Creativity rules at Up the Garden Path

Last updated 14:30 22/05/2014
Josiah Smits
ALASTAIR PAULIN
NO COMPROMISES: Josiah Smits, head chef at Motueka's Up the Garden Path cafe
SOUP
KARAENA VINCENT PHOTOGRAPHY
LOVING SPOONFUL: Pear and Parsnip Soup with bread

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Behind the adobe style wall on the corner of High and Courtney streets lies one of Motueka's favourite destinations, Up the Garden Path Cafe and Gallery.

The grounds are filled with sculptures and whimsical touches like the boat up a tree and a new playground to keep little ones entertained. But people keep coming back for the food, with a seasonal menu and creative twists that take cafe dining to a higher level.

Josiah Smits has been the head chef at the popular cafe for the past five years, about the same length that David and Susu Kellogg have owned the business. Their children now run the cafe and their grandchild has the run of it.

Smits has similar family connections. He says he first learned to love cooking at the side of his great-grandmother, helping her to make favourites such as cinnamon swirls and toffee from the age of 6.

He became serious about food at Nelson College's food and hospitality course and then did his apprenticeship while working at the luxurious Parathio Lodge on Waiwhero Rd for four years, under head chef Angela Bone and chef Cam Trott.

The lodge tried to never duplicate a dish in its five-course dinners for guests, so if a group was staying for 10 nights, that would mean 50 different dishes.

Smits says that honed his creativity and his passion for excellence and Up the Garden Path's general manager, Aaron Carvell, says Smits drills his mantra of "no compromises" into the rest of the kitchen staff.

"That means no compromises on quality, standards, appearance, taste, colour, presentation. I might not cook as many crayfish as at the lodge but I've still got the urge to play around and bring that creativity to the cafe," says Smits.

As well as running the cafe's kitchen, Smits works two days a week as the children's pastor at Motueka Church of Christ. He appreciates his flexible employers but between his two jobs, just-turned-2 daughter Vienna-Rose and another child on the way, he doesn't have much time left for himself, which has meant no rugby this season for the incisive-running centre.

"I love to cook what I'd like to eat, and that depends on the weather and what's in season.

"I like to keep it fresh and simple and with the colder weather now, I'm enjoying being creative with soups. We bake all our own bread here too so the handmade bread goes well with the soups.

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"When people see the Roasted Pear and Parsnip Soup on the menu the reaction is sometimes, ‘Pears in the soup? Really?'

"This surprisingly delicious soup makes good use of our region's winter pears and is a great antidote for cold days, especially when served with freshly baked bread and a cup of mulled wine. It also keeps well and, like most soups, is even better on the second day."

ROASTED PEAR AND PARSNIP SOUP WITH TOASTED PINENUTS, THYME AND BLUE CHEESE

Serves 6 generous portions

Ingredients

For the soup:

50g butter

1 large brown onion

5 cloves fresh garlic

4 large parsnips

4 pears, preferably brown varieties such as Taylor's Gold or Buerre Bosc

1.5 litres chicken or vegetable stock

500ml cream

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

For the garnish:

60g blue cheese (Smits likes Windsor Blue)

30g toasted pinenuts

a small handful of fresh thyme

Method

Preheat oven to 190˚C fanbake

Peel and roughly dice the parsnips.

Peel, core and dice the pears.

Place the diced parsnips and pears into a large roasting pan, drizzle them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place the pan in the pre-heated oven and bake for 30 minutes, turning the contents halfway through cooking.

While the parsnips and pears are baking, slice the onion and chop the garlic, both very finely.

Place the onion and garlic in a large heavy-bottom pot and sauté until softened and translucent.

After the parsnips and pears have cooked for 30 minutes, transfer them into the pot with the onion and garlic. Pour the stock over the mixed vegetables, bring it all to a simmer and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the parsnips have become soft.

Add the cream to the pot and simmer for a further 5 minutes - do not boil it!

Remove the pot from heat and allow it to cool.

Puree the mixture in a food processor or blender until it is very smooth. A stick blender will work but the soup will not be as smooth.

Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper and immediately spoon into wide bowls, topping each with a small wedge of blue cheese and a sprinkling of toasted pinenuts and fresh thyme. Serve with fresh warm bread and butter.

- The Nelson Mail

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