TEA FOR ME

Ten o’clock: coffee time. Thin columns of people exit offices in search of the bean. It’s grey outside and the urge seems keener. But it’s not always the bean they’re after, sometimes it’s the leaf: the tea leaf.

There’s a romance to drinking tea, a tradition and a ritual. And it’s therapeutic. Whatever ails you there’s a tea to treat it. Relaxing, energising, sleeping, detoxing, each has its own tea-remedy.

This morning we celebrated tea in a small but important way by carefully placing our new tea caddies and tea cups on the shelves at the newly opened Opera Kitchen.

Our teas are by Storm and India, an exciting artisanal tea distributor run by Auckland-based sisters Storm and India Bellamy.

The cups and saucers are from Rachel Carley, also in Auckland. As well as being aesthetically lovely these pieces have a rich back story based on the academic pursuits of their maker in design, form and architecture.

Both the vessel and the tea itself are a treat to have and to savour, it’s an experience in itself and a special element of our new Opera Kitchen, one we are really pleased to put in pride of place.

Milo and Mitzy say Hi!

Thanks to our friends at Milo and Mitzy for the beautiful write up of what we’re doing here at Eat Drink Share.  Here’s a taster, read more (and enjoy the terrific photos) here.

On a personal note, what attracts me to Eat Drink Share HB is the way that Jennifer strives to new levels in each of her four eateries. Every one of them are different in their own way. They each bring something distinctive to the table.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Bring the rainbow

Simple food, prepared well outstrips flashy fluffing with a pile of fancy fare. And the simplest of all is the humble vegetable. VEDGE is a vegan restaurant in Philadelphia and what they do with vegetables would garner the envy of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, he of the ultimate veg-head Vertumnus.

Vegetables are beautiful.

Meat comes in two colours: blood and blah. Vegetables bring the rainbow. “Eat your greens,” mothers tell their issue, “Eat your oranges, your reds, your purples, your yellows, AND your greens!”

VEDGE is the baby of Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby who have captured their restaurant in a cookbook, also called VEDGE. “100 plates that redefine vegetable cooking,” they say.

The ideas are simple enough to be easily dismissed. But there’s an aftertaste that makes you linger longing for more. Look again at that roasted carrot, come closer and see what’s been done with those Brussels sprouts.

Dinner hosts shrink at the thought of a vegan coming to tea. “No eggs?!” “No cheese?!” “A single serving of nut loaf?” But VEDGE offers so many inspired ideas the whole table will soon be devouring vegetables.

Few people raise meat to eat in their own back yards. But vegetables are so do-able. There’s such variety there, not just in type but in specifics. Take tomatoes: cherry, roma, yellow, plum, bush, brandywine and beefsteak. All ready to go, cheap to grow and offering up a hundred different meals.

Embrace the vegetable, make it the hero on the plate, invite some veg heads to tea and show them your moves. If you get it right with the vege you may even find you have no room left for the meat.

 

 

Squash toast

Just when I think I’ve tasted too much, smelt too much, thought too much and talked too much about food I find something that reminds me that some simple food needs so little to make it perfect.

Recently, as blood thirsty children loosely disguised as Halloweeners traipsed around the neighbourhood in search of sugar, I found a sweet little recipe for squash toast. So perfect when there’s hollowed out pumpkins lit from within on the porch but so wrong when we’re six months from traditional ‘harvest’ season.

Smitten Kitchen blogs her edible adventures from a tiny kitchen in New York City. She calls herself fearless. And attempts mastery of some complex things, restaurant standard but prepared by a mum in the city with a toddler at her ankle. “Comfort food stepped up a bit”, she says.

This squash toast recipe originates from Jean-Georges Vongerichten via ABC Kitchen NYC – miles away from Smitten Kitchen in equipment, combined experience and skill. The recipe comes out of Jean-Georges’ commitment to keep things simple and tasty. His food is not weighed down by tradition and he looks to the East for inspiration. Heavy stocks and creams are replaced by vegetable juices, fruit essences and light broths. Herbs, fruits, veges. And he keeps things true in another way too: no pesticides, insecticides, antibiotics, hormones. His restaurants may have grown up to be some of the big players in the game but his happy place is a simple kitchen, and his favourite food more likely to be found at a Thai street-food cart than on an a la carte menu.

A recipe for squash toast has sent me on a yummy little journey through different kitchens. A recipe can become an heirloom, a keepsake, a gift, a memento, a snapshot. From the huge kitchen of ABC to the tiny one of Smitten, a recipe becomes a portal through which a love of simple deliciousness can travel from one cook to the next.

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
info@operakitchen.co.nz
+64 6-870 6020

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