HARRY’S FISH SHOP

Howard (Harry) Morris has been a fixture in the Nelson restaurant and food scene for a couple of decades, initially as the chef at The Cut restaurant that he owned with Rob Fanselow then the two of them opened Harry’s in Hardy St before relocating to the top of Trafalgar St.

When Harry sold Harry’s Bar, he wanted to stay in the food industry but not be working the unsociable hours that running a bar and restaurant often involves. When he saw that the fresh fish business on the entrance to Marble Arch Arcade was for sale, Harry could see the opportunity to use his cooking skills to add value to a great little business.

Harry’s Fish Shop is the place you can buy fresh fish as well as beautifully crafted meals ready for you to buy for lunch or take home for dinner.

The fresh seafood comes from the local fisherman he bought the shop from, Andy and Simone Kenton. Harry says, “Andy bought a second boat and felt that looking after the fishing business was going to be enough and decided to sell the shop with an ongoing fish supply in place.

“Andy is one of the few independent local fishermen left in the region; his dad fished, so it’s in the blood and his focus had to be on fishing not running a retail business.”

The fish shop business was built on the quality fish that Andy’s boats catch along with a few other suppliers, including locally speared Butter Fish and Blue Cod from D’Urville Island. The supply of fish is always slightly varied with the weather playing a big part in when and how much fish is available.

“We have another couple of regular suppliers, Mt Cook Salmon and Donna Wells, owner of Finest Kind, and we get smoked fish products from Aqua Fresh who also do the smoking of the Mt Cook Salmon for the shop.”

Not your usual lunch, the house cured salmon with asparagus and potato salad sold at Harry’s. BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

Harry also has an expanding variety of accompaniments for sale, from fish coatings to dressings and sauces. “This is another part of the business that will be expanding, in time, to offer an assortment of accompaniments to compliment the fresh fish.”

As to the future of the business, Harry says “it is a work in progress I don’t have a set outcome as to where it will end up, retail is very different to hospitality so I’m still learning as we go. There are a lot of options we can offer over time, and I am looking forward to seeing how it all grows. With the stop-start that this year has provided my plans for moving forward slowed a little, but since coming back after lockdown the changes are happening at a good pace.”

He has started preparing dishes available to buy and reheat at home. “There are a few regular items like smoked fish potato-topped pie and different flavoured quiches, some flavours are standard like the salmon and caper or the smoked fish and caramelised onion, but we also produce other flavours depending on our mood on the day.”

The chili salt squid salad has become a popular lunch option for many in Nelson’s CBD. BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

Recently Harry’s Fish Shop has added a small lunch menu with both hot and cold options “Fish & Chips, Ceviche, Prawn Roll with cocktail sauce and Chili Salt Squid which is still as popular as it was on the menu at Harry’s. Having a blackboard menu enables changes to be made easily.”

Most of the lunch options are cooked and made to order, so there is still a bit of kitchen service happening. “We plan this to make sure we can operate quickly as the lunch break for most people is only 30 minutes and we are already getting pre-ordered lunches, making it easier for us and the customers.”

Harry’s Fish Shop crew Rachael Bastion-Holmes, left, Harry Morris, Nigel Fahey, and Rachel James at the premises in Montgomery Square, Nelson. BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

Of course, you get great advice when you visit Harry’s Fish Shop, both of his staff have a background working in the hospitality sector, “Rachel spent five years working on fishing boats too so has fantastic fish knowledge while Rachael’s trade has been in hospitality, together they are both very customer focused.”

They are a small but talented team at Harry’s Fish Shop and together they provide great service and knowledge, as well as the high-quality food Harry has delivered in Nelson for many years, every time you visit them in the Marble Arch Arcade on Montgomery Square. www.harrysfish.nz

Proper Crisps seed crackers

Any business owner will tell you that to succeed you need to keep moving your business forward; if you sell a service then you need to make sure you keep improving and delivering value for money, but if you make a product then you need to keep innovating because human nature means we get a little bored with the same old things and want to try new flavours.

One business that knows all about exploring new flavours is Proper Crisps, they started with a humble but perfectly formed salted potato crisp but have expanded the range of flavours they offer as well as using different vegetables to make their delicious crisps.

Mina Smith (Mrs Head Potato) dropped in to see me recently with some samples of a new product Proper Crisps have added to their range, and this time it isn’t a fried crisp.

Mina Smith (left) and Line Hart with freshly baked Crackerbread

Mina told me she met Line (pronounced Lena) Hart the owner of a business that handmakes Danish Crackerbread called knaekbrod, a traditional Danish seed cracker. “Line had won an award for her crackers and we tasted them and thought they were really good, so we introduced them to a Nelson City Fresh Choice to help her expand her market.”

After Covid-19 Line took a hard look at her business because her lease was coming up for renewal, “she was using a very labour intensive process that was just too hard for her to do if she was going to grow her business so she decided to close down.”

When Mina and Ned heard about the closure they contacted Line to find out why, because the cracker mix is hand rolled it is hard on the body and the lease renewal coincided with her running out of packaging so she decided she wanted to spend more time with her family.

In true entrepreneurial fashion Mina saw an opportunity to purchase the equipment used to make the crackers and add them to the Proper Crisps business. “What we saw in the product was that it is primarily just seeds, it’s a healthy, baked product made from seeds and oats with one flavour made using rye flour and one with regular flour.

“We had been wanting to add another snack line and had been exploring bars and other options. The downside of snack bars is that people want sweetness while these crackers are just healthy and tasty.”

Knaekbrod Avocado and Cheese

So Ned and Mina bought the production equipment from Line and set up a bakery facility in a building they had used for storage with the end result being a very tasty baked seed cracker that has had a proper makeover.

These crackers are perfect with cheese, loaded with things like tomatoes and cucumber for lunch or just to snack on any time of the day.

Published in the Nelson Mail 28.10.20

Wine Picks

Tiritiri  by Neudorf Pinot Rose 2020 – RRP $25 4.5 stars

Lovely citrus freshness enlivens the red fruits flavours (think cranberry, slightly under ripe strawberries) while the small amount that was fermented in old oak barrels (7%) adds roundness and complexity. A familiar streak of powdery minerality weaves its way through the palate.

The 2020 Tiritiri Rose by Neudorf is dry, yet juicy and packed with flavour making it a serious Pinot Noir Rose that deserves to be treated as a great food wine rather than a light quaffing wine – even though it is so dangerously easy to drink you can do that too!

Lake Chalice Plume Chardonnay 2016 RRP $49.99 4.5 stars

This is a powerful yet incredibly well balanced wine. Rich upfront with delightful lemon meringue citrus in the very long, juicy finish. A beautiful linear, chalky minerality with taut acidity provides the structure for the citrus dominant flavours to grab on to.

The age on the wine adds another layer of complexity, it is drinking beautifully right now but will also cellar nicely for another 5-8 years.

Blackenbrook Vineyards

A few weeks ago Ursula Schwarzenbach asked me if I would like to visit them to taste their 2020 vintage wines, of course I said yes (who wouldn’t!) so last week I met Ursula and her husband Daniel at their winery to talk about the 2020 vintage and taste some wines.

Ursula and Daniel Schwarzenbach in their vineyard at Tasman – Photo Martin de Ruyter STUFF

Over the years I have been mightily impressed by this couple and the wines they craft, as Daniel said to me last week “to be honest 80% of the winemaking happens in the vineyard, I just have to finish the process in the winery.”

This understates just how much effort the couple and their young family put into creating their delightful wines. Located on the sloping hills at Tasman, up the road behind the Tasman Store, the vineyards are managed with intense detail to ensure the fruit is in the best condition possible to turn into wine.

The 2020 vintage was notable for the Covid-19 lockdown during which the wine industry was granted essential services status to be able to harvest their once-a-year export crop. At Blackenbrook Vineyards however the final pick happened on the day before lockdown started, “we were due to finish on the Friday so by working longer hours for a few days we were able to get all the fruit picked and into the winery before lockdown”.

Ursula told me their assistant winemaker headed back to Germany early to beat lockdown restrictions but as school was also locked down their son Thomas was able to step in and help. “He has always been around the winery and helped in every aspect from the vineyards to the bottling line so he knows his way around the winery, it was just full time as assistant to Daniel for a week or so.”

The couple are also delighted with the quality of the vintage this year, “it was exceptional” says Daniel and I must say that based on the wines I tried last week I agree. For me the wines at Blackenbrook have a certain purity of flavour to them, it’s a character I find difficult to describe but the wines tend to have a perfect expression of the varietal flavours and I’m certain this comes from the meticulous vineyard management that means less intervention in the winemaking process in the winery.

“Some of the wines pretty much make themselves” says Daniel. Beautiful clean fruit equals beautiful clean flavours, “for wines like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc we didn’t do anything in the winery, we just need a good ferment to turn great, clean fruit into nice wine, we try and use very gentle processes so we don’t lose the flavours.”

I tasted seven new release wines in the hour and a half I spent at Blackenbrook and tasting notes for all of these are on my website www.toptastes.co.nz but one worth a special mention here is the 2020 Pinot Blanc (RRP$28 and Vegan certified). This is the second vintage for this variety at Blackenbrook and what a stunning wine it is!

The aromas are intense, bursting with rich cooked pear and stonefruit characters that are dusted with delightful floral notes in the background. The richness of the aromas is reflected in the weighty, delicious flavours, flavours that are balanced with a touch of freshness and deliver liquorice-like characters in the very long finish. This is a five star wine and one that will certainly find itself attached to my credit card and a place in our cellar.

Daylight saving starts on the 27th September so that means in just over a week we are going to be spending more time outside and for us that means more time cooking on the barbeque.

This week’s recipe is our favourite way to cook St Louis Babyback Pork Ribs, these are a long rack of small ribs that we buy from Raeward Fresh. To make it easier to fit on the barbeque we cut the long rack into two. For the sauce we just make enough to use fresh.

Barbeque, smoked St Louis Pork Ribs

Serves two to four people depending on whether or not you serve side dishes with it.

Ingredients

1 pack St Louis Pork Ribs

The dry rub lasts a long time when stored in a jar so we make a decent amount and use it as we need it. Just double or triple the recipe if you want to save some time next time.

Dry Rub

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Use a fork to crush any clumps of sugar or seasonings. Store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Method

Rub the dry mix into the ribs the day before, put them on a plate, cover  and leave in the fridge overnight.

  1. Fire up your favourite barbeque, preferably with some wet wood chips (manuka, cherry wood etc)
  2. Place the ribs in a foil tray and cook at about 120 C for three hours.
  3. Turn every hour and for the last hour baste the ribs several times with one of the many specialist meat sauces you will find in most good food stores.
  4. Cut into single ribs and serve with your favourite side dish.

We love these with an Italian coleslaw and the recipe for this is on my website www.toptastes.co.nz/recipes

Published in the Nelson Mail 16.09.20

Saed’s Falafel – Kirby Lane

If you like a tasty Falafel then you will already know about Saed Alazza and his bright red food cart that is usually located on the corner of Trafalgar and Bridge Streets, well it was located there.

Saed has relocated his business to become a permanent part of the growing food cart business scene in Kirby Lane, he has added a new twist to his food offering. As well as the traditional falafels that you love so much he has added a small charcoal grill to the end of his cart so he can grill mixed beef and lamb skewers as well as serving his traditional falafel.

Saed is originally from Palestine where he trained for two years as a chef before working in a local restaurant where they served Middle Eastern and European dishes. He migrated to New Zealand in 2017 with his Kiwi wife, Sunniva , who is a doctor at Nelson Hospital.

Saed told me New Zealand and Nelson are completely different worlds to where he grew up in what has essentially been a refugee camp since 1948, he lived there in dangerous times, “it is very difficult to live there, there’s no future, you plan day to day to survive, my family still live in the refugee camp. They are still waiting to return home after Israel invaded in 1948.”

He told me that over the years people have built homes rather than living in tents but those homes are very small and very close together with very little space, “now the camp and Bethlehem are surrounded by the separation wall, which means people aren’t allowed to go to Jerusalem. Sometimes they are not allowed to travel between other cities in the West Bank.

“Living under occupation is different, our son is lucky because he was born here and won’t know some of the things our family had to go through.”

When Saed left Palestine he brought is homemade falafel recipe with him, falafels that are made using chickpeas and that means they are also vegan friendly. He blends and roasts his own spice mix, makes his own aioli sauce without using eggs and his homemade hummus is vegan friendly too. “Everyone can have this falafel, some people make it from fried beans and use other things, everyone has their own recipe.”

Adding the mini charcoal grill has allowed him to include a delicious meat option that is enhanced by using his own spice mix in the meat blend, to his small but nicely crafted Middle Eastern menu that also includes sweet treats like baklava made with pistachio nuts.

Saed says Kirby Lane is a good place to be but town is very quiet at the moment. “With more people working from home and no tourists around it would be nice if locals came to town more to support all local businesses and tried my food too.”

First published in The Nelson Mail 26.08.20

Rustic Cuisine

Rustic Cuisine on Rutherford St is owned by my two favourite French people, Mylene and Greg Auphan who used to own La Gourmandise. Their latest venture is to develop a range of French style foods in jars ready for you to take home and enjoy.

It goes without saying that when you are developing a new concept you need to earn a living so they took over the building opposite Nelson College for Girls and are producing the wonderful crepes and galettes everyone enjoyed at La Gourmandise as well as making cabinet food for morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea.

Rustic Cuisine is a regular morning stop for me, the coffee is too good to go past, and I have noticed a large number of regulars doing the same thing. The fact they sell outstanding pastries doesn’t hurt their reputation for quality either.

However it is the food-in-a-jar that is the future for this young business, Greg told me they have invested in high quality equipment so they can produce enough to take to a much bigger New Zealand market. He also told me he is developing new recipes and has had to refine how he prepares his current recipes because the equipment cooks the food quite differently.

“Because it’s quite a long cook at a high temperature I need to adjust recipes to make sure the food doesn’t break down in the jars, we are doing lots of small trials to refine everything before we go into full production.”

In the meantime you and I get to try the new recipes he is developing before he adjusts the cooking process for each one. Dishes like Coq au vin, Beef Bolognese, Lentil Dahl, Onion Soup and their wonderful Cassoulet are prepared and packaged in jars ready for us to take home, heat up and enjoy.

My top tip for your next visit to Rustic Cuisine – if you see some in the food cabinet don’t even try to resist the lemon meringue tarts, they are outstandingly tasty.

First published in the Nelson Mail 03.06.20

Lock down recipe – left overs and pantry items

One of the benefits of spending so much time at home, and not being able to just pop down to the shop whenever we want to, is having time to cook tasty dishes from things we find in the pantry, fridge or freezer. And in our case spending some time searching through the wine cellar to find a few hidden treats.

While Kevin Hopgood has been using up ingredients that he has at home to make some really tasty and easy-to-make lamb empanadas we decided to make a treat for afternoon tea – cheese and smoked paprika scones.

 

These scones are so incredibly easy to make you can get the kids involved too and you can swap out some of the flavour ingredients if you want to. We love the smoky flavour that comes from the smoked paprika but if that’s not to your taste just leave it out. The same goes with the cayenne pepper, but rather than leaving it out just cut back on the quantity a little because I think the little bit of gentle heat that comes from the cayenne really lifts the flavours of the cheese.

You can make them with any cheese, but a sharp, tasty cheese is best.

 

 

Cheese scones

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of good quality aged cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups of flour
  • Decent pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp of smoked paprika (sweet or bittersweet)
  • 4 tsp of baking powder
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten

Method

  • Pre-heat oven to 200c fan bake
  • Mix together the cheese, flour, baking powder, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika
  • Mix together the beaten eggs and milk
  • Lightly fold the egg/milk mixture into the other ingredients (do not over mix)
  • Put baking paper on oven tray
  • Drop spoonsful of the mixture onto the oven tray (should make around 12)
  • Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, depending on how brown and crunchy you like them

Kevin Hopgood’s Lamb Empanadas (a Mexican type of pie)

Kevin says “These Empanadas are really tasty and a great way to use up leftovers, I slow cooked lamb leg the other evening and we turned the leftovers it into two tasty dishes, Empanadas and also a lovely mulligatawny soup. You use cooked chicken, beef, pork or make a vegetarian version if you want to. You can also use fresh beef or lamb mince but you will need to cook it with the onion, garlic and stock for 10 minutes.”

 

 

 

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp of Oil
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic crushed
  • 400g of Lamb cooked
  • 1 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1 tsp of Smoked Paprika
  • 100mls of stock
  • 80g of Black beans (tinned)
  • Pinch of Chilli Flakes (can be omitted)
  • 2tbsp Chopped Mint
  • 2tbsp Chopped Coriander ( The stems are perfect for this)
  • 3 Spring onions finely sliced
  • Egg beaten
  • 4/5 Sheets of Shortcrust Pastry (store bought is fine)

Method

  • Heat oil in a heavy based pan add onion and garlic, cook for 4/5 minutes on a low heat until soft and translucent
  • Add cumin, paprika and chilli then cook for a further 2 minutes,
  • Add the Lamb which should be finely diced. Stir then add the stock and black beans.
  • Cook for another 3 minutes just to reduce the stock and intensify the flavour.
  • Take off the heat add the mint, coriander and spring onion and season to taste. Chill the mix.
  • Pre heat your oven to 200c.
  • Take a shortcrust pastry sheet and cut four circles with a 11cm pastry cutter out of each one.
  • Place approximately a dessert spoon of mix each circle.
  • Brush the outer part of the pastry with a little beaten egg, fold over and press the edges together, at this stage you can pinch and fold the edges to make a nice pattern or you can just use a fork to crimp the edges.
  • Place on a tray with baking paper, brush with egg and sprinkle a little salt on top (I use flaky sea salt).
  • Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, they should look golden brown.

Serve with Mexican salsa, Sweetcorn salsa, tomato relish or even sweet chilli sauce. Great with a cold beer!

Neil’s wine pick

If it is the cheese scones you are looking to pair a drink with then it has to be a straight-up espresso rather than wine for afternoon tea but when it comes to dinner and Kevin’s empanadas if you don’t want a cold beer then Pinot Noir should be top of the list.

I think you should try the St Pauli Vineyard 2019 Pinot Noir with the lamb empanadas. Made from fruit grown in Upper Moutere the wine is crushed black plum juice in colour, is simply bursting with ripe berry fruit aromas and flavours, it’s also a wine with silky tannins, however, it’s the beautiful fruit and touch of toasted hazelnuts flavours that shine. Simply delicious!

Published in the Nelson Mail 22.04.20

Gelato Roma

I first wrote about Gelato Roma back in March 2016 and a lot has happened with this exciting Nelson business in the intervening years, so I thought it was time to find out more and tell you about it.

Let’s start by having a quick look back at the history of Gelato Roma. The business was established in Nelson by Yuri Aristarco with a couple of business partners after he arrived here in 2011 from Genova, a seaside coastal city in Italy near the northern France border and not too far from Milan.

In Genova Yuri ran a restaurant that had a wine bar on ground floor with a 120 seat restaurant on first floor. He told me Gelato is part of the Italian food culture and a single town in Italy might have 200 gelato producers but people have their favourite producer, just like we have a favourite coffee shop or restaurant, and will travel to the other side of town to get the gelato they favour.

Yuri and Daniela Aristarco (photo: Braden Fastier Nelson Mail & Stuff)

When I had a coffee with Yuri and his wife Daniela, who now run the business by themselves, he told me “There are lots of really good producers in this region and I wanted to make something that reflects who we are while adding something really good to the region too.”

I asked them what makes their gelato special and what are the key differences between ice cream, gelato and sorbet because they do make sorbet as well.

Yuri says the real difference between premium ice cream and gelato is that ice cream has about 18% butterfat content while gelato has a lot less and sorbet has none.

Daniela says, “The fat coats your palate and can disguise the real flavours of the product, too much sugar can also mask the beautiful real flavours so we use a lot less sugar than you may find in similar products.”

Yuri said the second key difference is that gelato has less air infused as part of the churning process. If you let a scoop of ice cream and a scoop of gelato melt the ice cream will seem larger but if you take the air into account the servings are about the same size.”

Less air in gelato means the flavours also appear to be more intense and he said if you have a serving of gelato and ice cream side-by-side you can really taste the difference.

The third main difference is the serving temperature, “it’s tied to the butterfat and air content, ice cream needs to be served at between -18 degrees and -20 degrees while gelato is between -12 and -14. Because it’s not as cold your taste buds detect the flavour more easily.”

Daniela told me their product isn’t too sweet either, “we are very careful about amount and type of sugar we use. As a choice we don’t over-sugar, sugar can be like cream and cover the natural flavours and we want the fruit flavours and other raw ingredients to shine so we rely on the natural fruit sugars with as little added sugar as possible. Yuri is good at keeping the added sugar content as low as possible and we are quite proud of that, however, like any other frozen product it is a treat.”

Sorbets are sweeter than gelato because they are water based and the Gelato Roma berry sorbets have 45% fruit content, “get a scoop and almost half is fruit, zero fat because there is no milk and that makes it suitable for people with dairy intolerance and for vegans.”

Daniela said there are other little differences but these are the most important, “then you take into account the raw materials we use and the recipes Yuri develops that makes our gelato and sorbet a true artisan product.

“Because we’re a small artisan producer we love to work with other local, high quality, producers that are often artisan producers too. Our suppliers are important to us, for the quality of the product we make and also to our story when we are selling it to retailers.”

Yuri and Daniela Aristarco (photo: Braden Fastier Nelson Mail & Stuff)

At Gelato Roma all the berries they use are locally grown, as you would expect they use Pic’s peanut butter and they have just started to use Thorvald and Little River yoghurt. “We don’t want to import from overseas, our philosophy is to add value to ingredients and products already produced here, even though we are now a nationwide artisan business we have a focus on local products” says Yuri.

As expected there are a few things they can’t get locally, like coconut and mango because they simply aren’t produced here, but they do source everything from Nelson first, then New Zealand and overseas as a last resort.

It’s this dedication to using quality, fresh ingredients that I think makes their products special and it’s why they are now selling Nelson produced gelato and sorbet in 23 outlets around New Zealand.

“Our retail partners, who have our display freezers and scoop our gelato, and the three distributors we work with are important to us as we grow. As part of the artisan producer experience we want to provide we give them as much support as we can”

“In the top of the South we partner with five retailers as well as the truck and trailer that are franchised out to an independently owned business. Co-owners Colin Harrop and Barry Mitchell are set up in Tahuna at the beach and go to the markets, fairs, festivals and other events around the region” says Daniela.

Yuri told me they have the production capacity to grow further but they want to keep it as an artisan product, “we have everything in place with the capacity we have now, we can be bigger without compromising on the quality of the product and without using pre-made powders.”

Gelato Roma products are also sought after by chefs who often ask for a custom gelato or sorbet, “a few weeks ago we made a sorbet for Tutu Cider For the Cider Festival, last year we made a sorbet for No1 Family Estate using their sparkling wines for them to serve at the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival, and we made many other sorbets using Sauvignon Blanc from White Heaven ,  Gewürztraminer from Framingham, Moa cider, beer from Golden Mile Brewery only to mention some.

“We love making these customised products and we can only do it because we are artisan producers. We can decide to make a new product one day and ship it the next day, we have the expertise to be able to do this, Yuri has to develop the recipe to make sure the product flavours are properly balanced and that is the real skill” says Daniela.

The success of Roma Gelato isn’t just limited to the demand they have for their tasty treats, at the New Zealand Ice Cream Awards in 2019 they were awarded five medals as well as the Best in Category for Gelato for their salted caramel gelato.

All this means if you visit one of their retailers you won’t only get a delicious treat you will be supporting a number of other producers in the Nelson region, and I love that.

Published in the Nelson Mail 22.01.20

by

2019 Vintage Wines in Nelson

At the risk of repeating myself I love this time of the year, everything in the garden is starting to sprout into life again after being dormant during the winter, the daylight hours are longer, daylight saving has started, the sun is warming us once again and most importantly the first of the 2019 vintage wines are on the shelves for you and me to buy.

A couple of week’s ago I went to the trade tasting session of the Wine Nelson annual new release tasting and with some 120 wines available for tasting, along with a few special bottles some producers had tucked under their tasting tables, I simply wasn’t going to be able to taste every wine in the two hours available.

To get a snapshot of the 2019 vintage across the region I tried a couple of new release wines from each producer and I have to say, my suspicions about a vintage of outstanding quality were confirmed, 2019 wine produced in this region are simply exceptional.

The highlight of the vintage was the severe drought that gripped the region, there was no rain at all between Christmas and when harvest was due to start in early March. This created a number of challenges in vineyards where the soil is stony and free-draining while well established vineyards located on clay based soils came through the drought without too many issues at all.

As happens when you are working with Mother Nature she usually does a few unexpected things so it was no real surprise when it rained just as harvest was due to start. Fortunately most vineyards were in pristine condition, fruit was ready to harvest a week or two earlier than normal and grape growers are getting used to a bit of rain in early autumn so were well set to manage the rain when it did arrive.

While growing conditions seemed to be exceptional the heat was maybe a little too much; warm, humid night-time conditions meant disease was always a risk but most importantly the lack of cool temperatures at night slowed flavour development in the grapes.

The result was grapes in excellent condition with natural sugar levels rising rapidly but grapes that could do with a bit more flavour. In many locations around the region the first burst of rain did a huge amount of good to the fruit, as long as the grapes weren’t too ripe with soft skins the extra water didn’t split the grapes and encourage rot, but it did dilute the sugars a little giving the fruit a chance to develop more flavour as the rains also brought slightly cooler evenings.

The day or two extra that grape growers were able to leave their fruit on the vines has resulted in exceptional flavours in all of the wines I have tasted from the 2019 vintage.

As you would expect, every vineyard is different with fruit ripening at slightly different times and this year was no exception, there were a couple of vineyards where the rain didn’t help some varieties and growers chose not to harvest a few tonne of fruit. A wise move indeed, better to leave compromised fruit behind than compromise your brand by producing substandard wines.

Despite a small amount of fruit not being harvested 2019 was the largest vintage on record in the Nelson region. Some 12,370 tonnes of wine grapes were harvested in the region, an increase of 36% on the small 2018 vintage. It was also 3.1% of the total New Zealand harvest for 2019 and made Nelson the 4th largest producer of wine grapes in the country.

While 3.1% may not seem much we need to remember that Marlborough produces 76.6% (305,467 tonnes in 2019) of grapes grown in New Zealand, Nelson moves ahead of Central Otago and is now only behind Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne in terms of production.

The other notable feature of the 2019 grape harvest in Nelson was how fast it was. In a perfect vintage grapes ripen at different time meaning winemakers can control the flow of wine production in the winery at a nice pace, this year the harvest was short and intense.

For smaller producers the vintage lasted a mere 10 to 14 days with every variety hitting the winery at the same time and while this did put winemakers and facilities under pressure there were also plenty of smiles on tired winemakers faces. The smiles were brought about because of the incredible quality of fruit being delivered from vineyards for them to work their magic with.

Again, it goes without saying some of the larger vineyards couldn’t be harvested before the long days of rain arrived and caused havoc with remaining fruit so imagine just how big the vintage could have been if Mother Nature didn’t have a little cry.

What do the wines 2019 vintage taste like? In a word, beautiful!

My picks for this year – 2019 wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Rosé from Nelson are packed with ripe fruit flavours with refreshing yet soft acidity making them irresistible.

Based on some barrel samples I had recently, when wines like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are released in about 12 months you simply have to buy them, there are some real treats slumbering away in barrels.

Most wineries open their cellar doors after a break for vintage and winter at Labour Weekend so head to www.winenelson.co.nz and download the regional wine map then spend a few days enjoying the beautiful wines on offer in this region.

Carol Shirley & Gourmet Catering – Nelson Mail 18.07.18

I first met Carol Shirley, the owner of Gourmet Catering, many years ago when she took over running the café at the old Maitai Bowling Club at the bottom of Trafalgar St, she made delicious food for members of the club as well as members of the RSA and City Clubs that shared the bowling club’s premises before membership dropped to a level all three clubs merged with others in the region and the facility was sold.

Because the various clubs didn’t require a full-time food service Carol was able to use the kitchen at the club for her own small catering business, a business that has changed over the years, evolving into what I think is Nelson’s top catering business.

We have used Carol’s catering services at our office several times and I can fully understand why her business has gone from strength to strength, the food she delivers is both generous and delicious while the outstanding service she and her staff provide always has a smile attached.

Carol has joined forces with Lincoln Womersley, who used to own Blinc Catering, for large events that require two chefs as well as her staff to manage the workload, this partnership was a shining light at last year’s Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce Business Awards dinner, they served some of the best food I have had at a function for 400+ people.

I arranged to have a coffee with Carol at our office to book some more catering and to find out a bit more about what makes her tick, and her business so successful; the second part of is easy, she is a generous person and just wants to make people happy by making fresh, interesting and good value for money food.

Carol has lived in Nelson since she was six years old and other than ten years working in the hospitality sector in Australia in her twenties her working life has been spent here, she started working at a wine bar called Valeno’s (where Subway is now) on her return from Australia and she realised there was a gap in the catering market here.

In 2003 she decided to start her own business, “my father thought I was crazy, he said I would have more chance of finding a husband than running a successful business in Nelson so that was enough motivation for me, I set out to prove him wrong.”

Carol started selling food out of baskets, “I had three runs around town, turning up at offices and retail shops selling things like muffins and sandwiches for morning teas and lunches, I gave out flyers about my catering and it didn’t take long before people ordered catering for office shouts and then business functions.”

The business grew quite quickly so in 2004 she bought The Lunch Company in Vanguard St, It wasn’t great as a lunch bar but was a perfect catering base and prep kitchen for the bun run.”

When her catering business outgrew the premises in Vanguard Street she took over the kitchen at the Maitai Bowling Club, “the RSA  had just moved there but making food for them was only a small part of the business, having the larger kitchen I could use for catering was the thing that really attracted me to the site.”

In about 2009 when the Bowling Club, RSA and other clubs using the building started going into decline her long-term future at the premises was uncertain, “the Grape Escape came up for sale so John Appleman and I bought it, he had been out of the restaurant business for a couple of years but like all chefs, he loves cooking so we formed a partnership to turn the run down café into the thriving café it is today.

“We also developed a quite large catering business as part of it.” A highlight of this partnership was winning the 2010 Chamber of Commerce medium size business award.

After three years  she decided she needed a break from the food business, “I wanted to do something different, I didn’t know what but I sold my shares to John and took a year off.”

After that year off she had the passion for food back and decided to get Gourmet Catering going again with a focus on wedding catering and for the past two years Gourmet Catering has been the resident caterer at the Tasman Bay Cruising Club, Carol runs the catering business from there, “it works very well for us, it is a really convenient location and we can promote the venue for functions too.”

While the main focus for Gourmet Catering is weddings, and large events the  general catering side of the business has had a rapid growth.

Carol told me funeral catering has also been a big part of our growth, she personally meets with the families to discuss options to ensure their life celebration is exactly what they want.

“Last year with growth of the business we found a need for people wanting simple, fresh and delicious food in a gourmet buffet style setting, cocktail style foods without staff on hand to pass the food around, so we started offering a service we called ‘Gourmet Grazing’ and it has taken off too.”

We had a grazing table for our staff Christmas and can testify to the quality, the grazing table we had was packed with delicious food suitable for everyone, from treats for the kids to a beautifully cooked whole salmon it was perfect for us.

Last year Gourmet Catering served 430 at the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce Nelson Pine Industries Business Awards at the Trafalgar Centre, “we have catered the Nayland College school ball at the Trafalgar Centre and with the ball season approaching we have three of the college balls this year as well as the Steampunk Ball at Annesbrook Church, it means long days but being able to work with Lincoln on these events makes it fun and so much easier.”

In the last 12 months the business has continued to grow rapidly but I know from experience that if anyone can handle the pressure, remain sane and keep smiling it will be Carol, she is a catering star.

Precinct Dining Co. Motueka

Motueka has had an important role in this region’s food industry for many years, primarily as a place food is grown and processed, but in recent times it has also become home to some wonderful eating establishments including Precinct Dining Co.

Located on the corner of High Street and Greenwood St in part of the Countdown building, Precinct Dining Co was established in December 2015 by Tim and Kylie Andrew, Tim is the chef and Kylie “does everything else which is about 80% of running a hospitality business” according to Tim.

Last week I sat down with them over one of my favourite drinks, a double shot long black, and we talked about why they chose Motueka as a place to start a café.

They told me that Motueka didn’t have many places like the one they envisaged, in the past there were plenty of places to eat but nothing offering a modern dining experience, in recent years that has changed a lot with several places making great food delivered with very good service.

In the case of Precinct they wanted to create a place that had a modern feel to the food and a dining environment that wasn’t too big so they could manage it pretty much by themselves.

“Instagram, social media and tv shows like Master Chef have helped change people’s expectations of food, it doesn’t have to be steak, eggs and chips or bakery foods, food is much more exciting now and the people of Motueka appreciate it just as much as anyone else.”

Something else that drew them to Motueka is the fact it is small town New Zealand with a very high summer tourist density and quieter winters, “it is absolutely full-on in summer and we get a bit of time off in winter so we can have a lifestyle you don’t get when you are working in the restaurant scene in big cities.”

While Tim is a chef and Kylie has a qualification in Bio-Medical Science they have both worked in the hospitality sector for some time; Tim trained in Queenstown at Skyline where he had an apprenticeship, “we were doing 1500 meals a day but it was all buffet style food, we did the same thing every day and it made me realise I don’t like doing buffet, but it was so hard to get an apprenticeship when the opportunity came up I jumped at it.”

He is a huge supporter of the apprenticeship programme, most people train at polytechnics or cooking schools these days but working as an apprentice has a lot of benefits, “you finish with a qualification and without a student debt because you are learning on the job, earning money while learning and getting real world experience.”

Tim has also had several apprentices over the years including Beau Lyttle who is working with him now and will be finished his apprenticeship at the end of this year.

As well as working at Skyline in Queenstown Tim also worked at the Millenium Hotel for the last year of his apprenticeship before moving to the Shoreline café at Kaiteriteri for a summer as Chef de Partie then on to his first Head Chef role at the Mecure Hotel in Dunedin which is where he decided working in a hotel kitchen wasn’t for him either.

So it was overseas for a few years, firstly to Orpheus Island, a high-end luxury lodge off Townsville, “I moved there to chill out a bit after the crazy hours of working in a hotel but it wasn’t as relaxing as I hoped, I was promoted to head chef after three days.”

His next stint working in a resort was at Peppers Palm Bay, another Island in the Whitsunday’s, that the owner ended up turning into his house on the private island.

After Peppers he ran a ski resort in Australia at Threadbo where the backpacker accommodation slept 300 people, “I was up at 2.30am to cook breakfast, then it was up the mountain to the other part of the resort for lunch service, a bit of snow boarding then back down the hill to feed everyone for dinner. It was a real challenge, I couldn’t do it now but back then I was living on coffee and adrenalin.”

In 2010 he spent another summer at Shoreline before he headed overseas to follow Kylie who was also working at Shoreline for the summer, “her mother was keen for her to spend some time at home for a while but she met me and I ruined her life by hooking her into hospitality, she is one of those people who is naturally great at hospitality” says Tim.

Kylie had an internship at Disney World so Tim followed her and he ended up working as a cooking teacher on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in the Caribbean, they sailed out of Miami every week with a new load of passengers and one of the things the cruise line offered was cooking courses.

“That was a cool job but hard work, six months on and 10-12 hour days teaching every day Americans who had no idea how to cook simple stuff, one lady had never seen a fresh carrot, she had only ever seen frozen carrot slices, it blew my mind how little some of these people knew about food let alone how to cook it, in some cases it was basically how to boil water.”

After the short US stint they moved back to New Zealand and Queenstown where they both worked in the then new Rata restaurant when it first opened.

After Rata it was back to Shoreline as the head chef and front of house manager. The couple used their previous experience at Shoreline and the experience working in other places to redesign the kitchen to give it a better flow, making it easier to serve hundreds of meals a day.

“It was a great place to work until the management board changed and the focus changed to serving as many people as possible in the hectic summer period; we had the attitude of ‘let’s serve everyone and make everyone happy’ and that changed to ‘let’s get as many people through the doors as we can’ so we couldn’t focus on the quality of food and service that was so important to us.

“We totally understand they wanted to generate as much income as possible at the busiest time of the year but it didn’t suit our philosophy so it provided the impetus to open our own café where we can focus on what we want to provide customers with, we take our time now and serve great food made with love rather than just being a production line.

“Having Kylie run the front of house is fantastic, she is very level headed and sees things differently to me, I have an opinion as a chef and she has an opinion as a customer would see it so we have complimentary skills, I don’t have anything to do with front of house and she doesn’t have anything to do with the kitchen. I think having quite different roles and respecting one another is the reason we work so well together in the business.”

This couple love what they do, especially giving young people an opportunity to do something that isn’t university, “it seems that at many schools kids are pushed to be successful by going to university but you don’t have to, university isn’t the only way to make a great future for yourself.”

In their first year in business they won a Beef and Lamb award and while they are enjoying what they we are doing and will be there for a while Tim says there will come a time we will move on to something else so Kylie can pursue her medical career or whatever she decides to do, “she has very much helped me get everything I wanted so it is only fair to do the same for her.”

www.precinctdining.com