Plenty on the table at this year's Plate of Origin competition
Ten Manawatu chefs paired with chefs from throughout New Zealand to compete in this year's Plate of Origin competition. Reporter Miri Schroeter tasted eight of the dishes and talked to the chefs behind them.
Venison, fennel flowers and black garlic are the popular ingredients at this year's Plate of Origin.
The event, in its second year, aims to showcase the country's finest produce by using it in specially designed dishes and serving it up to diners throughout the New Zealand AgriFood Investment Week.
The chefs taking part have created meals that incorporate each chef's skills and personality, while championing the hero ingredients.
Cuisine Editor and Director Food and Wine Fairfax NZ Kelli Brett has had the hard task of judging the competition, alongside UCOL chef lecturer Mark Smith.
"The standard of entries this year is impressive and choosing only one plate is going to be tough," Brett said.
"It is wonderful to see the amount of interest in the each unique dish on offer throughout the restaurants this week. A great way to support the local restaurant industry".
Plate of Origin runs until March 18, with the winning dish announced in the May issue of Cuisine.
Fat Farmer paired with Hawke's Bay's Bistronomy
Hawke's Bay is described as "the fruit bowl of New Zealand" by Fat Farmer chef Janet Gray, who along with Bistronomy's James Beck, wants to showcase a fruit that is under-utilised, but rich and sophisticated. The plums are used in a salsa and shaved granita, and teamed with a sweet rice cracker. The sweetness is balanced with the mild venison and kawakawa berries, which add a peppery flavour. The pickled red onions are needed to give the dish acidity, and paired with the subtle flavour from the venison, bring it back to a savoury dish. Gray has a farming background and adds a rustic feel to the dish - steering well clear of a traditional white plate.
Nero paired with Wharekauhau in Wellington/Wairarapa
Wild venison from the Tararua Range and mushrooms served several ways pack a punch in this earthy dish. Chefs Marc Soper, from Wharekauhau, and Nero's Scott Kennedy have created a coffee jus, made from Havana's five-star blend, which goes hand-in-hand with the venison. Drunken Nanny goats curd pairs perfectly with the mushrooms, giving a spin on the classic taste combination. The chefs use odd ingredients such as Elephant's ear fungi, which looks and feels like a floppy Dumbo ear, to introduce people to new flavours. Fennel flowers, baby carrots and beetroots mirror the array of fruits and vegetables that colour the gardens at Wharekauhau Lodge. The dish is refined, but homely, as it reflects the hard work of nurturing the produce. They also leave little to waste by using the mushroom peel to create a powder.
La Patio paired with Nelson's Harbour Light Bistro
Home-style cooking with flare is what La Patio chef Dexter Gallaza and Nelson chef Steve Coyne want to achieve. Coyne runs a restaurant that caters to classic Kiwi tucker so he aims to create a meal that is affordable and achievable for people to try at home. The standout is the sharpness from the sheep's cream cheese, which puts a classic spin on risotto. It's served with pan fried gurnard and fresh cherry tomatoes picked in Nelson. The chefs chose to serve tomatoes raw and untouched as they want to avoid having every element on the plate cooked. Dill and micro herbs add to the idea that people can recreate a similar dish using freshly foraged ingredients. The layout is purposely off-trend, Coyne says, to represent "a really honest dish".
Aberdeen paired with Fleur's Place in Otago
If you like confit duck and anchovies then this dish will go down a treat, Aberdeen's Craig Robinson says. These two particular flavours are found in the mutton bird rillette, which is served with Angus Pure eye fillet and white wine-steamed cockles to create the "best surf and turf you could dream of". He teamed with Fleur Sullivan, who bases her menu on the seafood fishermen catch and unload on the wharf next to her restaurant. A generous portion of eye fillet is also stuffed with Bluff oysters, adding to the rich seafood element. What really brings this dish together is a burnt butter sauce, which should come in bucket loads.
Bethany's paired with Bay of Plenty's Mount Bistro
Bethany's Reuben Leung Wai and Mount Bistro's Stephen Barry bring the ocean to a plate. Seaweed-coloured Maori squash panna cotta and macadamia nut and black garlic sponge, which looks like coral, add to the seafood-based dish. Jon Dory is cooked two ways – it's pan fried and also made into a mousseline – giving it a soft fluffy texture. Macadamia nuts from the Bay of Plenty give the croquettes a thin, crunchy, layer that goes well with Wai's full-bodied romesco sauce. Wai foraged for the fennel, which adds an aniseed taste to the aioli. At home, he eats a lot of produce from his garden and he aims to bring this concept to the plate.
Amayjen paired with Arbour from Marlborough
One of the key ingredients in this dish is underrated, says Amayjen's Andrew May. Blue mussels are seen as a pest and aren't used commercially because their shells are thinner than green-lipped mussels and break easily. May and Bradley Hornby, from Arbour, smoked blue mussels and served them whole, as well as in a fritter, making it hard to miss on the plate. Their version of a surf and turf is made with the addition of wild fallow venison, which is sous-vide with an onion ash rub. To give the dish a honey aroma without adding too much sweetness, the chefs also sous-vide heirloom carrots with bees wax. Black garlic puree and a black garlic tuile brings the wild onto the plate, adding to the smokiness of the rub. Rather than opting for a smooth jus, the chefs dried out venison and ground it to create floss for their white wine dressing.
Nosh paired with The Grove in Auckland
Rabbit and wheat beer are the heroes of this dish, says Nosh chef Mark Harman. The rare rabbit is soft in texture and flavour. Texture plays a large part in this dish, with a light wheat beer foam contrasted by crispy yellow split peas. Harman and The Grove's Josh Barlow wanted to "think outside the box" and bring people produce that isn't often found in Manawatu, Harman says. A chicken mousse, which is poached and then caramelised, encases the rabbit, offering a slight sweetness to the dish. Harman says this is different to the food he usually cooks at the restaurant and has influences from food more often seen in Auckland or Australia.
Jimmy Cook's paired with Chillingworth Road in Canterbury
Jimmy Cook's Jonathan Mawley and Chillingworth's Darren Wright are the only chefs creating an entree instead of a main. Mawley says they chose to do this from a commercial standpoint, to entice foodies who plan to visit several places in one night. Cured Akaroa salmon is so rich it is best appreciated as an entree, Mawley says. In a bold move, the chefs pair it with mushrooms in an attempt to give customers an unusual, but tasty, flavour combination. The fine cured salmon is offset by a salmon and bacon croquette. Verjuice balls are created to replicate the texture of salmon caviar and give the dish some bite.
- Also taking part in Plate of Origin are Table 188, paired with Hamilton's Victoria Street Bistro, and Rendezvous, paired with Table at Nice Hotel in New Plymouth.