Sugar Day

Maybe your day is Wednesday or maybe you save it for the weekend, but more and more people are circumventing sugar and keeping this simple pleasure to just one day a week. Then on that day, you treat yourself to the best and only the best. No rushed moro bar in the car for this sugar-free devotee.

Make The Picnic your place to unleash the sweet beast: You know you’re in for a treat when you see our display cabinets shining with Gold Cakes. We call them Gold Cakes because each little lovely sits on its own gold disc. Flavour combinations change weekly but which ever you choose you know your one sweet treat this week is worth it, and the flavour-memory will last through to next time.

You might save yourself for a few delicious chocolates, each with its own party of flavours happening inside. You might eat a donut. Or a cruffin – these are a specialty and they change everyday.

Sharing the experience is another lovely way to celebrate deliciousness. Call it a date and meet up with a mate. A quick sandwich at your desk can be balanced beautifully with a long black and a verrine. And because verrines are served in a jar make your sugar day last by eating half for lunchtime dessert and half for 3pm energy slump.

We change our flavours to suit our mood and what’s good from our suppliers. Check Instagram for flavour updates or just come in on your sugar-day and we’ll see you right.

At The Picnic we celebrate sugar by treating it well and using it cleverly. We sweeten in tandem with spice and sharpness, bitterness, citrus and sour. Sugar shouldn’t shout. It doesn’t need to. It plays a similar role to salt – and sometimes the two work together – in supporting other flavour profiles to be the best they can be.

Happy Valentine’s

Love is in the air thanks to Valentine’s Day this coming weekend. It can be a bit of a saccharine event ol’Valentines when it’s done with a box of Roses or a rose wrapped in cellophane.

When you love someone, or even just like someone a whole lot, it’s nice to use VDay as an excuse to introduce them to something new, or share something you enjoy with them, or treat them to an experience that’s not ‘everyday’.

We’re giving you two ways to make this happen. At The Picnic we’re creating some very special chocolate work. Flavour combinations are adventurous and each piece is hand created so that ticks the Something New box.

At Smiths we’re hosting a Valentines dinner on Saturday 13th Feb. This is a 6-course meal with three dessert courses. That’s Something Special done and dusted.

And if this Valentines sees you popping the question, keep us in mind for your Big Day. We love weddings! We can provide the cake, the favours and the dessert bar to top off your celebrations.

Love is sweet, enjoy it with us.

Eat My Lunch

Who doesn’t have a culinary crush on Michael Meredith?! Right? Well now the eponymous chef of Auckland’s Merediths is showing his altruistic side by coming on board Eat My Lunch, which gifts a lunch to a child with every gourmet lunch sold.

The initiative has just won the Excellence in Social Innovation prize at the 2015 NZ Innovators Awards and rightly so.

It’s a worthy cause, well done and a great idea to boot. And with Meredith on board it’s tasty, in more ways than one.

Special Guest

Unna Burch from My Garden Kitchen and The Forest Cantina is coming to Hawke’s Bay to do a food styling and photography workshop at Opera Kitchen! We are so chuffed to have her. She’ll be here on Sunday 22 November from 1-4pm and the workshop price is $150. Unna is an amazing stylist and cook and has some stunning techniques. She’s a vibrant and bubbly person and this workshop will be really special. There’s a lovely video about Unna here, made as part of the launch of her book. You can book your place through her blog.

You’re our people

People is the key to lifting what we do above mere ingredients, recipes, techniques. People bring creativity, ingenuity and verve.

The men and women who pour your perfect cup, those behind the scenes who cook and bake and clean and make, all of you, bringing us your appetites and your open minds, your loyalty, and your taste buds, you’re all our people.

Then there are the people who flit in, make magic, flit out.

We’ve had some special guests working behind the scenes over this busy period, with opening The Picnic. They are not there to take centre stage, but to bolster and mentor the talent we have in our kitchen and front of house. They guide and support, and when they think their job is done, they flit off again. We, of course, want them to stay, not to hold our hands but to enjoy the fun!

So thank you people! People who come to eat and drink and share, and people too who come each day to pull on your aprons and do your bit for the team. You’re the real oil that keeps us cranking.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

FLAVOUR NOSTALGIA

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.

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.

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.

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