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.

Quality Chocolate

Chris Mirams is our pastry chef at The Picnic and he’s in charge of all our chocolate work. He always says that quality work comes from quality ingredients. When it comes to chocolate that means using Valrhona.

Valrhona has a long and interesting history and it’s an outfit that’s set a benchmark for not just quality of product but for how we think about chocolate. Valrhona was the first chocolate maker to label their product with its percentage (of cocoa solids) and its origin. That origin has become all important and specifically in ensuring chocolate comes from a single origin rather than a rag-bag assortment of where ever was cheapest. Single origin chocolate links the product back to the growers and the plantations, meaning authenticity of product, trace-ability and accountability are all paramount.

The chocolate industry suffers in the way many luxury, high end industries do from exploitation and corruption. Valrhona was the first company to extricate itself from that and begin talking about their product in terms similar to wine and coffee, where it comes from, its credentials, the year it was grown, it’s ‘vintage’.

The iconic black bags of couverture, pellets and pearls are labelled with exotic names like Xocopili 72% and Araquani 72%, Guanaja 70%, Caraibe 66% and Tanariva 33%. They come from plantations in places like Ecuador and Madagascar. There’s a great respect for the people who grow the beans and the places that rely on the chocolate industry as an important part of their economic sustainability.

Valrhona was established in 1922 in France by pastry chef Alberic Guironnet. It’s been through a number of owners since then, taking its most recent name from a blend of Valley and Rhone where it originated. It’s a company with a strong tradition and with quality as its driving value. At The Picnic we choose to use it because of that quality. It means we can make the very best chocolate work. But also we support and respect the way the chocolate we make can be traced back to the people who grew the bean. When you taste our chocolate work you are validating a long history of quality craftsmanship, but also paying homage to the all the people and all their various skills that have worked so hard to make that mouthful possible.

Bareknuckle BBQ Friday Night Pop-Ups

Auckland escapee Jimmy Macken is ‘popping up’ at Smiths on Fridays, starting 18 Dec and cruising on through the summer. Jimmy is Mister BBQ, Texas style. He’s a master of the art with a big-rig ‘pit’ he uses to authentically ‘bbq’ ribs, brisket and pulled pork. It’s a style of cooking Kiwis flirt with but it takes time to get right, not just cooking time but years of practice, time to tweak technique and perfect secret recipes.

Smiths is stoked to have Jimmy in the house, he’s big on energy, with big flavours to match. Come down and try ‘em: Friday 18 Dec, then 3rd, 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th January. It’s a Friday night cook-out with craft beer, picnic treats, ice creams on sticks, brownie with dairy whip, caramel corn.

Book a big table and round up a posse!

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.

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.

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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