The Picnic is being unpacked

It’s a quiet but persistent hum in here. Bees is too easy a metaphor but we’re certainly that busy. It’s a studious harmonised busy-ness. We move around each other like it’s choreographed. It’s almost silent except for murmured questions, quiet confirmations. Everything has its place and there’s a place for everything.

This is our latest gift to you: The Picnic. Opening tomorrow. We’ll be ready.

We’ve brought a few of our absolute favourites here, but there are new things too. Things you haven’t tried before.

Come in if you need a special something, but also if you want to treat yourself. Tiny treats, generous portions, everything in between.

We’re next door to Vetro in Ahuriri. Our address is 17A Mahia Street. The coffee machine is ready to pour your ‘one for the road’ and all our delicious morsels are calling out “Take me with you”!

Look out for the praying golden gnome, and you’ll know you’re in the right place.


5 Days: 100 Tastes

Inspiration is everywhere. Look carefully and the ride to work can inspire.

To be honest though, five minutes up the expressway is perhaps not quite as inspiring as, say, five days in San Francisco!

Five days, 3 square meals a day, four sides to every square, that’s 60 food offerings with snacks, ‘travellers’ and ‘quick-bites-to-tide-me-over-while-I’m-waiting-in-the-queue’. One hundred tastes of inspiration to bundle up as memories and bring back to the kitchens.

We’re inspiration camels, storing up our supplies for when we need them. We can live off these five days for some time.

It’s not always a given that overseas means awe-inspiring. Sometimes seeing a place in person takes away some of the mystique.

But other times, when you’ve drooled over something delicious on a blog or in a magazine you get to Mecca and it’s as good as it was in your imagination, just with a longer line to get in.

Some highlights:

  1. Sea Urchin on the Commonwealth menu with horseradish tofu, garden herbs, wasabi, haricot vert veloute. Knockout. I mean really…and not something I would normally gravitate towards but boy I will remember this taste for a long time.
  2. Eating this brave came about because when we saw the Commonwealth menu we said to the wait-staff “Give us one of everything”. It was that good. So inspired I will be thinking and talking about this for a while. Watch out!
  3. Bi-Rite food market. Wow! so much choice, so many flavours, so fresh and vibrant. I love this place. Definitely at the top of any San Fran to do list.
  4. Tartine Bakery. Bread that inspires with its texture and lightness and style. There’s no hidden fluff here, the shape of loaves is honest, literally no hot air in there. The taste lifts bread above just being a vehicle for other foods. Something to aspire to.
  5. San Francisco Farmers Market. I love markets anywhere and everywhere but sometimes you find one that blows the rest out of the game. It’s hard to put your finger on what lifts this above others, tangible things like volume and variety. But also indefinable things that feel like they’re linked to vibe or ambiance but just leave you with a warmth inside. A feeling that hangs around like the memory of a great day with great food and great friends.





Some flavours stay with you for a long time. And when those flavours bring memories along for the ride, one bite can really take you back. Food is a time-machine! So this is a taste of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, one of my first Californian restaurant experiences. That was 23 years ago. I still use this recipe today.

Zuni was iconic: ground-breaking Californian cuisine of its day. It was the golden age of Cali cuisine and a time when braver restaurants were doing away with flavours stolen from other places and instead letting locals speak for themselves, that is local growers, local tastes, local combinations.

I lent my copy of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook to someone years ago and never got it back. Luckily I had this scrawled in a notebook!

Zuni Cafe Caesar Salad

Serves 4 to 6

This recipe is adapted from “The Zuni Cafe Cookbook” by Judy Rodgers.

  • 2 salt-packed anchovies, filleted, rinsed, dried, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon (generous) minced garlic
  • 1/2 tablespoon (scant) red wine vinegar
  • 2/3 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • – Pinch sea salt
  • – Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 pound chewy, rustic French or Italian bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 2 cold large eggs, well beaten
  • – Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons), or to taste
  • 2 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 hearts of romaine lettuce, cored, leaves left whole, chilled

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 160°.

Combine half of the anchovies and garlic in a bowl. Add the vinegar, the 2/3 cup olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Let stand for 20 minutes.

Toss the bread cubes with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread on a cookie sheet and bake until golden, about 10 minutes.

At serving time, slowly whisk the oil mixture into the eggs to form an emulsion. Add the remaining anchovies and garlic, the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the cheese.

Thoroughly toss the lettuce leaves with the dressing, being careful not to bruise them. Taste for salt and add, if necessary.

Divide the salad among chilled serving plates. Add the croutons, dust with more freshly ground pepper and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Cray-cray for kale

It seems like everyone’s gone a little kale crazy. Kale smoothies, kale chips. But keeping it simple is the way to go, for two standout reasons. If you fiddle around with the best ingredients you run the risk of resenting them, they are sucking time from you! Second, the best ingredients need nothing much to deliver up their health properties and their tastiness. Respect that.

Kale is a hardy cabbage really, like the kind of cabbage you can imagine living wild. It is part of the brassica family so has relations who are cauliflowers and broccoli, but we eat the leaves and no real head forms in the middle. it’s an intense green, and has similarities to spinach and silver beet.

Here’s a way to serve it that’s respectful and simple:

Braised Kale

1 bunch kale, washed and roughly chopped

3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, finely sliced

2 anchovy fillets

Pinch of chilli flakes

Salt and pepper

Grilled country style bread

Perhaps a poached egg on top?


Blanch the chopped kale until just tender, then drain and set aside.

Sauté garlic and chilli gently in olive oil.

Add the anchovy fillets and kale and season with a little salt and pepper.

Cook covered very gently until the kale is soft.

Serve on grilled sourdough, with a splash of extra oil.


Chef’s Table

There is a wonderful show playing on Netflix that is definitely worth a view. It’s Chef’s Table. Episode 2 is on Dan Barber of Blue Hill and is particularly inspiring. Here’s the trailer

All for fermenting

We’ve talked before about how kitchens are extending themselves into supply, to create this beautiful loop of grow, make, cook, serve. Another in that ilk is Bar Tartine in San Francisco. There the buzz is about making each part of the offering from scratch, whether it’s the lard or the paprika, or the bread, which alone is worth a visit. The chefs are Nic Balla and Cortney Burns and the flavours and textures reflect the heritage of both – Eastern European and Asian. That may seem muddled but it works well together because of a kind of peasant honesty and warmth.

The really big deal at Bar Tartine in terms of DIY is fermentation. That’s the truly inspiring element. There’s hints here of both the Hungarian and the Japanese influences as fermentation is a staple in both food cultures. From an historic point fermentation is age-old and comes out of necessity, links strongly to harvest-cycles and has huge health benefits. But it’s also a dynamic way to bring a particular punch to dishes and a flavour profile that’s hard to find in any other way.

Kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, even yoghurt, are all ferments incorporated into dishes. If you include some pickles and chutneys, and even the right kinds of bread – read sourdough – there’s a lot of fermenting going on in our own kitchens too. And yes it’s de rigueur to ferment but those original reasons for doing so are still valid and vital: it makes harvested food last right through the year, it cuts down on waste and makes the most of what you have at hand, and it’s very very good for your insides, whether you’re a rave-reviews restaurant or a home cook.

Chad Robertson, who took the beautiful photographs for the Bar Tartine cookbook, took this pic of pickles too.

Prawn fattouche two ways

As a last hurrah, as Summer slips out the door, here are two delicious prawn salad recipes we have used this past season in our kitchens. Both have Middle Eastern flavours, one is a classic fattouche (a bread based salad) and the other introduces an amazing spicy ingredient called zhoug.

These will send you back to sunny days eating al fresco as we come into Autumn and the colder months ahead. Rug up warm and kept BBQing! It’s the only way to stave off Winter blues!

Prawn Fattouche Salad

This is how I cook, adjusting the ingredient to use what I have, you could add coriander, or feta, or watermelon, to this salad, even cooked zucchini.

Allow 5-8 prawns per person, peeled, seasoned cooked as you like.

This is a great salad for b.b.q or fry the prawns and add to the salad below.

Just adjust the amount of ingredients for how many people you have, sprinkle the salad with lots of sumac, some extra mint leaves and throw some lemon wedges on it before serving.

Combine in a bowl:

Marinated red onions

Roasted bread.

Salad Greens, any type from your garden, a small handful for each person. e.g.rocket, baby cos, mesclun.

Washed and chopped radishes, tomatoes, seeded cucumbers, flat leaf parsley and mint leaves .

Add enough dressing to suit your taste, squish in your hands a bit to mix the flavours.

For the marinated red onions:

1T sumac

¼ t allspice

¼ t pepper

1 red onion finely sliced

Soak sumac in cold water for a few mins and remove any husks, put the onion, sumac, allspice and pepper in a bowl and rub everything together, leave to marinate foe an hour at least.

For the roasted pita bread:

¼ round per person.

Tear pita bread into bite sized chunks, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper on a baking tray.

Roast in a pre heated oven, 175 degrees C, until golden, stirring often to get an even colour.

For the dressing:

Mix together (adjust ingredients to taste):

1 garlic clove, crushed with salt to a paste

Juice of one lemon

3T extra virgin olive oil

1T white wine vinegar

Zhoug prawn salad

You will need:

7 cooked prawns

½ large avocado cut into chunks

2 heaped spoons of sumac pickled cucumber and a good spoon of the liquid

1 heaped spoon of zhoug (make your own – here’s how)

Pinch salt


A few mesclun leaves

To assemble:

Mix prawns, avocado, cucumber and liquid and zhoug in a bowl. Add coriander, mesclun, flatbread and salt.

Sprinkle with sumac and pomegranate seeds.




Where food comes from

I’ve been thinking a lot about supply chains. Where things come from is as important as what we do with them. If you have enough kitchens to justify it you can begin to take control of a lot of the supply side of food too. Marlow and Sons has a bakery, first established to supply their own kitchens but now with a retail side. Closer to home, Hip Group in Auckland has a number of excellent eateries but also provides a lot of its own produce including bread but also cheese, honey, fruit and herbs, as well as doing its own butchery. It injects an added dimension into their food; what’s in season, what’s on their own trees, what they are personally passionate about, it all shows up in their kitchens and on their menus in a fluid and honest way.

Hip Group is worth seeking out if you’re up that way. There’s Kohi Beach Cafe, Rosie in Parnell, there’s The Store, The Diner, The Butchery, there’s four Hip Group offerings just at Britomart – you can’t book, you can’t even call because there’s no phone. Drop in, check the wait, mooch nearby, come back when there’s space (they’ll give you a gizmo to let you know).

Traceability is more and more a buzz word in food production. From a kitchen’s point of view it is vital we know where something comes from, but we don’t need to bore customers with it. If it’s part of what we do, then we can relax into trusting it’s the best, and we can get on with treating it well, respecting it and respecting you by serving it up as good eating.

Comfort food on a rainy Monday

This is what I want to eat right now, for lunch. I’m sharing the goodness with you. We’re hunkered down feeling the tail of Cyclone Pam whip around us.

WAXY POTATO SALAD with chickpeas and chorizo

For the dressing:

1T fennel seeds

1 T coriander seeds both lightly roasted and crushed

4 shallots finely diced

1t white pepper

1T thyme leaves


2T white wine vinegar

80ml extra virgin olive oil (evo)

Juice ½ lemon

2 large mild chilli

Put all into bowl and allow to infuse for at least 1 hour

For the salad:

300gm waxy potato

100gm chickpeas

2T evo

160 gm chorizo, thickly sliced

100gm lettuce

1C coriander leaves

2 medium soft boiled eggs

Boil potatoes until tender, slice in half lengthways. Warm chickpeas and toss both in some of the dressing while still warm. Fry the chorizo in evo and add to rest of the salad ingredients. Serve topped with a soft boiled egg.

(I ate mine before I could photograph it so this image is from Stone Soup Cookery)

Take it to the People

I’ve told you before I’m over talking about food. I think about it all the time. Not in a self-satisfied way, but in a ‘sharing, caring, dishing delish up to others’ way. But I don’t want to talk about it.

Reading about it is another thing altogether.

There are some folks out there in Foodland who are making words and pictures as delectable as their dishes. Diner Journal from Marlow and Sons is beautifully constructed and deserves its place on the Foodieodicals magazine menu.

Marlow is Andrew Tarlow and Mark Firth who, 16 years ago, set up Diner in Brooklyn, then a plethora of other steadfastly New York eateries. Each one has its own thing going on but there’s a theme that resonates beneath the whole suite and bubbles up in the pages of Diner Journal.

Clean, fresh, good, simple. No muss, no fuss.

Like Lucky Peach. Pages of yum. Real content. Things you never knew you needed to know, then suddenly find fascinating and essential to life. Each issue says lots about one thing, sees one thing from lots of angles. Instant expert with every issue.

Lucky Peach’s current infatuation with ramen makes me hungry for it. As obsessed as they are. Karen Leibowitz’s history of the noodle is fun and fact-packed. I’m there with her, licking umami soup from my chin.

Capturing vibe on the page makes butterfly collectors out of foodies. They run the risk of flattening the textures, diluting the tastes, knocking the life out of ingredients. Some publications then over-correct, injecting saccharine colour into shots and tingeing the prose purple. Diner Journal brings readers into the Marlow fold through pages of vibe-only content. They don’t tell you they’re cool – they don’t even show you – they take you by the hand and lead you there.

It is not enough for Marlow to take over New York street by street, they are also creating damn good propaganda to carry their philosophy of food to the people. Marlow and Sons, et al, may be very New York but through Diner Journal we all get the chance to rub up against the vibe.

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