Street Food on Washington

A couple of years ago I wrote about a couple who relocated from Auckland to Nelson, chef Ben Smith and his wife Bridget have since taken over the old store in Washington Valley and set about turning it into a real community food spot; Street Food on Washington is a lot more than just a place for quick takeaways at lunchtime, but you can do that too if you want to.

Last week I sat down with Ben and Bridget to find out a bit more about the food and why they chose this little out-of-the-way former dairy to open a restaurant and café. I say restaurant because the business has been so popular with locals, and people who have already discovered them, that they are now open for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

Ben told me they had this vision to create a cool local community space that isn’t in the city, “we wanted to bring restaurant quality food to a local community and to become part of a community, not just another place to pick up lunch on the go.”

And they have done that with remarkable success, not only have they been welcomed with open arms into the local community but many people from around the region have discovered their food, be it a cheese scone for morning tea, a wrap to grab-and-go for lunch or a meal cooked fresh for you to enjoy in the relaxed, yet very cool space they have created.

The idea of making street food the core of their business came about because they didn’t want to be in a box of ‘we make this’, “we want to make exciting, flavoursome food and our food is a bit eclectic” says Ben. “We can take street food from anywhere in the world and reinvent the dish in so many ways, innovating every day keeps us excited and gives our loyal customers something new from somewhere around the world to try.”

Of course, they have regular menu items but they have a twist too. Things like an Onion Bhaji Burger with mango chutney, a Korean hot dog with crispy potato batter, Loaded Fries smothered with caramelized onions, jalapenos, cheese sauce and bacon.

As Ben says, “No one can travel at the moment so we are bringing a taste of various countries to Washington Valley and any dish, with the exception of two, can be altered to suit any dietary requirement.”

Each week they have a special dish and some regulars now just ring up and order ‘the special please’ without asking what it is, “they get to try something new and interesting every week” says Ben.
“It’s so good to have the freedom to create great food however I like and have earnt the trust of my loyal regulars.”

Some recent specials of the week include Texan bbq pork ribs w pineapple salsa and peanut slaw,
Polish pierogi dumplings w saurkraut caramelized onion and bacon with sour cream, Mexican sopes with grilled steak, cactus with crema and salsa as well as Karaage chicken burger with Korean bbq sauce and Japanese mayo

Street Food on Washington also has a strong family ethos. Bridget told me “We’re in a busy local community, a community full of families and we want to encourage our kids to be part of a community business and understand what it takes to run a successful business.”

The business is going from strength-to-strength and is soon to include a food truck so the whole family is entwined in the operation alongside long-time friend Joe Saywell who is their sous chef. Bridget deals with all of the admin, “everything from staying on top of the accounts, paying people, ordering food and managing the refurbishment of the former ambulance that is going to be the food truck, and she still works in the restaurant Thursday Friday and Saturday our busiest days” says Ben. “We make such a great team.”

“Our 17 year old son is a budding chef and runs the kitchen on Saturday during the day while I work front of house making coffee and chatting with customers. For us one of the highlights is it’s a family business, Connor (17) has been working for me for a few years, we treat him as a staff member and he has really stepped up to the mark.

“Our other kids Liam (13), Ethan (15) and Hannah (11) all work here at weekends and nights, you’ll find Hannah manning the till and taking orders on Saturday lunch.”

The development of the business has been everything they wished for, “customers drip-feed in all day, it’s nice regular business that is easy to manage with just a few people, nights are taking off and about 50% of our business comes from regulars, some people come in every day, and not just immediate locals, some come here from around the region to relax over a coffee and do some work away from the office.”

The food truck is being constructed at the moment and the intention is to launch it with a street food party in Washington Valley, then it will appear at lots of places like nightclubs in town and it’s designed so they can cook all sorts of food for functions and events, not just street food.

They are also in the early stages of applying for a liquor license and with an outdoor area planned for summer things are moving along fast.

Check out www.streetfoodonwashington.co.nz for their opening hours, menus and to pre-order your freshly cooked favourite taste from around the world to take home, have delivered to your door by Yummi or so it’s ready for you to enjoy in the street art themed premises.

Published in the Nelson Mail 07-07-2021

Salvito’s Pizza Bar

When John Esposito opened a pizza bar named after his two sons (Salvi and Vito) he was determined to bring authentic Italian flavours that reflect his family’s heritage and he has done exactly that with spectacular success. The pizzas at Salvito’s are wonderful.

The Esposito name will be familiar to many Nelsonians, the family is part of the ‘Little Italy’ group of immigrants who established market gardens on The Wood four generations ago and who made the successful transition to living life in New Zealand with shear hard work. It’s fair to say the strong work ethic has rubbed off on the latest generation of Esposito’s, even if they no longer grow tomatoes in The Wood.

I have known John for more years than I care to remember and have watched the various businesses he established and owned flourish, businesses that have brought a touch of Italy to Nelson. He was one of the original investors who set up Mediterranean Foods in the region some 20 year ago, starting with a store on Halifax St before expanding into supplying Mediterranean food products to cafes and restaurants across the top of the South Island.

After selling the retail shop (now Prego and Comida) he and his business partner focused on growing the wholesale and distribution side before he eventually sold his shares to focus on his involvement in the tourism industry in Christchurch. We all know that when Covid hit last year, tourism was significantly affected across the whole country and as John says “we had to do something else to make a living – and fast.”

However this isn’t his first stint making pizzas, he was instrumental in establishing a wood fired pizza oven at the Italian Club in lower Trafalgar St and cooked up traditional food for their Friday night pizza nights where he worked as a volunteer for a loyal following of locals for some 12 years.

With his background in Mediterranean foods, his Italian heritage and pizza making experience it’s no wonder he and his sons have got the perfect recipe for tasty food at Salvito’s.

And it’s the food that people keep going back for. As testament to what people think of the pizza’s at Salvito’s just look at the five-star reviews they have on Google, Trip Advisor and Facebook – a perfect five-star record across all three platforms. “We don’t take these wonderful reviews for granted and do everything we can to maintain this standard” says John.

I wanted to know why the food is so good, “it starts with the very best ingredients we can source and then we take time to use traditional methods to make the pizzas.

“For example, we use Italian Caputto 00 flour from Naples and it takes a two-day slow rise to get the dough ready for baking. It has a 60% water hydration, and proves for 24 hours before we shape it into balls, and prove again for another 24 hours before its ready. It’s been a steep learning curve because water content, yeast, humidity, and oven temperature all play a part and we want to make it perfect, every time.

“We are committed to our food being authentic, introducing recipes and flavours we grew up with and are based on traditions that came from Italy 100 years ago. The flavours we have today might not be so common in modern Italy for example, but more based on our family heritage from those early immigrants.”

Lisa Molnar, (John’s cousin who helped a lot in the establishment) says it’s the simple things that last the test of time, for example “the pork sausage we make is made the same way our great grandfather would have made it and begins with a whole shoulder of pork that is hand cut on the premises, then ground, and mixed with spices. Some of the ingredients you can get on the banks of the Maitai River like our grandparents did, we aren’t allowed to do that now because of food regulations but the essence of using traditional ingredients is paramount.

“The flavour is the same as it was when being cooked when we were kids, we had tomato gardens and tomatoes were always being cooked and bottled. Like then, we add extra virgin olive oil to give our tomato real sauce depth, then garlic, basil and traditional seasoning.”

John says “the focus is on sourcing the very best ingredients including, oils, tomatoes, and specialty products. Lisa helped us experiment with various combinations to match the flavours of toppings for each different pizza, then add specially chosen cheeses to match.

“Our importer brought a mountain of ingredients to Nelson specifically to trial and we spent four days playing with old familiar flavours. Things like Truffle paste, Nduja paste, Gorgonzola and Taleggio cheeses, Friarelli, and Mortadella; it was amazing.

“We even grate our own parmesan cheese; we buy Italian Parmesan wedges that have been cut from a wheel and grate it ourselves rather than buying a standard pre-grated product that you might find in the supermarket. These touches make a real difference to flavour.”

And working with his two sons Salvi and Vito on this project has been the silver lining for John. “it’s like the fun and adventures we had when the kids were young have just continued on, morphing into a new and exciting era that we are enjoying together. But it can stretch them too and that’s a good thing. My job is to expose them to new challenges and pressure within the business, raising the bar gradually so they can more readily take on things that life throws at them. It’s a wonderful family experience for all of us.”

For me, the pizzas at Salvito’s Pizza Bar are the best in town, totally authentic flavours of Italy but made right here in Nelson.

Published in the Nelson Mail 05.05.2021

Little Nessie Cafe – The Wee Coffee Monster

I love positive people and I don’t think anyone who opens a new café in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic could be described as anything but positive. Gareth and Hayley Lewis decided to do just that and opened Little Nessie Café at the Black Cat shops on Annesbrook Drive in August 2020.

Anyone would think that opening a business during Covid-19 Level 2 would pose the biggest hurdle for their new business; but this was not the case. What they hadn’t counted on was six months of significant road works resulting in road closures right outside their business just four weeks after they opened the doors.

When I caught up with them last week their great attitude and the support from locals means this little business is still on the right track despite the challenges so far. Hayley says “we are surprised and incredibly humbled at the support we have had from so many people but especially our local and regular customers.”

 

This small café appears to have been a very welcome addition to the neighbourhood. Hayley and Gareth offer specialty coffee, a small but mighty menu that that you can enjoy inside, on the small deck or take away. One thing that really struck me about Little Nessie café is the cozy, welcoming atmosphere, it is a place you can just pop into for a quick coffee or linger over a meal or pot of tea.

Little Nessie cafe is an evolution of the food truck the couple ran in Brisbane until the Covid-19 Pandemic hit in March 2020. As Covid cases began to rise in Queensland, the couple decided it was time to come home with their family and just 12 days later they landed in Auckland, arriving two days into level 4 lockdown where they completed two weeks of self isolation before continuing on to Wellington and finally Nelson.

Reflecting on their journey, Hayley says “Having the food truck was great because we got a feel for who we are as a business. In many ways we are grateful for the opportunity Covid-19 allowed us – we were able to take our learnings from the food truck in Brisbane and start over with a more refined offering.”

“We have the staples that reflect who we are, particularly the Scottish Brekky Burger which is the most popular thing on the menu. It includes our homemade Lorne sausage which is like a cultural icon in Scotland, everyone’s mum or nana makes it. You can get a slice in a roll almost everywhere. It has been so popular with our customers people are coming from all over the region asking for ‘square sausage’ or Lorne, so we now sell it packaged for customers to take home.”

Having worked in the corporate world for several years they decided to use the marketing and business skills they have developed over the years to establish their own business. In 2019 Hayley was nearing the end of her maternity leave after having their first child Maisy while Gareth was working as an insurance broker. Feeling uninspired by his day-to-day work and after a particularly tough day in the office, they finally decided to buy their food truck and find something that would make them both excited to go work everyday.

Gareth says “We have always known we wanted to own our own business. We figured a small café would be a great place to start and allow us to spend more time together as a family which we couldn’t in our old roles.”

When it comes to the food they make Hayley says “We know what we like and hope others like it too, we want to be part of the great café culture here.”

“So far the feedback from customers has been great. We are sort of waiting for the negative, hopefully it will never happen, but we have been surprised at how positive everyone is about us and our little business.”

The original Little Nessie food truck has been back on the road in the last few months taking their delicious coffee & food to various events around the region and is available for private hire.

So if you’re looking for a new place to try and want to support a local business that is facing the challenges of Covid-19, road works and whatever else can be thrown their way with a big dose of positivity then pop into Little Nessie Café for a visit. I know this hard-working couple will reap the rewards of self employment, they have a wonderful attitude and make great food. Open from 7.30am to 2pm Monday to Friday and 8am – 12.30pm on Saturdays.

Wine Pick

Neudorf Rosie’s Block Moutere Chardonnay 2019, RRP $45 – 5 stars

When I first tasted this wine I instantly recognised the Neudorf touch. This is a new label for Neudorf Vineyards, the wine is made from 21-year-old organically grown vines on their hillside block and it’s almost difficult to describe, it is simply elegant yet powerful – the classic iron fist in a velvet glove!

The underlying power of the subtle lemon citrus, white peach, softly toasted hazelnuts and delicate ginger spice flavours, the delicate use of oak, tight mineral characters and subtle intensity add up to make this a wine that delivers evolving flavours in the glass and on the palate. It’s a very impressive debut for Neudorf’s latest single vineyard wine. Due to be released next week this is one of the finest wines I have tried to date from the very good 2019 vintage.

Pic’s & Whittakers

A few of the key factors in the success of any business are being able to adapt, innovate and strive for continual improvement, even if you have the market sector cornered, and that is exactly what Pic Picot and his merry band of peanut butter wizards do at Pic’s Peanut Butter World.

The Pic’s story about making peanut butter at home because he thought the commercial stuff was simply awful is very well known but people often forget the risk, thoughtfulness and extensive planning required to build a business the size of Pic’s Peanut Butter into the enterprise it is today.

Let’s be honest, it is just peanut butter, damned fine peanut butter but just peanut butter none the less, it is the dedication to excellence, the branding and marketing that has made this one of New Zealand’s most trusted brands and has provided the springboard to expand the range of products produced by the enthusiastic Pic’s team that shares his dream to create a business that is important to New Zealand, and just happens to be based in the place he calls home, Nelson.

When a new Pic’s product arrives on the shelves everyone is more than happy to try it because we trust Pic and his brand but what we don’t see is the very careful market analysis and product testing that happens before you and I get to buy it.

Making products like almond butter and cashew butter seems like a simple thing to do but there is a lot of planning that goes into the production of these to ensure there’s no cross contamination with peanut products. Then there’s simple things like selling peanut butter ‘slugs’ so you can take the handy little plastic squeeze pouches with you anywhere or even selling it in buckets for those who just can’t get enough of his pure peanut butter – “we only add salt, nothing else”.

Because we live in a region where a large proportion of the world’s boysenberries are grown it seems like common sense to add boysenberry jelly to the range they produce, after all peanut butter and jelly is a classic blend to spread on your morning toast.

Honey is another product that was simple to add, just find a reliable source of premium honey and add the trusted Pic’s brand. Then there’s those who have created products like ice cream and chocolate using Pic’s peanut butter; however, creating a whole new product isn’t easy, especially when you have built a peanut butter brand on having nothing but peanuts and salt in each jar.

The latest product from Pic’s has been created in association with another trusted New Zealand brand, Whittaker’s Chocolate. Pic’s Peanut Chocolate Butter is like a Whittaker’s peanut slab in paste form, and it’s bloody delicious!

When I received a sample of this new product I phoned Pic and told him we needed to talk, the product is ridiculously good so I wanted to know what went in to creating it and getting it to market without compromising his trusted brand. We sat down over a coffee and he told me “it actually started about five years ago so it isn’t something we have jumped into on a whim.

“There had been mutterings in the firm about needing a chocolate peanut butter about 5 years ago so when a Dutch girl came to work for us as an intern and she needed a project we gave her the peanut chocolate butter as a project to research for us.

“She did some work on branding and label design and we made some trial batches and ran a public taste test at a Nelson City market day at the time, the public loved it but I was resistant because I’m a purist when it comes to peanut butter, it’s who we are as a company.

“But the team were keen to do something and kept pushing the idea to me, I just kept my thumb on the hold button for five years rather than pressing go however, I have a fantastic team and I know I need to support them as much as they support me, I trust them and their thoughts around these things and I can’t be autocratic all the time.”

Having Whittaker’s as a co-brand partner was an important part of the decision. “I love the fact they are manufacturers like us, not just a company marketing a product, I want to partner with people who make stuff rather than just selling a product, we also always want to make products that are going to be used rather than being tried once or twice then ending up being pushed to the back of the shelf in the pantry.”

That means a huge amount of effort went into creating the right peanut chocolate butter blend, “we are peanut butter makers first and foremost so it had to be a peanut butter product with a chocolate flavour rather than a chocolate product with a peanut flavour.”

When we talked about the risk of bringing a product like this to market he said of course it’s a risk, “but if we stop taking risks we become boring and that is worse than death. If you didn’t do something different you would never know what the outcome might be and just might miss the golden opportunity.”

As much as I like this new product Pic’s is first and foremost a peanut butter producer this country, and many others around the world, trust so Pic Picot would never let his company do something that will compromise the hard-earned trusted brand stamp.

A top tip from me is to try this delicious peanut chocolate butter spread on a warm croissant for a Sunday morning treat, outrageously decadent!

Published in the Nelson Mail 03-02-2010

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