Snails prove a winning choice

Central Leader - - Front Page - By Heather McCracken

The en­emy of the veg­gie plot is a win­ner on the plate.

A starter of snails helped Green­lane restau­rant The Abbey win the for­mal en­try in the Auck­land re­gion Mon­ti­eth’s Beer & Wild Food Chal­lenge. The snail and blue cheese ravi­oli was fol­lowed by smoked pi­geon and wild mush­room risotto.

Head chef Eu­gene Sokolovski says the com­bi­na­tion was ap­proached with cau­tion by some din­ers.

“Peo­ple are a lit­tle bit scared of it but once they got past that, they loved it.”

Mr Sokolovski, who won the best beer and food match last year, planned his en­try months in ad­vance.

The snails are farmed in Hawke’s Bay and be­cause the sea­son ends in May, he pre-made and froze his ravi­oli.

“I was think­ing about it for a long time and wanted some­thing not many peo­ple in this coun­try eat, so I de­cided snails and pi­geon,” he says.

“Pi­geon, I think, is the ten­der­est meat I’ve ever tried.”

He says he likes the tex­ture of snails, which he pre­sented with spinach and sun­dried tomato puree and lemon wal­nut chut­ney.

Dishes qual­ify for the chal­lenge by fea­tur­ing food caught in the wild, or us­ing an un­usual com­bi­na­tion of in­gre­di­ents.

The an­nual com­pe­ti­tion at­tracted en­tries from more than 120 restau­rants.

Mr Sokolovski says it’s a good way to en­cour­age chefs to lift their game.

“Ev­ery com­pe­ti­tion brings up the qual­ity of the ser­vice and the qual­ity of the food, and chefs learn from each other,” he says.

Judg­ing con­vener Kerry Ty­ack says The Abbey’s en­try fea­tured an ex­cel­lent beer match and was pre­sented with fi­nesse.

“Rather than in­tro­duc­ing any kind of fear fac­tor into their meal, it was just so stylish and classy,” he says.

“On top of all that, their level of ser­vice, the way they en­cour­aged peo­ple to try their dishes, and the way they ex­plained the beer match, was su­perb.”

The Abbey com­petes against other re­gional win­ners at the na­tional awards din­ner in Welling­ton on Oc­to­ber 6.

Photo: JA­SON OX­EN­HAM

Gar­den grub: Chef Eu­gene Sokolovski tucks into snail ravi­oli at The Abbey.

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