Spicing up life in the great outdoors

Warrenn Smart cooks off with Chef  Vellur-Jayavittal at the prefab village.
Warrenn Smart cooks off with Chef Vellur-Jayavittal at the prefab village.

There was a sizzling showdown in the hot afternoon sun on Prefab Landing by the New Plymouth foreshore on Sunday.

It was chef versus home cook, a lone pro against mother and son, Indian food battling Mexican in this Puke Ariki event, celebrating the beach bach lifestyle highlighted in the summer exhibition, Kiwi Prefab: Cottage to Cutting Edge.

And the winner was . . . the food.

Plus the crowd of people on hand to try the free tasty morsels whipped up on the barbecue in front of Andre Hodgskin's prefab, the iPAD. The architect himself was there too, showing people through the award-winning design and managing a quick bite on the side.

On the barbecue were Arborio sous chef Vellur-Jayavittal Srinivasan (best-known as VJ) and primary school teacher Warren Smart with mum Barbara, a legal executive, as his sidekick.

VJ cooked tandoori chicken and prawns, chicken tikka and a flat bread called laccha paratha, all served with a cooling raita.

The Smart cooks made mini fish tacos with soft corn tortillas, a roast tomato salsa, marinated grilled fish, roast vegetables and a lime crema.

"Food speaks for itself. Irrespective of languages you can ask for food. In India, if you show them the sign, they will get the food," says VJ, who was mentored for this event by Arborio head chef Steve Rasmussen.

"I like cooking at home, on the job, anywhere," VJ says. "Wherever I go, I cook - that's what I do."

VJ's first cooking teacher was his mum, Rajkumari, in Hyderabad in southern India. "As you know, mums always help you with cooking and how you will lead your life in the future."

He also trained in his home country and then came to New Zealand in 2008 to study at WITT where he completed a Diploma in Professional Cookery.

"That's where I met my wife [a Kiwi]," VJ says. "That's why it's so special for me there and we got married back home in 2010."

Warren also learnt to cook from his mum.

During Saturday's event, Barbara told MC Jordan McFadyen from the Radio Network that she came home one day to find Warren baking a Christmas cake after school. He was about 12.

To prepare for the latest cook-off, Warren got grilling at his own home. "We have had international BBQ week at our house this week and we have had Mexican twice," he says.

The West End teacher also tried his hand at Indian, Turkish, Thai and Spanish. Daughter Clementine has declared it an annual event with one proviso - he's not allowed to repeat a country.

His most important tip for cooking on a barbecue is to make sure the heat is right.

"Don't just turn it on high and leave it there," he says. "But my main tip is just to have fun and enjoy it."

VJ uses plenty of oil, keeps turning the chicken with tongs to make sure it's cooked on all sides and uses a steel scraper to clean the hot plate between each sizzling effort.

He also explains how to make the raita. For this public event he has made a large quantity, but people can cut down the measurements to suit their situation.

For Saturday, he mixed together 1kg plain Greek yoghurt, 2 grated carrots, 1 grated cucumber, 1 Tbsp salt, 2 Tbsp cumin powder and added sugar to taste.

Among the crowd of about 100 people were three members of The Taranaki Sketchers drawing the event and a whole bunch of eager tasters.

New Plymouth's Regan Clark gave the tandoori prawns a big tick as did Taranaki Sketcher Trevor Davies.

But Bob Thomas from New Plymouth and Jude Gould from Taupo picked the Mexican. "It's delicious - a really good combination." she says. "It's something different to try on the BBQ."

Now members of the public can enter their own best BBQ recipes (they don't have to cook them) in the King of the Grill competition to win a donated Beefeater Bugg barbecue. Go to kiwiprefab.co.nz.

In the meantime, on Saturday, from 1.30pm, there will be a second Chef versus Home Cook showdown on Prefab Landing. Head along for free food and inspiration.



1 chicken, cut into serving pieces, skinned, trimmed of fat

Or 1kg fresh prawns

1/2 cup plain yoghurt

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice or malt vinegar

1 Tbsp minced garlic

1 Tbsp peeled and grated or crushed fresh ginger root

1 Tbsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp fresh-ground black pepper

2 tsp salt or to taste

Vegetable oil, for brushing

Fresh sprigs coriander for garnish

Slices of cucumber, red onion, tomato and lemon, for garnish

Prick the flesh of the chicken all over with a fork, then using a sharp knife, cut slashes in the flesh to allow marinade to penetrate.

Place chicken in a large, non-reactive bowl.

In another non-reactive bowl, combine the yoghurt, lemon juice or vinegar, garlic, ginger, cumin, ground coriander, cayenne pepper, cardamom, cloves, black pepper and salt.

Stir until well mixed, then pour the mixture over the chicken and run into the flesh, turning the chicken several times.

Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight (do not marinate for longer than 2 days).

Take the chicken out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking. Remove the chicken from the marinade and brush with oil.

For a gas BBQ, you need it on a medium heat. If using a charcoal grill, prepare a fire for direct-heat cooking.

Position the grilling rack 12cm from the fire, allow the coals to burn until ash covers them and the heat is moderate.

Place the chicken on a well-oiled grill rack and cook, covered with the vents open, turning the chicken regularly for about 45 minutes, until the juices run clear when a piece is pierced with a knife.

Lachha Paratha

2 cups wholewheat flour (atta)

1 Tbsp oil

Salt to taste

Water for kneading

Butter/ghee for frying

Mix flour, oil and salt together to make dough, 30 minutes before cooking. Cover with a moist muslin cloth.

Take a ping pong ball-sized lump of dough. Roll into a circle about 12 to 15cm in diameter, using dry flour to stop sticking.

Heat ghee on a tawa (flat griddle plate) or on BBQ plate until it turns to liquid and spread over entire surface where paratha will be cooked.

Using a knife, make a 5cm cut lengthways and fold it inwards. Spread oil on every fold, now press lightly towards the centre to show the layers clearly and roll like a paratha.

Place paratha on heated tawa or BBQ prepared with ghee. Turn the flat bread and spread or pour 1/2 tsp oil or butter over paratha and shallow fry over low heat.

Turn it again and pour oil or butter on other side. Cook the laccha paratha on a low heat until golden brown. Serve with any Indian dish.

Chicken Tikka

1 cup fresh yoghurt

1 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

2 Tbsp ginger paste

2 Tbsp garlic paste

3-4 Tbsp garam masala

6 peppercorns or 2 dry red chillies

3 Tbsp lime or lemon juice

1/2 tsp orange food colouring

1kg chicken breast or thigh, skinless and cut into 5cm pieces

1 large onion cut into thin rings

Lime or lemon wedges to garnish

1 tsp chaat masala (available at most Indian groceries)

Grind the chopped coriander (keep some aside for garnishing) and all other marinade ingredients (except yoghurt, onion and chaat masala) to a smooth paste in a food processor.

Pour the above mix into a large bowl and add yoghurt. Mix well. Add the chicken pieces and mix well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate, allowing to marinate overnight.

The next day, thread chicken on to skewers and keep ready.

Preheat oven or BBQ grill to a medium-high temperature (200 degrees Celsius or Gas Mark 6).

Place the skewers on the grill racks in your oven with a tray underneath to catch drippings or on your BBQ grill. Cook until the chicken is browned on all sides and tender.

Remove from skewers and put the chicken on a plate.

Put the onion rings in a separate bowl and squeeze lime or lemon juice over them.

Now sprinkle the chaat masala over them and mix well so onions are fully coated.

Garnish chicken tikka with onion rings and serve.

Mini Fish Soft Tacos

Cook the soft corn tortillas, and spread the slow-roasted tomato salsa on each. Top with a few roasted vegetables, a piece of fish and 1 teaspoon of lime crema, and garnish with pickled red onions, a chilli sauce of your choice and a sprig of fresh coriander.


1 cup masa flour (Mexican corn flour)

Water for mixing

Put the flour in a bowl and mix in water until you have a dough consistency. It should be easy to roll into balls at this stage.

Place a ball of dough about the size of a ping-pong ball between two pieces of baking paper, and flatten in a tortilla press or with a rolling pin. Cook this on a hotplate until lightly browned on both sides.


3 tomatoes

Bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stems

Juice of 1 lime


Cut each tomato in half, sprinkle a little salt on each and place on an oven tray.

Bake in the oven at 180 degrees C for about an hour. The skins should just be starting to blacken.

Allow the tomatoes to cool, then put them in a food processor with the coriander and lime juice (if you want to add some chilli, do this at this stage). Blend into a salsa.


1 capsicum

2 red onions

1 tsp cumin seeds

Vegetable oil

Cut the capsicum into 2cm pieces. Cut the red onions into chunks. Put both of these in a bowl and add a little oil and the cumin seeds. Cook on the hotplate just before serving.


500g fresh fish fillets, boned

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp ground coriander

1 Tbsp coriander leaves

Juice of 1 lime

Cut the fish into bite-sized pieces, and put in a bowl with the spices, herbs and lime juice.

Allow to marinate for about 30 minutes.

Cook on a BBQ plate at medium heat until golden.


250g sour cream

250g yoghurt

1 clove of garlic, crushed

Juice and grated rind of 1 lime


Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and leave refrigerated until serving time.


2 red onions

Juice of 2 limes


Thinly slice the red onions and put them in a bowl. Add the lime juice and salt.

Mix together gently to separate the onions. Cover and leave for an hour or two before serving.

Taranaki Daily News