Jonathan Milne: Stay away from my burger – the ban on medium-rare meat takes government intrusion too far

Restaurant Manager Kelsey Benefield wraps her teeth around the Duke of Marlborough Hotel's signature medium-rare hamburger.
BAYLEY MOOR / FAIRFAX NZ

Restaurant Manager Kelsey Benefield wraps her teeth around the Duke of Marlborough Hotel's signature medium-rare hamburger.

OPINION: An Englishman's home is his castle, they used to say. And a New Zealander's private life is equally sacrosanct. Governments intrude at their peril into our bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and dinner tables.

In the final months of the third term of Helen Clark's government, Labour learned that the hard way. The proposal to regulate so households could install only low-pressure shower-heads, only energy efficient lightbulbs, was little more than bureaucrats spit-balling. But the public reaction to this "nanny state" incursion was swift and angry.

Nine years on, the 2017 election campaign proper started on Friday. And Bill English and his kitchen Cabinet would do well to think back to their predecessors' dribbly shower-head woes, then pour a bucket of cold water on the latest bureaucratic foray.

A medium-rare hamburger at the historic Duke of Russell Hotel in Russell, Bay of Islands.
BAYLEY MOOR / FAIRFAX NZ

A medium-rare hamburger at the historic Duke of Russell Hotel in Russell, Bay of Islands.

We reveal today that new Ministry of Primary Industry guidelines for food outlets require your hamburger to be cooked to fried or grilled to 70C internal temperature. As any home cook can tell you (or indeed, anyone with a opy of the Edmonds Cookbook sitting handy) 70C is, to all intents and purposes, nuking it to high heaven. What is left is a hunk of dried out, grey tyre rubber.

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If you're happy eating Big Macs, this new rule needn't worry you. Go back to your so-called meal.

But if you have any respect whatsoever for the big, beautiful cattle beasts that died so you might dine, then you want your burger fresh and flavoursome and dripping with juice.

I went home on Friday night to test this out: two beef patties, one frying pan, and a few gherkins, tomato and buns. The first burger (60C inside, according to my kitchen thermometer) was a delight, and it hasn't killed me. But my appetite fast waned as I nibbled the well-done, second pattie, every ounce of goodness cooked out of it.

Chefs around the country have no doubt been stewing at the new "guidelines", but it was executive chef Dan Fraser at the historic Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell who put a match to the flambé.

First he received an email from an MPI official. "You need to make some changes," he was told – the same stern message they were sending other restaurants and caterers around New Zealand

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Then the MPI auditor turned up this week: You either need to change your cooking process or take the burger off the menu, she told Fraser.

This puts the lie to the moniker "guidelines". These are not guidelines – they are rules, and any chefs who dare think they know better how to cook safe, tasty food risk the wrath of the government falling upon their establishments.

The final insult comes in the advice given by MPI food and beverage manager Sally Johnston in today's articles. Sure, medium-rare burgers will be off the menu at the grill – but, she suggests, you could always try cooking them sous vide style in a water bath?

You could hear Dan Fraser choking. "Who the f... wants a sous vide burger?"

Dribbling shower heads or watery burgers, these are a government intrusion too far.

 - Sunday Star Times

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