First tastes of Spring

That taste of the first asparagus of the season – is that Spring? Or is it lamb? And that delicious contradiction of enjoying the bouncing of baby sheep in the fields around us and equally enjoying the taste of them served up with fresh mint.
Your first spring mouthful can set the standard for the tastes of the season to come. Get inspired and shout your tastebuds a treat with our Spring Feast @ Smiths on Friday 23 September. Book your place at info@operakitchen.co.nz.
Asparagus, Lamb, Whitebait, New Vintage Wines, Picnic Puddings, Shared Multicourse Dinner. $55pp

Bedrock

Look at this: Union Square Market Map

Drool, right?

It’s seeping potential. Imagine the eats you could make with all this.

Union Square Market, NY: Hand painted rustic signs, that really are rustic, not just ‘designed’ to look that way. Awnings. Baskets. Blackboards. Plumes of carrot tops. Goose eggs. Rooftop honey. Blueberries. Flags proudly proclaiming ‘Organic’.

I would like to transport myself there twice a week, for forever. It’s actually open four times a week but I have things to do here so it’d be a co-share arrangement.

And when I float home across the ether I’ll bring back a bag of goodies from ABC Carpet and Home.

It’s my favourite place and it’s right next to my other favourite place so it’s like a Mecca of goodness.

Part of the ABC of A.B.C. is to make home a sacred space. “Beauty, experience and magic”.

Geographically, it seems so distant from my home in Hawke’s Bay. Is it possible to have a home and a home-away-from-home so far from each other? One rational, emotional, practical; one spiritual, romantic, fantastical. The tunnel between the two would pop out in the market. We’re both market towns, HB and NY. Rural folks bring their produce to the centre and urbanites gratefully buy. It’s a meeting of people and cultures, energies and sensibilities, food and drink.

I could drill through bedrock to get there. The portal: our own markets here in Hawke’s Bay. The idea that all over the world people are growing stuff, selling it, exchanging product and chatter, and cash, then people are taking that stuff home and cooking it, sharing it, eating it. That is trade at its most raw, pure. Ancient and honest. Money made from hard work and solid principals. And a meal made from the same.

Stop talking and eat

Everywhere we look there’s food but much of it we can’t touch. There’s food on TV, in books, on blogs, in every magazine. There’s food on the radio. But we can’t taste any of it. It’s all talk.

What do people say? “Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink?” Same with food. It’s food-fatigue!

Who would have thought? Too much food in our lives! We risk losing balance and falling for the fantasy. What we all need to do is sink our teeth into reality. Crunch! Simple and easy.

Don’t label me locavore, sustainable, organic; of course I know where those vegetables come from! I don’t need to be slotted into a tidy box to prove my place. I always want to eat better and what I do in my kitchens is an extension of that.

My kitchen is a conduit between growers and eaters. That’s all. What’s fresh, in season, available. This with that. Nothing more. Enjoyed your lunch? Good. Over-analysing why is like dissecting the meal before you taste it.

I’m inspired to eat, and bored to tears talking about it. There’s a truth to what we do in the kitchen, and we hope you can taste it. Even naming it makes it feel thin and trivial. Your tongue can’t be free to really savour the flavour if it’s too busy chewing the fat.

But here I am adding to the prattle. Come in and eat. (I promise I won’t ruin it by talking.)

I like what Alice likes

“an ideal reality … where eating together nourished the spirit as well as the body since the food was raised, harvested, hunted, fished and gathered by people sustaining and sustained by each other and by the earth itself.” Alice Waters

Alice Waters began her Californian restaurant Chez Panisse in 1971. Inspired by fresh French market fare, and coming out of a 1950s childhood of frozen, fast and convenience foods Alice wanted to prepare and share local and fresh to her friends and patrons.

She says, “I was just looking for taste and I found organic and I found local”.

I understand that search and discovery process. We live in a market town, in the food bowl of New Zealand. You don’t have to go far to find food fresh out of the ground, off the tree, on the vine. We’re lucky but we don’t always see that.

On a gap year Alice lived in France and what she ate there inspired the rest of her life with food.

She “lived at the bottom of a market street” and “took everything in by osmosis”. Her search for fresh real ingredients was on.

I feel that here. But let’s face it, it’s not much of a search. What’s in season is at road-side stalls, the Farmer’s Market, farm, garden and orchard gates. Quite literally in our own back yards. Fast food here is fast because it’s fresh and convenient because it’s right there, on your door step.

Alice says her food is inspired by “What’s in my garden, what’s at the market, what is beautiful, what has a kind of life in it.”

In my kitchens that’s the vibe too. It’s real value. And that’s not a money thing, it’s the value of food and quality. Alice talks about the environment she came out of to establish Chez Panisse, “The cook was not valued and the farmer was not valued. It was just sameness.” I get that. When you eat from my kitchens you eat value, and you can taste it. Soil that is valued, growers who are valued, environment and animals and plants that are valued.

Fresh and pure ingredients and a market that is good, clean and fair to everyone involved.

And customers who are valued too. My kitchens are an extension of my home and I welcome people with the same warmth, generosity and attention to detail.

I am inspired so much by what’s around me, it’s the reason I live in Hawke’s Bay, and I hope the inspiration is passed on to the diner through the food.

Alice calls it “Environmental harmony and delicious flavour”. Harmony and flavour – what more could you ask for.

See more Alice here

Hear more Alice here

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Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
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+64 6-870 6020

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