Savouring Central Otago

OTAGO FAN: Saffron owner Pete Gawron (right) chats to Wakatipu resident Jilly Jardine in the garden.
OTAGO FAN: Saffron owner Pete Gawron (right) chats to Wakatipu resident Jilly Jardine in the garden.

Saffron owner and Arrowtown chef Pete Gawron oozes enthusiasm for all things food, so it is no surprise his latest cookbook The Taste of Central Otago is receiving some well-deserved international attention.

It has just won Best Cookbook in New Zealand in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Gawron's second tome is a delightfully presented book, recipes interspersed with stunning pictures of blossom, stone cottages and dramatic gorge views, sweeping scorched tussock landscapes and trees groaning with summer fruit.

Gawron arrived back from a 21st birthday treat trip to Nepal, trekking up to 5400m to view Everest with daughter Chelsea, to another high - the news of his win.

MORE RECIPES: The Taste of Central Otago: More recipes from Arrowtown's Saffron, by Pete Gawron.
MORE RECIPES: The Taste of Central Otago: More recipes from Arrowtown's Saffron, by Pete Gawron.

"They even invited me to the awards ceremony in Louvre, Paris. I said ‘is this for real?'. I'm pretty happy with it," he said.

Following on from his popular 2007 cookbook, Saffron, Food from the Central Otago Heartland, the colourful former Aussie is back with another stunning salute to the produce of the region he has long since called home and is immensely passionate about.

In the four years since his first book, his dishes and cooking have progressed.

"The publishers approached me to write another book on what spins my wheels in a culinary sense, casting the net further to capture the originality of the area.

"Let's face it, if you live in Central Otago you've got to embrace the seasons. They embrace us and our menus reflect that."

Gawron is definitely one of life's great enthusiasts, living life to the max. On any given winter or early spring morning Gawron can usually be found cranking in a few turns on the slopes of Coronet Peak. It's a regular escape in his favourite alpine playground, setting him up to start a long day in the kitchen at his successful Arrowtown restaurant, Saffron, which he opened 14 years ago. He also owns neighbouring Pesto and The Blue Door.

Gawron's love and deep attachment to Central Otago infuses everything he does, whether it's in the restaurant kitchen serving up his signature dishes or pulling up a chair to chew the fat with out-of-towners.

He is known for his innovations. Long before energy drinks and "V" were in vogue, Gawron was among the first in New Zealand to import guarana berries from South America. His real fruit smoothies with guarana served up at his Jazz Bar takeaway outlet in Queenstown's Camp Street in the early-1990s were legendary. Guarana is a tropical berry that is high in guaranine, a chemical substance with similar characteristics to caffeine.

Gawron can often be spotted out foraging for fungi, fruit and berries in the wild while out on a run. His new cookbook "simply sings Central Otago", and reveals an array of food that dazzles on the plate and awakens the senses.

There are more than 75 recipes and magical images by Aaron McLean and within it Gawron shows how he transforms local produce into delicious, artfully presented dishes.

Recipe Saddle of Southland lamb, filled with bacon, savoy cabbage and local white truffle

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

  • 50 g butter onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 rashers good-quality, double-smoked bacon, finely diced
  • 3 cups Savoy cabbage, finely sliced
  • very small sprig each of rosemary and thyme
  • sea salt to taste
  • a good turn of the pepper mill
  • 2 or 3 good-sized truffles, finely sliced
  •  cup panko breadcrumbs, browned in the oven until very golden
  • 1 saddle of lamb, boned, any excess fat carefully removed
  • 50g butter

Stuffing: Heat a sturdy frying pan, add the butter, then sauté the onion, garlic and bacon.

Add the cabbage and cook for five minutes over a low heat until the cabbage has wilted, stirring constantly.

Add the rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper, and the truffle, then remove from the heat. Finally add the toasted breadcrumbs. Allow to cool.

Lamb saddle: Preheat the oven to 180C.

Lay the saddle, skin side down, on the benchtop. Place the stuffing along the centre of the lamb and roll up firmly.

Tie at 5cm intervals with butcher's twine. Heat a large ovenproof frying pan and add the butter, allowing it to froth.

Add the rolled saddle to the pan and brown.

When the skin is golden, place the pan in the oven. Cook for about 25 minutes.

Rest the lamb for five minutes somewhere warm before carving.

The Southland Times