adventurer having been around the world - this was not going to be retirement in the suburbs. It wasn’t long in fact, before a friend over for dinner one night got her international self inspired once again as he told them stories of Brazil and the forests growing organic cacao and it’s cousin tree the cupuaçu, known locally as the ‘pharmacy of the forest’. So inspired was Marie that she sent her husband - brave soul - on a recce to the jungles to suss it all out. He phoned back a few weeks later that it was fabulous indeed, so she packed up the kids, flew down and spent a few months among the villages of the Amazon river basin and Bahia, exploring, tasting and scheming.
It’s at this juncture in her life, I believe, that all starts to come together in my first impression of her “Wildness Chocolates”. As Marie dives into the local culture, her years of cooking experiences draw out ingredients and methods which she shares with the local farmers. She runs workshops and trains growers (who have never actually made chocolate) in the production of bars using the amazing ingredients available to them. One such ingredient was the combination of the cupuaçu (pronounced - Ku-poo-ah-soo) which like the cacao bean, has a white fruity flesh that is usually dried off in the production of cocoa but Marie found a way, through much trial and error, to produce a dried fruit version of the cupuaçu flesh which she then creatively added to the beans found on the same farms.
Along side of the explorer / discoverer side of Marie is the quality focused chef that she is. Having gone around the region sourcing the best Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario cacao beans she could find, she began the deft process of blending at the Barry Callebaut factory in Brazil and processing these beans in combinations that drew out a particular depth of dark chocolate flavour, rounded with just the right level of sweetness which meant sourcing a wider range of beans from Indonesia. This is one of the things your mouth will immediately tell you about Wildness Chocolate. She completely nails the smooth mouth feel, the rich dark chocolate experience without being too dark (there is such a thing) and a surprising fruity finish with the added cupuaçu.
Coming back to NZ to create the new company, you see the community side of Marie come forward in the company's ethos and methods. Just like in the villages in the Amazon, she quickly struck up a relationships with key people, this time though, with the local correctional facilities in Wellington. Marie started working with incarcerated women whom she pays a higher than normal salary to help her package and distribute her chocolate (along with a fair amount of story telling and encouragement being thrown into the relationships). Now, of course, when I first tasted Wildness Dark Chocolate, the Sesame and the Coconut versions, I did not know all of these details, but I knew something exceptional was going on. Having met Marie, it all makes sense and I’ve just scratched the surface of her story. I’m now really looking forward to seeing what else comes from her life, her story, and of course, her kitchen. It’s a privilege to share her story now through our shelves at Raeward Fresh and we hope you fully engage with it.
One of the coolest traits surrounding Kiwi ingenuity isn’t just the No.-8-wire-ability to fix or recreate something, but to do so in such a manner that it becomes a world-class solution. You can see this “couldn’t find it so I made it” mentality across the board from the brilliant Williams Warne mini brewery to the stunning America's Cup racing yachts. And now, thanks to the minds and hearts of the Kiwi-American collaboration between Parnell native Anthony Burt and Kenya, Singapore, South Korea and Boston native Kevin Law-Smith. You can add the world's best tonic waters right up there alongside Richard Pearce's (flying machines) and Bruce McLaren's (racing machines) gear. Hyperbole you say? I say you’ll have to try these tonics to see for yourself.
Perhaps the struggle to equate a tonic water with something as flash as a Formula One machine is that most tonics are boring as. Or, that they’re so much pop, fizz and sugar that they’re easily dismissed as inconsequential. This however would not have been the case upon their invention, when the jungles of Southeast Asia could kill a man via mosquito and quinine became an essential “tonic” or treatment against the disease. The invention that came next, namely, gin & tonic, became an essential way to cope with the bitterness of the cinchona tree bark from which quinine is derived, as well as coping with other life issues ever since. In fact, if you look closely at the original tonic accompanying those early gin mixes, you would find something quite extraordinary in both it’s history and affect.
In terms of kiwi invention, I think what Anthony and Kevin have recaptured here is the affect of gin and tonic. A lot of people have tried to create mixers that would blend well with an average gin, and have succeeded in making something equally average if not overly carbonated and sugared. What the boys from Auckland have managed instead, is to tap back into the original idea, recipes, ingredients and uniqueness of the historical G&T. How they’ve done this is really the backbone of their story.
As artisan gin’s started making a comeback in the last 10 years, Kevin and Anthony noted that there wan’t a proper tonic available which didn’t wipe out the distinct flavours - sometimes herbaceous, sometimes spirited - of these outstanding varieties. On noting the lack, Kevin was reminded that his great grandfather had a recipe dating back to Kenya circa 1903 which described the making of the tonic of his day. This core recipe became the basis of trial and error until the fellas settled on two heirloom quinine sources in Asia, artesian water from Nelson and a few other authentic ingredients to make up the range of tonics they perfected. The other aspect of their invention is a nod to the original by calling the company East Imperial, an homage to both the origin of the drink’s ingredients and a reminder that the word imperial, back in the day, referred to something exceptional, or the best you could find. What they’ve managed, I think, is a striking combination of both an exceptional - even imperial - product and a brand / communication which could not have been displayed in a better fashion. A reminder of something beautiful, almost forgotten, restored for the rest of us.
These two facts have not been lost on the bartenders of the world who by nature are nomadic and tend to share their secrets with the top five or six establishments they may work at around the show over a two to three year period. As a result, this little Kiwi company touting a historic comeback is now in over 32 countries and being poured at some of the worlds finest establishments from the iconic 28 Hong Kong Street in Singapore to the ancient Savoy in London. Places where the subtle juniper of Tanqueray or the botanicals of even our local Broken Heart Gin want to shine through, being well supported by a lightly carbonated, beautifully crafted tonic. East Imperial have not stopped at the first gate however and have gone on to create a line of tonics that are fabulous in a range of drinks. Having some friends over this weekend (South by 42below and Bombay Saphire from across the world) along with a few people to share, we took the range for a spin and were so delightfully surprised at the restraint, subtle invention and sometimes gobsmackingly bright (that would be the grapefruit tonic) that we reigned down praise on each other for our good taste in both gin and mixer, and of course, ultimately each other. We tip our hats to these guys, their wives, their friends and who have all joined in the bringing back of something special in the world, something almost lost to the habits of large manufacturers and thus the habits formed in us. Here’s to the reforming of our taste buds and of our celebrations.
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.
Crystal Gardens Lettuce
Chef Dave Miller
Retro Organics Milk
Basil & Parsley
Jenny Lamond Cakes
Canter Valley Turkey
Wanaka Organics Eggs
Chef Anne Halson
Chef Jonathan Rogers
Off Our Tree Cherries
Goodies On The Gorge
The Raeward Fresh Queenstown Kitchen
Kim Malcolm on Coconuts
Cairnmuir Olive Oil
Provisions Jane Shaw
Fix & Fogg Peanut Butter
Make It Raw
Kokako drinking chocolate
Inch Valley Preserves
White Rabbit Cacao
The People' Bread
Weka Olive Oil
White Heart Hazelnuts
Karamaya Black Garlic
Muesli & Co
Soda Press Co
Dr Feelgood Frozen Pops
All Good Drinks
She Universe Chocolates
A Cracker Of A Nut
Raglan Coconut Yoghurt
Pinoli Pine Nuts
Bonnie Goods Oatcakes
Taste of Provence
Tom & Luke Bars
Pure NZ Ice Cream
Clevedon Buffalo Mozzarella
the Kefir company
Pure Wasabi Coppersfolly
Benneto's Drinking Chocolate
Blueskin Bay Honey
Hogarth Craft Chocolate
Something To Crow About
Fresh As dried Foods
Holy Smoke Salmon
Rebel Foods Nutribombs
Vigour & Vitality
East Imperial Tonics
Abel Methode Cider
Wild Fennel Co.
Covet Nut Milks
Tio Pablo Foods
First Light Wagyu