THE MAIN IN­GRE­DI­ENT

Kelli Brett meets a leg­end of the lo­cal hos­pi­tal­ity scene

Cuisine - - CONTENTS - The Main In­gre­di­ent With K el li Brett @kel­li­brett kel­li­brett

OLD COOK­BOOKS should be trea­sured – they are a glimpse of a na­tional his­tory high­light­ing cul­tural and in­gre­di­ent in­flu­ences and lo­cal food pi­o­neers. Since ar­riv­ing in New Zealand, I’ve been scour­ing the op shops. I had a score re­cently with the pur­chase of The New Zealand Restau­rant Cook­book pub­lished in 1983. Writ­ten by Michael Guy and Digby Law, it pro­vides a great sense of restau­rants that have stood the test of time across all of that salmon in as­pic, flavoured mousse and souffle grand marnier. Across the “but­ter­nut plu­sone” – lamb sweet­breads and but­ter­nut in al­mond cream sauce; bi cuon – sliced steamed pork, mint and a thin crisp let­tuce wrap­ping; tarte au cit­ron – lemon cus­tard tart; and the awabi no shio mushi – sim­mered paua with sake and Ja­panese sea­son­ing.

Hold on! Per­haps ev­ery­thing old is (again) be­com­ing new again? How­ever, a French-themed is­sue of

Cui­sine begs a ques­tion: “Who in New Zealand was do­ing it right back then, and are they still do­ing it now?”

A restau­rant that opened in 1973, which was one of the first clas­si­cal French restau­rants in Auck­land and is still hold­ing its own to­day, has to be a bit of a leg­end. An­toine’s in Par­nell, Auck­land still caters to loyal din­ers and also gath­ers a steady stream of new clien­tele. They must be do­ing some­thing right. Right? Over the last 44 years, Tony and Beth As­tle have hosted celebri­ties, world me­dia and fam­i­lies with high stan­dards and good taste.

For all of this, Tony was awarded a life­time achieve­ment award at the

Cui­sine Restau­rant of the Year Awards 2012 (now the Cui­sine Good Food Awards). Upon mak­ing the mad dash from a full-on ser­vice at An­toine’s to the awards, he grabbed his cer­tifi­cate, an­nounced he was not dead yet and chal­lenged ev­ery chef and restau­ra­teur in the room as to why they weren’t at work rather than ponc­ing about at the event. Now Tony is the first per­son to ad­mit that he is his own worst PR night­mare, but there is a lot of valu­able knowl­edge un­der that chef’s jacket, and any­one who can last over 44 years in the hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness any­where in the world is a bit of a leg­end in my book.

It’s im­pres­sive that Tony presents a nos­tal­gia menu that still de­liv­ers An­toine’s best­sellers. Most of the dishes have evolved over the years, as a good dish does, but the onion soup re­mains a keeper from day one, as is – or was.

Back in 1983, the open­ing para­graph of The New Zealand Restau­rant Cook­book reads: “New Zealand is quickly be­com­ing more so­phis­ti­cated in its style of eating and in the prepa­ra­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion of its dishes. In Europe, es­pe­cially France and Italy, the main meal has long been a rit­ual – a drawn-out af­fair that is the hub of so­cial and fam­ily life.”

It goes on to tell us that: “Here in New Zealand the tra­di­tions are not so pro­nounced. Meals have been his­tor­i­cally di­vided into a short break­fast, a quick lunch and unin­spir­ing din­ners. But slowly, with the ad­vent of so many more restau­rants, and the avail­abil­ity of a much wider range of meat, seafood, veg­eta­bles and other in­gre­di­ents, our style of eating is chang­ing. Added to this is the im­prove­ment in the stan­dard and the in­creased con­sump­tion of New Zealand wine. All these add up to a greater in­ter­est in food, cook­ing, din­ing out and mak­ing the nightly meal a more so­cial

There is a lot of valu­able knowl­edge un­der that chef’s jacket, and any­one who can last over 44 years in the hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness any­where in the world is a bit of a leg­end in my book.

oc­ca­sion. Per­haps in years to come, New Zealand may move even closer to the French style of eating. In France you can visit a coun­try restau­rant and you don’t choose from the menu, the cook has al­ready worked out what will be served and you merely wait for it to ar­rive.”

Sound fa­mil­iar? It’s a brave chef who com­pletely re­moves our free­dom of choice and yet it is hap­pen­ing at many restau­rants across New Zealand. As we sur­ren­der to the chef’s sea­sonal and lo­cal se­lec­tion, we are thrilled with the tex­tures and tastes of an au­then­tic New Zealand. Pas­ture, Meredith’s, Roots, Si­dart and many more are go­ing down that road.

WE BRING YOU NEWS on page 47 of the much-an­tic­i­pated open­ing of chef Alex Davies’ Gath­er­ings in Christchurch. Last year while at­tend­ing the im­pres­sive In­ter­na­tional Food De­sign Con­fer­ence 2016 in Dunedin, I went to a pop-up by Alex and sat down to roasted car­rot and hazel­nut served with lemon, pars­ley and thyme. I’m ashamed to ad­mit that the sound of this dish un­der­whelmed me. Yet the de­liv­ered plate paired with the per­fect nat­u­ral wine burned that car­rot into my mind as the most amaz­ing car­rot I have ever tasted. A car­rot that might never be beaten – or eaten – again. Who knew that I could be­come so emo­tional over a sin­gle car­rot? Have I peaked too soon?

The power of food, the com­bi­na­tion of our chefs’ imag­i­na­tions and skills and the in­ten­sity of flavour within our in­gre­di­ents leave us with im­mense pos­si­bil­i­ties. Don’t miss the jour­ney. Fol­low Con­ver­sa­tioNZ, and stay with us here at Cui­sine as we help to tell this im­por­tant New Zealand food story. Lis­ten to Kelli’s full and frank con­ver­sa­tion with Tony As­tle at cui­sine.co.nz

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