Prof’s in the house

There’s an­other rea­son to visit the Wood­lands His­toric Home­stead near Gor­don­ton, writes Denise Irvine.

Waikato Times - Your Weekend (Waikato Times) - - Dine -

When Hamil­ton cou­ple Kate and Al­lan Wil­son de­cided to swap their longestab­lished ca­reers to run a cafe, many people thought they’d gone bonkers.

Al­lan was an elec­tron­ics engi­neer and Kate was an in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty strate­gist, the manag­ing part­ner of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty law firm James & Wells.

The Wil­sons share what Kate de­scribes as “an in­tense ob­ses­sion with food” that be­gan when they were newly mar­ried and work­ing at Ruakura Agri­cul­tural Re­search Centre. They bought chea­pas-chips meat-packs from the centre’s abat­toir and taught them­selves how to turn un­fa­mil­iar cuts into tasty meals.

Fast for­ward a few decades to greater culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence and skills, and they’ve hap­pily rein­vented them­selves in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try.

Ex­actly one year ago they took over as own­ers of the cafe in the glo­ri­ous grounds of Wood­lands His­toric Home­stead, near Gor­don­ton, on the out­skirts of Hamil­ton.

They re­branded the busi­ness as Prof’s@wood­lands, re­fur­bished the charm­ing cafe building on the edge of a cricket oval, in­tro­duced a menu bright with sea­sonal pro­duce and cre­ative flavours, gave the cab­i­net food a thor­ough makeover and did the same with the bev­er­age se­lec­tion.

On this Wed­nes­day morn­ing Kate sits out­doors at Prof’s talk­ing about “a year in the life”. She says although she and Al­lan had pre­pared thor­oughly for their switch to hos­pi­tal­ity, they found the re­al­ity didn’t quite match the the­ory.

Makes 2.5 litres.

40 dried red chillies 4 ap­ples, cored 1.5kg sugar 4 cloves gar­lic, peeled 750ml white vine­gar 500ml tomato sauce Re­move chilli seeds to re­duce heat if de­sired. Whizz chillies, ap­ples, gar­lic and some of the vine­gar in a food pro­ces­sor. Pour into a pot with re­main­ing in­gre­di­ents. Cook for an hour and la­dle into ster­ilised jars. Keeps for months in pantry. Great with cheese, pork fil­let, poached eggs, home­made pies, savoury muffins. • Profs@wood­lands, 42 Whi­tikahu Rd, Gor­don­ton, phone 0274690694; Open seven days for break­fast, lunch and re­fresh­ments, plus quiz nights on Fri­days. play-time in the kitchen as a fam­ily, the cus­tomer de­mands and com­pli­ance re­quire­ments of a commercial kitchen are so much greater than per­fect­ing the taste and tech­nique of a home-cooked meal.

“There’s a huge dif­fer­ence in cook­ing at home and cook­ing here.”

Prof’s kitchen is headed by chef Matt Ar­mitage. The Wil­sons’ son Ben, a trained chef, cooks part-time, as does Al­lan. Kate runs front of house and works with the team on menu devel­op­ment.

Daugh­ter Re­becca, who’s just com­pleted a ge­net­ics de­gree, is a dishy and wait­ress.

Kate and Al­lan’s aim, al­ways, is for de­li­cious food and ex­cel­lent ser­vice. They sous vide their beef so it is melt­ingly ten­der and can be quickly seared for rus­tic sand­wiches. Sal­mon and chicken are smoked in-house, they use a pres­sure cooker for a ten­der, flavour­some lamb tagine and they grow their own herbs and ed­i­ble flow­ers.

Plans in­clude open­ing a sec­ond city-based Prof’s cafe and launch­ing their own condi­ments range, start­ing with their chilli jam (see recipe left).

Kate says their great­est plea­sure is see­ing cus­tomers re­lax, laugh, en­joy the food and the unique fam­ily-friendly sur­round­ings at Prof’s.

They love good feed­back, and get plenty of that. The worst oc­ca­sions are when they don’t get things quite right. “Se­ri­ously, it kicks us in the guts.”

Would they do it again? Yes. “It took longer than I thought to get up to speed,” says Kate.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent life but a good life. And it’s great for us to have a project to work on to­gether.”

Ilive in a place where we run out of water when it rains a lot. Try ex­plain­ing that to your kids. It’s right up there with “How does the in­ter­net work?” and “What hap­pened to the guinea pig?”

When the heav­ens opened re­cently and all the water ended up in our neigh­bours’ base­ment rather than the reser­voirs, Auck­lan­ders were asked to save 20 litres per day. I don’t want to skite, but I doubt I even used 20 litres dur­ing the near-cri­sis.

I didn’t shower for a cou­ple of days be­cause I stayed home (it was too hideous to ven­ture out) and worked in my py­ja­mas and (skip a line if you’re frag­ile) when I’m deep in thought, I find per­sonal hy­giene a dis­trac­tion.

To be clear, I cleaned my teeth (tap off), had four cups of green tea a day, drank only wine in the evening (such was my com­mit­ment), didn’t do laun­dry (it was per­sist­ing down, which is how the trou­ble started) and left the cat to lap up rain­wa­ter, which he prefers. He and I did our bit, is all I’m say­ing.

I also live in a place where we pay for the water out of our tap, and likely more of us will. There are moves afoot in places like Christchurch to charge sep­a­rately for water to fund the in­fras­truc­ture, and to en­cour­age con­ser­va­tion through cost.

I still find it weird, ide­o­log­i­cally, when our water bill ar­rives. I grew up think­ing of air and water as “free”. But as a grown-up of some years stand­ing I un­der­stand “in­fras­truc­ture”. People my daugh­ter’s age un­der­stand pay­ing for spe­cial (it’s not spe­cial)al) water that comes in bot­tles. If I was a con­spir­acy the­o­rist, I’d make a case for bot­tled water be­ing in­vented as a clever cap­i­tal­ist ruse to make us think of water as a com­mod­ity rather than a ba­sic need like, say, breath­ing.

Nev­er­the­less, I’ll pay for pipes (and flu­o­ride, please) but I have a vis­ceral re­ac­tion when I hear pri­vate com­pa­nies are keen to ex­port New Zealand water to other coun­tries. Right now,w, no­body owns our water, so we all do. It seems the worst kind off cheat­ing to turn that into pri­vate profit.

The only water that should be taken out of this coun­try is on a long-haul Air New Zealand flight. Just enough to keep me hy­drated af­ter a glass of wine, a glass of port and a sleep­ing pill.l.

Go right ahead and share re­sources around our is­lands – I li­kee it that sand from quar­ries in Nel­son and Dunedin ends up mak­ingng Ori­en­tal Bay fun.

I’d also be happy to con­trib­ute the stuff that ends up at my place from Mil­ford beach.

Send a stamped self-ad­dressed en­ve­lope each sum­mer – just not this one. It’s been rain­ing a lot…

You can en­joy the home­stead, the gor­geous gar­dens and good food at Prof’s, just 15 min­utes’ drive from Hamil­ton. PHOTO: TOM LEE

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