Back to grass roots for lo­cal chefs

Hamilton Metro News - - Food -

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.

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