Where have all the pota­toes gone?

Food­writ­ers New Zealand pres­i­dent and Pota­toes NZ blog­ger Niki Bez­zant pon­ders where have all the pota­toes gone.

NZ Grower - - Potato Chat -

As the at­ten­dees of the re­cent Food­writ­ers NZ con­fer­ence sat down for their fi­nal lunch of the event, we were served a rare and won­der­ful thing. Was it truf­fles? Pre­cious saf­fron? Foie gras? No. In fact, as part of a stun­ning meal at top Hawke’s Bay restau­rant, Malo, it was a dish of beau­ti­fully golden roasted pota­toes.

Th­ese were rare be­cause, as I re­cently dis­cov­ered, pota­toes are not at all fash­ion­able in the coun­try’s top restau­rants.

In prepa­ra­tion for speak­ing at the re­cent launch of the new pota­toes sea­son, I did a brief sur­vey of the award-win­ning restau­rants in this year’s Cui­sine Good Food Awards. A look at their menus re­vealed not even a hand­ful of dishes fea­tur­ing pota­toes as a main com­po­nent, and only three potato side dishes.

Why is this? We know chefs love the new and the fresh. As cre­ative peo­ple they are al­ways look­ing for in­ter­est­ing new ways to ex­press them­selves and new in­gre­di­ents. We’ve seen this re­flected in the use of al­ter­na­tive car­bo­hy­drate foods on menus: len­tils; grains like bar­ley and quinoa; parsnips; sweet potato and cau­li­flower ab­so­lutely ev­ery­where. The good old potato has been over­shad­owed, per­haps, by shiny new nov­elty carbs.

I sus­pect, though, that if more chefs put pota­toes back on the menu, they might be re­warded. Peo­ple love pota­toes, don’t for­get. They’re our num­ber one or two favourite veg­etable, by sales vol­ume, ev­ery sin­gle year. They’re a nos­tal­gic fam­ily sta­ple. But they can also be hugely so­phis­ti­cated. Think of a beau­ti­ful potato dauphi­noise or a clas­sic potato gratin with a per­fect steak. Or of a creamy, dreamy, silky mash made with love by press­ing pota­toes through mesh and whip­ping with lash­ings of but­ter and cream and salt. Or of a crispy hash of potato, golden and brown-edged, or crisply roasted or smoked pota­toes in their skins like lit­tle bronze nuggets. Th­ese things have the mak­ings of sig­na­ture dishes; of plates that peo­ple come back to a restau­rant just to or­der.

I love quinoa as much as the next per­son (de­spite Pota­toes NZ’s Chris Clar­idge mem­o­rably re­fer­ring to it as ‘the work of the devil’) but I make that at home. I’d cross town for a re­ally great potato dish. This may be why we’re see­ing a par­al­lel trend emerg­ing. Along­side the over­look­ing of pota­toes by high end restau­rants, we’re see­ing more out­lets serv­ing noth­ing but pota­toes at street level. I’m talk­ing about the fries places; hole-in-the-walls, pop­ups and trucks tak­ing the French fry ex­tremely se­ri­ously. I’ve tried a few of th­ese now (it’s a tough job, but this is what pro­fes­sional food writ­ers have to do for you, reader) and it’s very in­ter­est­ing to see the craft and care that goes into the cre­ation of th­ese fries. There are Bel­gian-style and Dutch-style fries, and there are fries of un­spec­i­fied ori­gin but great se­ri­ous­ness.

Fries are not a meal, of course (al­though I’d chal­lenge any­one to eat an­other course af­ter a serv­ing of, say, Dou­ble Dutch fries). But they are a de­li­cious and sat­is­fy­ing thing in their own right. And here’s hop­ing they her­ald the start of a potato re­nais­sance when it comes to eat­ing out in New Zealand.

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