Waikato chefs take a bow in new book

Andrew and Julia Clarke, of Hamilton's Victoria Street Bistro have a spot in the book.
Andrew and Julia Clarke, of Hamilton's Victoria Street Bistro have a spot in the book.

Just when you thought you'd never need another book about food, along comes The Great New Zealand Cookbook. And it wins you over with a leisurely culinary journey through the country, visiting talented chefs, bakers and other producers of fine comestibles.

The book gathers recipes from the well-known and the not-so-well known. Happily for us, the cookbook team stopped to graze in the greater Waikato, and also drew in chefs with connections to this region.

The compilation gets to the heart of what Kiwis like to eat, the recipes being a well-judged mix of family favourites, classics, imported ideas, and up-to-the-minute compilations. Peta Mathias, for example, does preserved duck legs and potatoes in duck fat, from her life in France, and an old-fashioned roly poly pudding that her father used to make when she was a child.

Scott Brown and Jackie Grant from the Auckland-based Hip Group (which runs the Waihi Beach Hotel Eatery & Store), offer Wood- fired Bread, Ashed Chilli & Tomatillo Sauce Vierge, and Hand-Cut Pasta with Zucchini, Mint, Almonds & Parmesan.

The book is the work of Aucklander Murray Thom, who in 2009 produced The Great New Zealand Songbook. Now he's turned his attention to food.

Thom asked 80 chefs, foodwriters, cafe owners, bakers, cooks, fishermen and hunters to hand- write their food story for him, and stump up with a couple of recipes.

Thom asked Kiwi culinary star Dame Alison Holst to do the pav and pikelets. "She's the queen, " he says.

Thom says there was much discussion among his production crew about who to include. They were determined to cover the whole of New Zealand, not just Auckland and Wellington, and they wanted a wide range of foods.

"We put all that into a grid, there was a lot of healthy debate, that was my favourite part. Some names I didn't know at all, there were some wonderful discoveries." Among the discoveries for Thom was the talented Jeremy Rameka, of Napier's Pacifica restaurant. "What an absolute star."

It took Thom and his team nine months from first to last photoshoot. He's got the likes of Aucklanders Judith Tabron, Sid Sahrawat, Tony Astle, Al Brown, Julie Biuso, Lauraine Jacobs and others, as well as Kiwi cooking doyenne Tui Flower, from the old days of the New Zealand Woman's Weekly. Flower does raisin loaf and bran biscuits.

Hamilton husband-and-wife restaurateurs Andrew and Julia Clarke get a place. Their eatery, Victoria Street Bistro, last year won Cuisine's best regional restaurant title, and Andrew (the chef) shares recipes for Beef Bourguignon with Roasted Asparagus, Baby Carrots & Potato Mash, plus Tamarillo Clafoutis.

Thom and his team visited Te Kuiti's Bosco Cafe to eat its legendary Blueberry, Orange & White Chocolate Muffins, and Caramelised Onion & Cheddar Scones (see recipe). They called into the venerable Colenso Cafe at Whenuakite, on the Coromandel Peninsula, and went across to Mt Maunganui, to meet chef Stephen Barry at Mount Bistro.

Then there are those with Waikato roots, including celebrity chef Josh Emett; cookbook author Annabelle White, who has a distinguished alumni award from Waikato University; Rex Morgan (ex- Huntly, co-owner of Wellington's Boulcott Street Bistro); foodwriter Nici Wickes from Port Waikato; and Te Awamutu chef, Ben Bayly, executive chef at Auckland's highly- rated The Grove and Baduzzi restaurants.

Bayly was named Chef of the Year in the Cuisine NZ Good Food Awards, and The Grove earned a coveted three hats in Cuisine's latest competition round. He is also co-host of the upcoming New Zealand version of the TV show, My Kitchen Rules.

Bayly started work as a 15-year- old schoolboy at Taylors restaurant in Te Awamutu; he later trained at the then Waikato Polytechnic, cooked at long-gone Rustici in Hamilton, and eventually went overseas to learn more. Bayly married high school sweetheart Cara, from Kihikihi, and his contribution to The Great New Zealand Cookbook is family- oriented, rather than being restaurant dishes. "I wanted it to be about family, we did it all at home." He cooked lamb meatballs, herb pasta and chocolate souffle."

Murray Thom had a lot of fun too, and he says he's learned some new skills from being around all these chefs and foodwriters. "I'd never baked anything in my life. Then I baked Shane Clouston's cake recipe just before the book came out. My mum came over, and saw me watching the cake cooking through the oven window. She buckled over laughing."

He reckons the finished product turned out well, like The Great New Zealand Cookbook. "It's a happy book."

Published by Thom & PQ Blackwell, RRP $49. A portion of the sales will be donated to Kidscan to help fund orchards in schools.

Waikato Times