Cuisine - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy Hay­den Par­sons

Alice Neville joins a south­ern ad­ven­ture that bridges culi­nary gen­er­a­tions

CLAD IN A T-SHIRT em­bla­zoned with the words “In cod we trust”, Fleur Sul­li­van care­fully tears open large pieces of freshly har­vested kelp, deftly fash­ion­ing them into bags into which she’ll soon stuff whole cray­fish, sea perch, and, of course, the ven­er­a­ble blue cod hailed on her top.

The kelp and the kaimoana have all been gathered that day from the pris­tine wa­ters of Dusky Sound, a re­mote cor­ner of Fiord­land at the bot­tom of the South Is­land. The prep is happening on the deck of M.V. Flight­less, an ex-navy ves­sel that’s our home for three nights.

Soon Fleur is joined in her task by three young chefs ea­ger to help out and learn from the cel­e­brated restau­ra­teur and 2017 Cuisine Food Leg­end. Se­ung­woo Shin, 29, Freda Zhang, 22, and 18-year-old Sam Farr have recently fin­ished the level 5 New Zealand Diploma in Cook­ery at Otago Polytech­nic’s Cen­tral Cam­pus in Cromwell. Un­der the guid­ance of Fleur and their lec­turer Chris Smith, they’re on board to cre­ate a unique culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence for the guests of Pure Salt, the com­pany that takes ad­ven­ture-seek­ers into the heart of Dusky Sound aboard M.V. Flight­less.

This is the first time Seán El­lis and Maria Kuster, the cou­ple be­hind Pure Salt, have part­nered with the poly­tech and Fleur, who runs the much-loved Fleurs Place in Mo­er­aki, North Otago, and it’s hoped this trip will be­come a reg­u­lar event.

As soon as we ar­rive on board af­ter a chop­per flight in from Te Anau, the stu­dents get to work plan­ning the feasts to come. Freda, who’s orig­i­nally from China, is clearly the chron­i­cler of the group, and doc­u­ments Day One with lit­tle draw­ings in a big spi­ral-bound note­book – he­li­copter x 3, boat x 1, sand­fly x 1,000,000.

There’s no Google here – not even any cell phone re­cep­tion – but the stu­dent trio have recipe print-outs and the note­book for plan­ning pur­poses. It’s all de­pen­dent on the bounty Dusky can pro­vide, how­ever, so over go the lines and al­most as quickly, the blue cod come up as we take in the se­ri­ously im­pres­sive sur­rounds and lis­ten to a bell­bird in the flow­er­ing rātā over­head (while be­gin­ning to come to terms with the afore­men­tioned 1,000,000 sand­flies).

While the more se­date among us fish, the stu­dents head out on the ten­der with Fleur, Chris and Maria

more rig­or­ous for­ag­ing, and Dusky be­gins to re­veal its won­ders – a pod of bot­tlenose dol­phins ca­su­ally ap­pears along­side Flight­less, wow­ing us with a se­ri­ous dis­play of aer­o­bat­ics. It’s just a taste of what’s to come in terms of wildlife, as over the four days on board we en­counter Fiord­land crested pen­guins, seals and an ar­ray of birdlife when we ven­ture onto land. Soon the for­agers re­turn, the ten­der laden with pāua, mus­sels and kina.

Maria – Ger­man by birth but about as ruggedly Fiord­land as you can get – gives guest Chris­tine a pāua-shuck­ing les­son while Fleur tells the stu­dents about the hua, the pāua’s slimy gut. Fleur says that when she first moved to Mo­er­aki, it took a while for the lo­cal Māori to share their knowl­edge about pre­par­ing the hua with her – they thought she, like many Pākehā, would think it was dis­gust­ing. Fleur de­scribes the hua as tast­ing like a sea­weed pâté and af­ter a bit of ma­cho one-up­man­ship, Seán con­vinces Chris to eat one raw. He’s pleas­antly sur­prised.

Try­ing new things is a com­mon theme for all on board – kina is slurped from the shell and one morn­ing, the prized roe is paired with scram­bled

eggs in what Se­ung­woo said was his dish of the trip. “We’d never cooked that be­fore, we didn’t know how it would taste but it was a re­ally good match – creamy, sweet, salty.”

Each night Fleur pre­pares the out­door ta­ble on which we dine with an im­pres­sive cen­tre­piece from the ocean – an ar­ray of cat­seyes, kina, pāua and cray­fish shells, kelp and the like – and the feasts we con­sume ri­val the styling.

“No one in the world will be eat­ing bet­ter than us right now,” Fleur an­nounces one evening, and we’re not about to ar­gue. On the first night, pan-fried blue cod with café de Paris but­ter, pick­led radishes and as­para­gus is paired with a broccoli, haloumi and quinoa salad (see the recipe over­leaf), and the fol­low­ing morn­ing the rest of our cod catch is lightly smoked on the Traeger bar­be­cue that graces the deck and served with pota­toes, poached eggs and hol­landaise.

Fol­low­ing break­fast that day, Fleur talks Se­ung­woo through how to make fish head soup to use up what would oth­er­wise be wasted. He says they make a sim­i­lar soup in his na­tive Korea and soon Freda and Sam join the dis­cus­sion. Fleur gets on board with Freda’s vis­ual imag­in­ings, grab­bing a pen and adding in some flames un­der the doo­dled pot. Through­out these plan­ning ses­sions, Fleur im­parts her unique brand of wis­dom, serv­ing up some hu­mor­ous home truths about the pit­falls of the restau­rant in­dus­try as a side to her cook­ing tips.

As we spend the days fish­ing, snorkelling, kayak­ing and pad­dle board­ing, the stu­dents for­age and cook and learn, bring­ing us pāua sushi and blue cod sashimi which we stuff into our gobs with one hand while the other holds the rod. On day two we land at Lun­cheon Cove on An­chor Is­land, so named be­cause Cap­tain James Cook and his crew feasted on cray­fish here dur­ing his sec­ond visit to New Zealand in 1773 (he’d sighted and

A Fiord­land crested pen­guin in Dusky Sound

OPPOSITE Fleur Sul­li­van on board M.V. Flight­less

ABOVE Otago Polytech­nic cook­ery lec­turer Chris Smith free div­ing in Dusky Sound

BELOW Wait­ing to board M.V. Flight­less af­ter ar­riv­ing in Dusky Sound via he­li­copter


TOP LEFT A cu­ri­ous seal; Fleur Sul­li­van and Se­ung­woo Shin on kelp duty; mus­sels fresh off the rocks; Fleur and the stu­dents in plan­ning mode; Sam Farr takes a breather; M.V. Flight­less from the air; Dusky Sound from below the sur­face; Chris Smith delivers the goods

LEFT Maria Kuster in­tro­duces guests to An­chor Is­land; and sur­veys the scene from the wheel­house

RIGHT Din­ner is served; blue cod with café de Paris but­ter gets the blow­torch treat­ment; soon to be served with broccoli and quinoa salad; Freda Zhang delivers cray­fish rice paper rolls to the fish­er­folk

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