SEC­OND NA­TURE

The cou­ple be­hind new Auckland restau­rant Pas­ture talk to Alice Neville

Cuisine - - CONTENTS -

“We want Pas­ture to be fun. It’s an hon­our for us that some­one would like to come here and spend that money on a meal, but we don’t want it to be the place you go to once a year, when you’re like, ‘Oh well, it’s our an­niver­sary.’”

JARS FILLED WITH mys­te­ri­ous sub­stances line the shelves of a small space tucked down an al­ley­way off Par­nell’s main drag, their hand­writ­ten la­bels hinting at what lies within – from ume­boshi to spruce, shio koji to kawakawa, all pre­served in var­i­ous man­ners. These are the fruits of the labours of chef Ed Verner, ready to be used in dishes he cre­ates at Pas­ture, the restau­rant he’s opened with wife Laura.

“Last sum­mer I went crazy with weird in­gre­di­ents,” Ed ex­plains. In­spi­ra­tion came from the pickle-mad chefs with whom he worked at Miche­lin-starred Dan­ish restau­rants Re­lae and Kadeau, dur­ing an eye-open­ing Scan­di­na­vian so­journ the cou­ple em­barked on a cou­ple of years ago. Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the way these pro­po­nents of the cel­e­brated New Nordic move­ment op­er­ated was a game-changer, Ed says.

“It com­pletely changed my view – my cook­ing style, tech­niques, the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of dif­fer­ent things. It was ex­actly what I needed.”

Ap­ply­ing what they learnt on the other side of the world to New Zealand in­gre­di­ents has been a fas­ci­nat­ing process of trial and er­ror. Ed says it’s more than pre­serv­ing – it’s cre­at­ing new flavours. Often they’ve found the pre­serve it­self is far from pleas­ant but the liq­uid it’s float­ing in is de­li­cious.

“You’ll taste it and be like, ‘Oh my God, that’s ter­ri­ble, but then you’ll taste the liq­uid and be like ‘wow’,” says Ed. “I get a real kick out of that.” “It’s our li­brary of flavours,” adds Laura. “It tells a story of the sea­sons – we’ve gone through this jour­ney with the land, and we’re con­stantly in­spired by what we see around us.”

In ad­di­tion to the weird and won­der­ful pickle pantry are rows of non­de­script brown bot­tles filled with home­made vine­gars – lemon myr­tle, lo­vage and lemon ver­bena vine­gars to name a few. “When we’re mak­ing a sauce we can pull one down and use it,” ex­plains Ed. “It gives the restau­rant our own unique flavour.”

There’s noth­ing else quite like Pas­ture in New Zealand, and defin­ing the restau­rant has been a bit of a strug­gle, the pair told Cui­sine when we vis­ited soon be­fore it opened. “We’re very spe­cific,” says Laura. “We’re not fine din­ing, we’re not a bistro. The qual­ity, the tech­nique is fine-din­ing level, but we want Pas­ture to be fun. It’s an hon­our for us that some­one would like to come here and spend that money on a meal, but we don’t want it to be the place you go to once a year, when you’re like, ‘Oh, well, it’s our an­niver­sary.’

“It’s meant to be a place that you can just come to and feel wel­come, and there’s no right way to put your fork.”

Dur­ing the day Pas­ture will open as a bak­ery/cof­fee shop of sorts, with a few seats and Kokako cof­fee – soft brew (plunger, in this in­stance) only. Peo­ple can pop in for a cof­fee and take home a loaf, with baked treats a pos­si­bil­ity for the fu­ture. Bread is one of Ed’s passions, and a large bread oven takes up much of the kitchen at Pas­ture. “There is no bet­ter feel­ing than pulling a per­fect loaf of bread out of the oven,” he says. He has a few sour­dough starters bub­bling away and will be grind­ing much of the flour him­self.

In the evening, Pas­ture will of­fer a six-course menu only. “It’s mainly be­cause of food wastage,” says Ed. “It’s not sus­tain­able to have à la carte. And it’s also be­cause it’s easier for us – we can give you a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence if I know ex­actly what I have to sup­ply.”

Most of the dishes will be plant­based, with prob­a­bly one out of the six fea­tur­ing meat and one fish, and in­ter­est­ing desserts will be a big fo­cus. Ed will al­ways have ex­tra dishes up his sleeve if you have spe­cific di­etary re­quire­ments, though. “Tell us when you book and you’ll get six cour­ses of what­ever you like to eat.”

His food is sim­ple, with a max­i­mum of three or four com­po­nents in each dish. “I think often there’s too many frills, food gets too busy – lots of lit­tle crunchy things and lay­ers and gar­nishes. We want to sim­plify it.”

But often the sim­plic­ity be­lies the tech­nique be­hind it, points out Laura. Ed agrees: “It may look re­ally sim­ple but those com­po­nents might take two or three days to make.”

In­ter­est­ingly, there is no gas in the kitchen at Pas­ture – just elec­tric

“I get a kick out of peo­ple tak­ing an in­ter­est in what I do; it gives me mo­ti­va­tion to be bet­ter. I get sat­is­fac­tion out of mak­ing peo­ple happy, so ac­tu­ally see­ing that is great.”

in­duc­tion, the afore­men­tioned bread oven and an im­pres­sive open fire that will be a big fo­cus of the menu. The 1.5-me­tre long wood-fired pit is fit­ted with a metal grate sus­pended by chains that can be low­ered and raised – veg­eta­bles can be rested on top, and meat sus­pended on meat hooks dan­gled from be­low. “We’re going to use it for so many things,” Ed says, giv­ing the ex­am­ple of a car­rot puree. “I’ll roast the car­rots over the fire and blitz them up.”

The brack­ets can be re­moved and whole an­i­mals roasted over the fire, then carved to or­der. Ed is big on tak­ing whole cuts and has made a dry-cur­ing fridge out the back of the restau­rant.

“It’s about us­ing what’s plen­ti­ful on the farm that week,” he ex­plains. “I’m work­ing closely with a pig farmer and she will sell a shoul­der to some­one for sausages, then will end up with a whole neck. I said to her, give it to me and I’ll put it on the menu that week. The next week I might take a mid­sec­tion of a pig – I’ll take the loin and cook it on the fire, take the belly and make pancetta, take the fat and make lardo.”

Pas­ture is small, seat­ing just 25-30 din­ers, and the kitchen is very much open. “You’re kind of step­ping into our front room,” says Ed. “I can say hi to you as you walk in the door. The ex­pe­ri­ence isn’t the same if you can’t see the chef, there’s a real dis­con­nect.”

The aim is for the chefs to bring dishes out to the din­ers – a trend that has been adopted by some of the world’s top restau­rants in re­cent years. “The goal is you come in, sit at the bar, and I want the chefs to take con­trol and hand you the menu,” says Ed. “I get a kick out of peo­ple tak­ing an in­ter­est in what I do; it gives me mo­ti­va­tion to be bet­ter. I get sat­is­fac­tion out of mak­ing peo­ple happy, so ac­tu­ally see­ing that is great.

“I’m not sure we’re going to pull it off 100 per cent, be­cause I don’t know how busy we’re going to get,” he adds, “but I re­ally want that to hap­pen here.”

Ir­ish­man Michael Sin­clair, whose back­ground is in bars and cafes, has been brought on board as restau­rant man­ager. “We’re tend­ing to­wards nat­u­ral, or­ganic and bio­dy­namic wines from lovely small pro­duc­ers, many of whom Michael has been fos­ter­ing di­rect relationships with,” says Laura.

Non-al­co­holic drinks will be just as much of a fo­cus, with veg­etable-based juices and nat­u­rally fer­mented so­das.

“If you choose not to drink al­co­hol, you’re going to be able to have a match with the same com­plex­ity and body and flavour,” says Laura.

“That kind of ex­cites me more than the wine list, to be hon­est,” adds Ed. “It means as a chef I can have more fun with what matches with the food – there’s no limit to what you can do.”

Pas­ture has been a cou­ple of years in the plan­ning and was first en­vis­aged as a coun­try eatery. “We were try­ing to set up some­thing that was a ru­ral des­ti­na­tion, be­cause that’s our happy place – we love be­ing in the coun­try – and the food is so in­spired by na­ture,” says Laura.

They found a lo­ca­tion in Cleve­don, but ended up walk­ing away from it due to var­i­ous is­sues with the site. The Par­nell spot, which came up in Novem­ber last year, is a kind of “Pas­ture 2.0”. “With this it­er­a­tion of Pas­ture, the chal­lenge is bring­ing that sense of the coun­try into the city,” says Laura.

But they still have a soft spot for the ru­ral pocket south of Auckland and have kept their home in nearby Marae­tai, even though they have moved to the city to be close to Pas­ture. “It’s a re­ally spe­cial place for us,” says Laura. “It’s quite hard to not be there full-time any more but we kept our home be­cause if we’re not going out there and not do­ing the same walks in the for­est and the beach with our dog, then we’ll lose touch with the sub­tle changes every week. We walk around pick­ing things and tast­ing things and that’s what sparks so many of these ideas.”

The cou­ple, now both 33, first met in 2012 when Ed was work­ing at Si­dart. Sid Sahrawat (our 2016 Chef of the Year, see page 40) was a great men­tor to the young chef, and is still his “go-to guy”. “He al­ways en­cour­aged me – he let me put my ideas on the plate at Si­dart and gave me the mo­ti­va­tion I needed. I think it’s fair to say I wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t been for him push­ing me.”

Laura is a pho­tog­ra­pher who has a back­ground in hor­ti­cul­ture, and she was shoot­ing an event at Si­dart when she first met Ed. They crossed paths again a few months later when they found them­selves wash­ing dishes to­gether at another industry event. Ed com­mented on the bou­quet on the win­dowsill, Laura told him she had made it from what was grow­ing in her gar­den and they got chat­ting about plants. “He quite con­fi­dently in­vited him­self over to see my gar­den and the rest was his­tory.”

Both the Vern­ers had a semi-ru­ral up­bring­ing – Laura (nee For­est) is from a South African wine­mak­ing fam­ily and moved here in 2003, while Ed, orig­i­nally from Dorset, came to New Zealand six years ago. Run­ning a restau­rant to­gether is a way for them to see each other, they ex­plain. “We knew that we wanted a fu­ture to­gether, so the only way was ‘let’s just do some­thing to­gether, let’s jump in the deep end’,” says Laura.

Laura has rel­ished the cre­ative as­pects of open­ing the restau­rant, she says. “It’s highly vis­ual and tac­tile.” She’s ex­cited about doc­u­ment­ing the life of Pas­ture pho­to­graph­i­cally for its web­site, and en­joyed work­ing with il­lus­tra­tor Erin El­lis on the restau­rant logo, a de­pic­tion of wild car­rot (Queen Anne’s lace).

“When we came back to New Zealand we were liv­ing in Cleve­don and it was just ev­ery­where,” says Laura. “It’s this re­ally mis­un­der­stood plant – it is ed­i­ble, but it’s treated as a weed – and it’s also a beau­ti­ful part of our land­scape.”

Pas­ture, 235 Par­nell Rd, Par­nell, Auckland, pas­tureakl.com

Recipes and food styling Ed Verner / Pho­tog­ra­phy Aaron McLean

CELERIAC & BUF­FALO MOZ­ZARELLA

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