'Telling the story' secures restaurant's award success

TESSA JOHNSTONE
Last updated 05:00 11/08/2014

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Tickets are flying out the door and foodies' mouths are watering - annual food festival Wellington On a Plate is five days away.

The two-week culinary event brings out the best of chefs and food producers across the Wellington and Wairarapa regions with 118 events, as well as set menus and burger offerings from nearly 100 eateries.

Ninety-eight kitchens were vying to be recognised as the best of Dine Wellington, with set lunch and dinner menus on offer for the festival, but Logan Brown took this year's crown, despite not being a finalist in the first place.

Little Beer Quarter was initially a finalist alongside Boulcott Street Bistro, Duke Carvell's, Muse on Allen and Ti Kouka Cafe but their entry was "deemed outside competition criteria" and Logan Brown was nudged up a place.

Logan Brown's two-course menu offered a choice of a green onion and ricotta tart or a slow-cooked lamb leg to start, a tarakihi and squid dish or beef bavette for the main, and an apple shortcake or malt chocolate panna cotta for dessert. Logan Brown head chef Shaun Clouston said the team worked hard on the entry and were proud of the win.

"We're quite happy when we can get rewarded with something like this, a pat on the back for something we're really proud of doing." They were particularly proud of the way they sourced and used local produce, which was an important part of the business, he said. "It's about telling a story.

"The squid that I served to the judges on the Friday, I know the boat it comes off and to be able to say that really means something.

"You're not just buying something, you're actually sourcing it, you know where it comes from and you can tell the story."

The co-owner and chef at Australian restaurant Lake House, Alla Wolf-Tasker, one of three Dine Wellington judges, said one of her favourite parts of judging was hearing those stories.

"If it [reconnecting with your food, knowing where it comes from] is a trend, then it's the best trend I've seen."

Although it was a difficult decision to make, Logan Brown's entry stood out because of their knowledge and use of local produce. Wolf-Tasker said if she was to label Wellington's culinary scene with any word, it would be passion.

"It's got this kind of fermenting energy and youthful exuberance."

FINE DINING AT RISK

Restaurateurs are struggling to find skilled chefs and it's putting top-end dining at risk, according to a visiting Australian chef.

Alla Wolf-Tasker, who runs Lake House in Daylesford and has been judging dishes in culinary event Wellington On a Plate, said the industry was suffering skills shortages in Australia and she had heard a similar story in New Zealand. "We'll get the restaurants we deserve, a bit like politicians."

There was a risk fine dining skills would be lost with the demand for casual dining, she said.

"If we lose that top-end dining, we'll lose the craft."

Ideally, a small city would maintain the whole spectrum of dining, Wolf-Tasker said. "In a really gastronomically rich city like New York, you've got all the top-end restaurants right down to the markets, and bistros and bakeries and everything in between."

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Logan Brown head chef Shaun Clouston agreed it was a problem but he hoped there would always be a place for fine dining.

- The Dominion Post

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