Food for thought

Qual­ity Kiwi cui­sine is a pas­sion for our well-con­nected food colum­nist.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - by Clare de Lore

Qual­ity Kiwi cui­sine is a pas­sion for

Lis­tener food colum­nist Lau­raine Ja­cobs.

Lau­raine Ja­cobs thinks about food all the time. It’s her life, her work, her pas­sion. If she’s not writ­ing about food, she’s test­ing out new ideas in the kitchen or trav­el­ling the coun­try to meet chefs and pro­duc­ers who are push­ing the bound­aries of New Zea­land cui­sine. As well as de­vel­op­ing a global net­work of foodie friends and con­tacts, she has also ac­quired an ex­ten­sive li­brary of food-re­lated books.

Ja­cobs’ col­lec­tion has out­grown the shelves in­stalled in each room of her large home. New ar­rivals are creep­ing up the stair­case.

Auck­land-raised Ja­cobs and her en­gi­neer hus­band, Mur­ray, bought their old wooden Re­muera home 42 years ago and it’s been foodie cen­tral ever since. It’s where the cou­ple raised their now-adult chil­dren, Katie and Scott, where Cor­don Bleu-trained Ja­cobs ran an in­for­mal cook­ing school for a few years, and where she now writes her long-run­ning Lis­tener food col­umn.

Ja­cobs has just re­leased Al­ways De­li­cious, a col­lec­tion of 100 recipes taken from the 700-plus recipes she’s cre­ated for Lis­tener read­ers over seven years. She is a pas­sion­ate, am­bi­tious ad­vo­cate for New Zea­land food.

When you started at the Lis­tener, who did you have in mind with your col­umns and recipes?

The job of any writer is to know your au­di­ence. If you don’t, you won’t cap­ture them. I talked to Pamela [Stir­ling, the ed­i­tor] about the Lis­tener au­di­ence and dis­cov­ered there is prob­a­bly not an­other mag­a­zine in the coun­try with such an in­tel­li­gent au­di­ence. The mag­a­zine en­gages with New Zealan­ders, and that suits me down to the ground, be­cause I am pas­sion­ate about the New Zea­land food scene. I am there to tell you about good things to eat and how to pre­pare them.

Your li­brary of food-re­lated books is vast. Can you talk me through some of your favourites, both old and new?

I have one of the bet­ter col­lec­tions of lit­er­ary food books, and I don’t think I have ever been as ex­cited about a book as I have been about Bread is Gold by Mas­simo Bot­tura. He utilised all the food waste at Expo 2015 in Mi­lan [where the theme was “Feed­ing the Planet, En­ergy for Life”] and ca­joled his friends, top chefs from around the world, to help make thou­sands of meals in a pop-up char­i­ta­ble kitchen. It to­tally res­onated with me for the sus­tain­abil­ity, sense of com­mu­nity and Bot­tura’s lead­er­ship. I also learnt about Jes­sica Mur­phy, a Kiwi chef who is fea­tured. She is from Wairoa and was re­cently named Best Chef in Ire­land. It’s amaz­ing how, by read­ing ex­ten­sively, you can learn so much, even about your own world. I loved Jenny Lin­ford’s

The Miss­ing In­gre­di­ent: The ­Cu­ri­ous Role of Time in Food and Flavour and it’s now wait­ing to be moved up­stairs. It’s solid read­ing, with no recipes. The Gour­mands’ Way: Six Amer­i­cans in Paris and the Birth of a New Gas­tron­omy, by Justin Spring, is a re­ally amus­ing book. Just look who it’s about: Ju­lia Child, MFK Fisher, Alexis Li­chine, AJ Liebling, Richard Ol­ney and Alice B Tok­las. I have all their books.

Laura Shapiro wrote What She Ate: Six Re­mark­able Women and the Food That Tells Their Sto­ries. Hitler’s mis­tress, Eva Braun,

is one of them. My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki is a great novel, but re­ally, it’s an ex­posé of feed­lots. I was shocked re­cently when feed­lots hit the news and it seemed a lot of food writ­ers hadn’t any idea about them. It’s their job to know. Bar­bara King­solver, who writes beau­ti­fully about things that mat­ter en­vi­ron­men­tally, is one of my favourite writ­ers. The Poi­son­wood Bi­ble changed the way I think about Africa.

Where does New Zea­land sit in re­la­tion to global food and trends?

Al Brown says that with New Zea­land food, ev­ery mouth­ful comes with a flavour bomb, and I am in­clined to agree. But we don’t mar­ket our­selves enough in­ter­na­tion­ally on the ba­sis of our food. We have many top-end lodges in New Zea­land, but their main fo­cus is lux­ury and food is se­cond, even if it is amaz­ing. Mur­ray and I have, on our trav­els, gone miles out of our way to go to places – where the ac­com­mo­da­tion is com­fort­able but not nec­es­sar­ily lux­u­ri­ous – for the food, which is out­stand­ing. Tourism New Zea­land has only just re­cently in­cluded food in “The New Zea­land Story” [mar­ket­ing videos on a range of top­ics].

“I was shocked re­cently when feed­lots hit the news and it seemed a lot of food writ­ers hadn’t any idea about them. It’s their job to know.”

What’s the key sell­ing point of New Zea­land food?

One thing that no other coun­try has is our con­nec­tion to Māori. That el­e­ment is com­ing at us very fast – peo­ple are learn­ing te reo, hear­ing it on the ra­dio, and peo­ple are so much more aware of the cul­ture. We have some young Māori women who are do­ing amaz­ing things. Peo­ple will tell you that other coun­tries have the same sort of food as us, and to an ex­tent that is true. How­ever, no other coun­try pro­duces as much food on farms where the air changes ev­ery day, where there are, in large part, farm­ers who re­ally care for their an­i­mals, where there is amaz­ing qual­ity dairy and other food, and where there are some in­cred­i­bly in­no­va­tive chefs.

So who’s lead­ing the charge in terms of the high-end Kiwi cui­sine?

We are on the cusp of some­thing won­der­ful. At the re­cent Welling­ton on a Plate, there was a most re­mark­able hāngī led by Welling­ton chef Monique Fiso. She had chefs there from Los An­ge­les, Lon­don and Aus­tralia, and to­gether they nut­ted out a menu to put down at Shelly Bay. It was re­mark­able food. In­stead of just chuck­ing in cab­bages, pieces of pork and chicken and pota­toes, they beau­ti­fully styled and sea­soned the food and they had the very best or­ganic pork, amaz­ing Māori pota­toes, all sorts of other things. Monique is open­ing a restau­rant in No­vem­ber, in the Welling­ton sub­urb of Mt Cook, and it is go­ing to be all about gourmet Māori food. Other women you have to keep an eye on are Karena and Kasey Te Awa Bird, who won MasterChef New Zea­land – they are work­ing with indige­nous New Zea­land in­gre­di­ents, in­clud­ing our won­der­ful seafood. They are look­ing to open a restau­rant in Auck­land and it will be top end.

Last year, the NZ Her­ald's Can­vas mag­a­zine ran an ar­ti­cle about you in which it quoted a range of peo­ple, in­clud­ing your for­mer col­league Si­mon Wil­son, who, more or less, called you a self-im­por­tant big noter. How did you deal with that level of crit­i­cism?

I was on the board for eight years of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Culi­nary Pro­fes­sion­als (IACP) in Amer­ica and that was no mean feat – there’d be Ju­lia Child, sit­ting next to me, chat­ting over lunch. An­other friend is Ruth Re­ichl from New York. Be­cause I am so well con­nected in the food world, these peo­ple are part of my life. It is not name-drop­ping – that is re­ally un­fair. Si­mon had been my ed­i­tor at Cui­sine, and I had helped him no end, so what he said was in­cred­i­bly hurt­ful.

But the ic­ing on the cake was the huge sup­port I got – the next time I saw him was at a soirée at the Auck­land

Art Gallery hosted by the French am­bas­sador. When I walked in and saw Si­mon, I made a sharp turn right be­cause I didn’t want to face him. Then the am­bas­sador came up to me and said, “I want first to men­tion that ar­ti­cle in the Her­ald – it did you such a dis­ser­vice.” Even some­one from over­seas could read be­tween the lines and see what was go­ing on.

What’s your favourite food or dish and who would you most like as a din­ner com­pan­ion?

My mother is quar­ter-caste Ton­gan. She was born there, one of seven chil­dren. I have these won­der­ful mem­o­ries of go­ing with Mum to the wharves to sign off pa­pers, be­cause my grand­mother had sent us cases of pineap­ples, co­conuts and taro. One of my favourite dishes of all time is from her – she made it all the time and it is so sim­ple. I get fresh fish af­ter Mur­ray’s been out on the boat, mar­i­nate it for an hour with lime or lemon juice and put co­conut cream on it.

My ideal din­ner com­pan­ion? Nora Ephron; I love her. Even though she was a typ­i­cal New Yorker, she knew how to push her food around on a plate. She was a real foodie.

“No other coun­try pro­duces as much food on farms where the air changes ev­ery day, where there is amaz­ing qual­ity dairy and other food.”

Life­long foodie: Lau­raine Ja­cobs at her 35th birth­day with chil­dren Katie and Scott; left, as pres­i­dent of the IACP in 2001.

In­for­mal cook­ing school:demon­strat­ing pasta mak­ing at home in the 80s;be­low, at home in 2018.

Fam­ily fo­cus: at her 1975 wed­ding to Mur­ray with her par­ents, Pa­tri­cia and Gra­ham Stevens; right, with hus­band Mur­ray, her mother and daugh­ter Katie.

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