MICHAEL EAS­TON & SARAH NEALE

Lit­tle BBQ

Cuisine - - CRISPY BITS - lit­tlebbq.co.nz / THOMAS HEATON

MICHAEL EAS­TON and Sarah Neale dis­cov­ered the won­ders of Ja­panese bar­be­cue in an un­likely spot. While on hol­i­day in Tahiti in 2015, the cou­ple found them­selves eat­ing off small Ja­panese char­coal grills called shichirin. They joined French and Ja­panese fam­i­lies tuck­ing into freshly cooked meats that had been cooked on the small bar­be­cues, wrapped in fresh ice­berg let­tuce and served with var­i­ous sal­ads.

“We were com­pletely swept away by this bar­be­cue ex­pe­ri­ence… we couldn’t stop talk­ing about it,” Michael re­calls.

They fig­ured Ki­wis would be keen adopters of this way of eat­ing and that shichirin gave them a great op­por­tu­nity to leave their jobs and pur­sue their pas­sion for food. They set up a busi­ness, Lit­tle BBQ, to bring shichirin to New Zealand, and now through their web­site sell Ja­panese-made table­top grills of var­i­ous shapes and sizes, in­clud­ing the orig­i­nal style, made from di­atoma­ceous earth, which is well-known for its in­su­la­tion prop­er­ties.

Of­ten called hi­bachi, the bar­be­cues re­quire min­i­mal time to get started be­cause of their ef­fi­cient de­sign. They also re­tain heat for longer, hike up to 500℃ and are cool to touch, so ideal for us­ing on table­tops.

Michael says the shichirin is just an­other tool in the bar­be­cue ar­se­nal. “We don’t see our­selves as an al­ter­na­tive to big barbecuing, we see our­selves as a part of it.

“It’s im­por­tant to us that it’s seen as an in­clu­sive form of bar­be­cue, as a gen­uinely in­ter­ac­tive way to bar­be­cue."

Michael, who used to run a mar­ket­ing agency, and Sarah, who had a long career in hos­pi­tal­ity, started Lit­tle BBQ in 2016, at the same time as they launched their dumpling busi­ness, Very Good Dumplings.

“All these things came to­gether at a bit of a con­flu­ence point, where we just thought hey, let’s im­port these bar­be­cues and make dumplings for Farro and Moore Wilson’s.

“Be­ing empty nesters helps. Now the kids are gone, we’ve got an­other cou­ple of big ba­bies to talk about all the time.”

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