Back to grass roots for local chefs
From the virtues of the humble bumble bee to Kiwis’ love of the Agria potato, how to choose the sweetest and juiciest watermelon, to discovering the elaborate science and biology behind growing capsicums; these are just a few of the insights a group of local chefs gained on a recent field trip organised by Waikato Food Inc.
Waikato Food Inc is a notfor-profit, member-based organisation with the goal of helping to grow and promote the food and hospitality industry in the Waikato.
WFI chairperson Vicki Ravlich-Horan says the regular field trips are a way of connecting chefs with local producers.
“Quite literally a field trip— we get the chefs to swap their whites for gumboots and get out in the field or into the glasshouse as the case may be and see first-hand the produce they use on a daily basis while also meeting those who produce it.”
First stop of the day is Turners & Growers’ giant glasshouse in Ohaupo. As the largest growers of tomatoes in New Zealand, Murray Hunt and his team know a thing or two about this essential vegetable.
With protective clothing donned, the group entered the warmth of the glasshouse to see tomatoes stretching to the sky. Bumble bees fly free pollinating the flowers. Apparently they are much more effective than mechanical bees; the 1600 tonnes of tomatoes produced from the site are proof.
From the warmth of the glasshouse the group found themselves in a chilly 2 degrees at Southern Fresh. In the chilly climes the chefs watched as the baby veg and salad greens arrived direct from the field to be cleaned and packed before being shipped to kitchens.
Before lunch there is time to get some dirt on the boots with a pit stop in the fields where lettuces and baby veg of all varieties are growing and being harvested.
Lunch at Woodside Estate is an all vegetable affair thanks to vegetables.co.nz. Between animated conversations the group hears from more growers. This time watermelon and garlic are the topics.
The afternoon sees the group get their hands dirty digging up potatoes at one of A.S. Wilcox’s farms in Matamata. It turns out chefs and home cooks favourite potato, the Agria, can be problematic for growers, from low yields to hollow hearts.
One more stop and it is just up the road at Southern Belle where the de Jong family grow feijoas and capsicums. Originally from Holland, in just over a decade the de Jongs have transformed their Matamata property into an award-winning operation.
In addition to regular field trips, Waikato Food Inc organises professional development workshops for food producers and hospitality businesses. This year the successful Matariki Dish Challenge also returns, where chefs create a dish inspired by Matariki and highlighting local produce.
Local chefs check out the freshly-picked produce.