Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Food on Film, Documentary and Television.

July 15, 2017



TV Review: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

(Food and Travel)

8/10 Stars

By Andrew Johnstone

There are three constants that define the process of being alive and living: survival, reproduction and nourishment. The first two are not possible without the last, the method by which living organisms obtain the energy that fuels the machinery of existence from the biosphere This energy is extracted from the light of the sun, from the mineral substance of the planet and from the gaseous chemicals of the atmosphere and passed about between species about in a vast cycle that feeds billions in a bewildering variety of ways and means.

In the human species, energy extraction is an impulse that has transcended the base process of survival and has morphed into an art so profound and fundamental to the human experience that we cannot be properly examined without reference to the food we grow, prepare and eat which perhaps explains the popularity of television food shows.

This genre offers a bewildering variety of options but of them all, one shines like no other. The host is Anthony Bourdain and the show is called Parts Unknown.


Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (2013 -)

Anthony Bourdain (Born 1956) is acerbic, ironic, informed and opinionated and he has a unique take on food and its centrality to the human experience. A former professional chef and author of the groundbreaking expose of life in the restaurant kitchen, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000) Bourdain has progressed into television and has made four shows: A Cooks Tour (2002-3), No Reservations (2005-12), The Layover (2011-13) and Parts Unknown (2013-).

Music, art politics and history are all part of the Bourdain formula and as for the food, he lsays little more than a “mmm, that’s good” as he tackles everything from ‘baby beaver in blood gravy’ to nasty looking NY street food. He loves mystery meat. “If it does not have the potential to give you the shits it isn’t worth it,” he explains to the camera.

In an age when American has turned inward and closed itself to social equitability and new experience, Bourdain (refreshingly) is a strident and unrepentant American Socialist and his cause is equality and inclusivity. He has seen too much of Britain, The EU and Scandinavia to be taken in by the self-serving economic truths espoused by Conservative America.

While he acknowledges America’s faults, he never forgets that America is more than shouty Christian Republications with guns. Mostly this is a people of good countenance seeking the best from life and each other. He also loves American food – street food, fast food, fine dining, BBQ ……all of it and the rest.


Season 5 Episode 5 Madagascar.

He explores that mysterious Island off the lower East Coast of Africa with filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan – 2010) and finds a unique biosphere teetering. Bourdain never says much when doing the face to face (he says what he wants to say in voiceovers). Mostly he just prompts people along and they talk and tales of corruption, exploitation, over population, poverty and lawlessness spill out explaining the conditions that have led to the environmental shambles that is modern Madagascar. Regardless, he finds people of good heart with hope in the future as well as a ton of spicy meat laden food.


The thing that sets Bourdain apart from all his peers is his unwavering dedication to reality. An unapologetic carnivore, he never flinches from the hard truth of meat and the camera never turns away from a creature being slaughtered (he often participates) lifting the veil on an unappealing aspect of food.

For all his liberalism he does not get vegetarianism and has no time at all for hipsters and food Nazi’s. Opinionated yes, fanatical about it… He mocks others, he mock himself. In the Bronx a guy on the street says “Hey, ain’t you that Anthony Bourdain?” Bourdain, “Nah, I wish I had his money!” Guy, “Yeah, that prick – fuck him”.

He is honest and straightforward and he is not afraid to reflect on his years as a heroin addict, He knocks back the booze like he’s on a mission and one time in Amsterdam he gets high as fuck and raves about his CNN contract. In Season 4 Episode 7 Massachusetts, he explains his proclivities while reflecting on that nations Pharmaceutical opioid crisis. This is a ‘hard’ episode that still manages to serve up some pretty tasty looking local food. Go figure.


Season 9 Episode 7 Oman.

He reveals Oman to be a moderately liberal Muslim society governed by an enlightened Sheik. The people practice a mild form of Islam, which prompts Bourdain to remind us that like Christianity “Islam is not a monolith”. Woman have broad rights and are championed by a progressive leader but later out on the edge of the desert while eating and dancing with Bedouin men we are given a surreptitious glimpse of a heavily veiled woman standing far in the background and off to the side. Bourdain can be as subtle as he can cynical and opinionated.

Josh Homme and Mark Lanegan (QOTSA) wrote and recorded the shows raucous opening anthem. As artfully grunge as the man himself, it sets an appropriate tone. This is a sharp production with a decent budget and there is emphasis on lighting and composition, editing and research…. stuff like that. In one episode, it may have been Philadelphia, he is not in a good mood and gets drunk while waiting out the interminable time between setting a scene and filming it. “Those fucking lighting guys and sound guys and camera guys….. it goes fucking on and on,” but he has way too much conscience to let himself behave too badly or take it too far.


Season 3 Episode 6 Russia.

Bourdain shares tasty looking Russian food and alcohol with some interesting locals who are not as jaded as you imagine Russians could be. It’s his outright disdain for Putin that makes this episode so compelling.

Season 9 Episode 2 Los Angeles.

Trump is now president and Bourdain talks to Latino Americans about food and not being white. Acknowledging that undocumented workers “do the work most of us don’t want to do” Bourdain is unforgiving in his disdain for Trump. He finishes up with this: “Dear Mr President, Muslim Americans pay more taxes than you do”.

He has another go at Trump while in Antarctica, Season 9 Episode 6. What he finds at McMurdo is a community dedicated to scientific endeavour and co-operative egalitarianism, and in an age where science is being undermined and money counts more than community, this is all a big beautiful breath of bullshit free air.


They eat a lot of meat in Argentina and the people of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia (the birthplace of wine) are fighting to sustain a modern progressive democratic culture. Nashville was a musical eye opener and Quebec came across as odd. Sichuan Ethiopia Borneo were among the most compelling episodes ….. oh and his chef/guide in Sicily, he who goes out to catch the seafood for the meal he is about to cook. Well it goes that Bourdain’s crew catch the guy dropping market bought fish and octopus into the sea and then diving in and retrieving it while proclaiming to one and all the natural abundance (these waters are long fished out). Bourdain rolls his eyes and spends the rest of the episode avoiding him as much as possible.

Bourdain’s Dogma is thus: “To eat and drink with people without fear and prejudice. Over a meal they open up to you in ways that somebody who is driven by a story may not get.”




Rick Stein’s Long Weekends (2016)

English celebrity chef and mega wealthy restaurant mogul Rick Stein is in many ways Bourdain’s opposite. While they both travel and eat, Stein is all about food and nice scenes. Stein avoids political commentary and has little of interest to say outside of a few pedestrian observations. Nice light entertainment that’ll easily fill out an evening. If you like there is more, lots more. The Rick Stein food franchise is mega. This series is all about easily reached but slightly ‘off the radar’ European weekend destinations. Bugger about Brexit.



Nigella Lawson.

Everything in Nigella’s world is sensuous and sexy and eating seems to be her fetish. She can be informative, occasionally entertaining but mostly she is just strangely fascinating (for the reasons I have noted). She is not a chef, “just someone who cooks and eats for pleasure”. Lately she has been doing a lot of Reality TV, cooking contests, that kind of thing. Sometimes she sounds like a character Enid Blyton might have written, mostly she is entertaining, knowledgeable and pleasantly unique.


River Cottage (1999-2015)

If Anthony Bourdain is Rock and Roll and Rick Stein is AOR Pop then Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (River Cottage) is Morris Dancing. Gentle, rural and resourceful, Hugh is a Jamie Oliver like figure for the allotment set. A bit dull.

River Cottage is a brand used for a number of ventures by television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. These include a long running television series, cookery courses, events, restaurants and products such as beer and yogurt – Wikipedia



Cooked (2016)

Food writer and philosopher Michael Pollan examines food from the most primal perspective in his Netflix series Cooked. This 4 part series explores in order: Fire, Water, Air and Earth and the relationship of these elements to food.

The broad conclusion of the series is that the evolution of our energy hungry brain has been aided by ever more efficient methods of extracting nutrients from the environment. So far so good but in the end Pollan, is like his conclusions, is pedestrian. Still worth a look but.


Chef’s Table (2015- )

Chefs Table is documentary series that explores the lives of notable Chef’s. It tackles muse and philosophical motivation as well as ingredients and technique. This series is challenging and perhaps a little overblown – this last statement depends on how prepared you are to accept the Chef as an artist worthy of deep analysis. Many of these chefs are thoughtful people. Some a little mad, one or two crazy. Just like most ‘artistic’ professions. Made by the guy who bought us the acclaimed ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ (imagine Studio Ghibli as food documentary). Pretty good overall.



Food Films:

City of Gold (2016)

Jonathon Gold is a journalist who fell into food writing when he grew bored with his job as a sub-editor at the L.A Times. He decided to review every food joint on a particular strip in L.A. His project turned heads and later he become the first food journalist to win the Pulitzer Prize.

At ease with food trucks and haute cuisine both, Gold is a trained musician, successful writer and cultural philosopher. He is an assiduous researcher and a fountain of information. We go about with Gold in his pickup truck as he seeks out opportunity for his prodigious appetite, “They have good chilli fries”, “that place has good Korean”, “over there is the best Ethiopian,” and so it goes. He seems to have eaten everywhere and the mind boggles at the scope of his ambition.

Later the film weighs up Gold’s food writing against food review sites like Zomato (where “amazing” seems to be standard – the filmmakers) and we get some insight into what it takes to be a vocational food critic of integrity. Gold can make or break a business and understanding the responsibilities he goes about his work with diligence, sometimes visiting a restaurant 17 times before writing his review. Very satisfying.



The Search For General Tso (2014) and Deli Man (2105).

‘General Tso’s Chicken’ is one of the most popular dishes in America, possibly second only to pizza, and this documentary sets out to discover the story behind the dish and in doing the doing reveals something of the Chinese/American experience and the evolution of the ubiquitous suburban Chinese Restaurant.


Deli Man is strikingly similar to General Tso’s Chicken except the subject matter is Jewish American food culture. At one time the American food landscape was defined by tens of thousands of Chinese Restaurants and Jewish Deli’s. Unlike the ubiquitous Chinese Restaurant the Deli is in decline but there are those dedicated to maintaining the tradition of this culturally significant food style. Cue Ziggy.

A third generation deli owner and trained Chef, he has made a name for himself as the torchbearer for traditional Jewish American Deli food. A man of outsize personality his insights are compelling as his big heart.

Besides the chicken itself, General Tso’s Chicken explains the famous Jewish love affair with the Chinese restaurant and Deli Man responds by explaining about the Jewish Chinese relationship, one forged from their mutual experience as social outsiders. As for General Tso himself, he is an historic provincial hero whose name is attached to many things as an honorarium and the reaction of locals to this American Chinese food innovation is as startling and hilarious. “Did General Tso love chicken? We don’t know the answer to that question”.



A Film About Coffee (2014).

Coffee is a mildly ‘consciousness altering’ beverage that turns the effort of waking into an anticipatory experience and this documentary seeks to be a hip and poetic exposition on the beverage from farm to cup. The story of America’s ‘small’ coffee industry contribution to rising incomes for growers in the third world is probably the most useful part. A bit wank at times but at least the kids care.



Soul Kitchen (2009, Directed by Faith Akin)

Drama, Comedy

Zinos is the owner of a shabby backstreet restaurant in Hamburg. He is behind on his taxes and his life is a shambles. Things get crazy when he decides to make sort things. In short, the Germans are crazy and Soul Kitchen is a lot of fun. The German Trailer is much better than the American one:




Babette’s Feast (1987, Directed by Gabriel Axel)

Drama/Morality Fable

A refugee from the French Revolution, aristocrat Babette finds herself in Denmark and cooking for a pious Danish family and their congregation. Many years later she wins a lottery and rather than return to her old life in Paris, she decides to spend the money cooking her community a feast born of appreciation. If you need a little unaffected beauty without the schmaltz factor, this is your film.




The Lunchbox (2013, Directed by Ritesh Batra)

Romantic Drama

Everyday, wife prepares loving lunch for indifferent husband. One day the Dabbawala (Mumbai style Lunch delivery specialist) delivers the food to the wrong man. The food keeps coming, he writes her notes of appreciation and back and forward it goes. A friendship develops and …… well, you’ll see. A delightful film about love, longing, flavour and appreciation – You won’t find a more perfect meal anywhere.



The Cheese Grater.

May 28, 2017



So it took me three years to get around to buying a cheese grater. Oh dear, it’s going to cost money. And where will I put it? I have no space for a cheese grater. Do I need a cheese grater anyway? Then I think about all the cool things I’d grate like beetroot.

Grate beetroot then cook it over a fast high heat with a little olive oil to moisten proceedings. Throw in some spice, a dash of sugar and some balsamic. Cook off the liquid, chill then eat. Goes well with crusty bread and a boiled egg.

A grater (also known as a shredder) is a kitchen utensil used to grate foods into fine pieces. Frenchman François Boullier invented the cheese grater in the 1540s to grate cheese, which is why we divide time into two epochs: Before Grated Cheese (BGC) and After Grated Cheese (AGC). Is it just me or does cooked grated cheese taste better than cooked slice cheese? I wonder if this is a thing. I am going to google it. Back soon and P.S: Microsoft Word, why are you urging me to capitalize google?


Toasting cheese in a toaster can be trouble but careful avoids that. The Internets favourite toaster cheese sandwiches are made from sliced bread but the goods are prone to run out the side and catch on the electricals, which is why I use Pita.

A Pita is a self-continued miracle of cooked bread dough that will hold a filling secure and stand up to a little heat. And you don’t have to tip the toaster sideways (to stop the filling running out of the bottom).“If toasters were meant to be used sidewise they would be ‘sideways toasters’ and not ‘upright toasters’” – Wise Chinese Sage. (Pita has a sealed bottom making it fine for upright toasting).

But first, why am I toasted cheese sandwiches in a toaster and not a toasted sandwich maker? Because I have toaster and I don’t have much space and the toaster and toasted sandwich maker together would push me out the door. Beside when you are frugal about money, a speciality machine for making toasted cheese sandwiches seems excessive.


Cheddar cheese (the most flavoursome of the cookable cheeses) is full of fat and leaks and burns and makes smoke and alarms go off. A low fat cheese like Edam avoids this. Likewise Mozzarella. NZ makes most of the Mozzarella used on Chinese pizza, which means this commodity is in demand, scarce and expensive. Hey I’m not complaining. Those exports pay for what is mostly a wonderfully carefree and relaxed Socialist Democratic paradise so the cheap flavourless Edam no one else wants will do just fine.

Grate cheese, mix in finely chopped onion, some diced olives, Kaitaia fire, pepper, herbs, smoked paprika whatever you want. Slice pita in half, stuff halves with cheese mix and toast on low heat (Pita is delicate around high heat). And don’t over fill the pita. It’ll stick and burn and make a mess. On the matter of cooked grated cheese Google/ says:

Finely grating the cheese creates more surface area, allowing heat to permeate quickly for even melting. Large or irregular chunks of cheese melt at different rates, can melt first on the outside and then overcook, or become clumpy or oily before the inside of the chunk starts to flow.


The first time I heard the word google I thought it weird and unwieldy – clumsy and silly. When I realised what google could do the word became more meaningful. I got to like it but I never got to like U2. First time I heard that name I thought “dumb word play” and could never really take them seriously after that. This probably makes me a prat or a snob or some such. As for Google/google here is what Wikipedia has to say:

Search for information about (someone or something) on the Internet using the search engine Google’.

It tells us that you can only goggle on Google. Little g is fine when using the word to describe a search on Google Corporations information gathering algorithm machine but a big G is in order for describing the auspicious company behind the brand. It is improper to say “I will just google that” on any search engine other than Google’s but you can ‘bing’ on Bing or ‘duckduckgo’ on Duckduckgo.

So anyways I got the damned cheese grater. It cost $3.00 at The Warehouse. If I had of known it was going to be that cheap I might have bought one years ago. Otherwise I have nowhere to put it except under the bed and that feels wrong.


“Do you have a cheese grater?” she asks.


“Yeah. Right there, under the bed,” he says pointing.


“Oh…… really?” She says raising an eyebrow at the thought.


‘Google it/on Bing/Fuck the Man/The thing is/I am a maverick/I keep my cheese grater under the bed/Bing/Bang/Boing/Take that bitch’!

“I’m a Rapper,” he tells her but she has already gone.






On Coffee, Tobacco and Steve McQueen.

May 6, 2017



Some people think Decaf is coffee. I am not so sure. Tea has caffeine but is not coffee and neither is beer, though it might as well be. Give me sunshine or coffee? I’ll take the latter – Roma style, (that’s ‘very dark roast’). Sun cannot outshine that. It’s the flavour the Decaf kids tell me, “It’s about the flavour!”


On Saturday at boarding school we were herded into the gymnasium to watch a movie inadequately displayed on a white canvas screen (home video was still a decade away). They asked me to choose the films once. It was supposed to be for the year it lasted a month.

I was picking stuff I’d been reading about in the newspaper but I didn’t take into account the whole censorship thing and after a few screenings the Brothers decided I was a liability and stripped me of my status as the film guy. I missed the weekly trip into the city to select the films from the warehouse and I missed the kudos that came with the job.

Later I became the music guy. Otherwise ‘persona non grata’ I was well read and if anyone wanted to know anything about a song or artist I was the guy. Once a kid sidled up to me and said, “I know its uncool but I like Abba. I reckon they are pretty good. Is that alright do you think?” I said yes but we both knew better than to say it out loud.

I remember Joe Cocker raging his away across the ill lit canvas in a concert flick called Mad Dogs and Englishman. I was thirteen years old and none of it made much sense. The supervising Brother spent a lot time with his hand over the projector lens during The Godfather. I had picked that film. I thought the horse head in the bed scene quite shocking and never quite got over it. He was more interested in protecting us from the sight of ‘sexy ladies’.

The best gym moment ever was Steve McQueen driving over the horizon in his big American beast car towing a horse trailer. He stops at a diner at the edge of a desert and refills on coffee and cigarettes while thinking about the next paying gig. I was a loner myself  and decided Steve McQueen’s Junior Bonner was a loner worth emulating.

Directed by Sam Peckinpah Junior Bonner was not one of his usual things. Peckinpah was the shot em up king. No, more than that, he was an artist and his violence was beauteously studied. Junior Bonner was a character flick and quite a departure for the man. Of its failure to fire at the box office Peckinpah said, “I made a film where nobody got shot and nobody went to see it.”

In the Documentary film I am Steve McQueen (2014) Steve is painted as a restless soul, an intelligent self-involved Renaissance man with a destructive bent, McQueen did it his way or not at all. The establishment accepted that about him because he was box office gold. Lesser personalities would not have been able to get away with half as much I imagine.

I wanted to be just like him for longer than necessary. I rode my motorcycle hard and fast like he did and I drank black coffee and smoked cigarettes like Junior Bonner and dreamt of the wealth that came with great fame. I equated wealth with freedom. Many years later I realised that freedom was mostly a state of mind. A little cash helps but too much and that house of cards becomes a prison. My favourite ever Steve McQueen is Papillon (1973), a harrowing film that explores the harsh French prison system as it was for a time. McQueen is relentless in the lead role.


Back in 1960 -70s New Zealand it seemed that everyone smoked except my Dad. Our house was dominated by women and for ever so long I thought that smoking was a female thing until one day we were out in the car and passed by a farmer herding sheep, a smoke dangling from his lips. “Look Dad” I said excitedly, “that man is smoking”. Noel then explained that men smoked too. I found that hard to accept.

Second hand smoke from Mum, Aunties and Grandmothers – I loved it. I would inhale it and exalt in the heady rush but mostly I would stare at the blue plumes drifting up and about the car, the living room or wherever it was we were. The smoke shifting in the tidal air currents was a kind of artistry as was the way the cigarettes were held, waved about and stubbed. Everyone had a method and my mothers mannerisms were especially stylish I thought.

Of course I took it up as soon as I could and by age twenty I was a seasoned smoker. It was my bulwark against a cruel and confusing world for which I was little enabled and with that cigarette sitting between me and everyone else I felt safe. I promised to love tobacco forever. Forever lasted until six months ago when I just stopped and that was that. It was easy really and I have only looked back twice when I caged a couple of rollies off a mate just to see. Yes they were delicious but I had lost the love. Where did it go? I have no idea.

Smoking looks glamorous in the movies but in reality it stinks, clinging to clothes and breath in the most ungainly way and the people who smoke heavily don’t look great. One of my favourite film stars Humphrey Bogart died from a smoking related cancer, and painfully so it is told. Over the years you can see this chain-smoking matinee star loose his lustre as his skin dried up and puckered.

Happened to a whole slew of generations who smoked themselves to death. Long before the authorities got in on the act people intuitively knew it wasn’t great. ‘Smoke Smoke that Cigarette’ goes a hit song from 1947 – ‘Puff, puff, puff and smoke yourself to death/Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate/That you hates to make him wait/You’ve gotta have another cigarette’.

But that’s what cigars are for, a taste from time to time. God help you though if you get a ‘real liking’ for those bastards. True, you can’t draw the strong smoke down into your lungs, which is why people think they’re the ‘safe option’, but puffing causes cancer too. Sadly.

My grandmother’s cousin Old Kamali died when he was ninety-five. He grew his own tobacco in an allotment on the outskirts of Suva and after curing rolled it into cigars that he chain-smoked from his perch under the eaves of his house. My grandmother, died in her late eighties. A lifetime smoker of cigarettes she was a ‘puffer’ like Kamali. So was I.

I had my lungs checked a while back and they were clean. I was both surprised and pleased but this had nothing to do with my giving it away. They both might have lived longer had they not been smokers someone once suggested to me. I thought that an odd statement given their overall longevity.



I like my coffee ‘very dark roast’. That’s a certain variety of bean burned and then finely ground (not all beans can stand up to a heavy roast). Get the espresso grind. The filter grind does about as good a job as ‘tits on a bull’ as a friend used to say. The finer the grind the more intense the end result.

I use a one-cup drip filter device, a two-dollar plastic thing that fits over the top of a mug. Place a filter paper into device, add some coffee, pour in some boiling water and as soon as the top of the heat has drifted off, it’s ready for sipping (the brew needs to cool a little for the myriad flavours to become fully apparent). No milk, nor sugar – these things ruin it.

My brand of choice is Robert Harris (a big commercial roaster), their bold Italian and Roma styles being a perfect fit for my sensibilities. ‘Very dark roast’ coffee has none of the astringency of lighter roasts. I am not a fan of this ‘astringent’ quality but many are. I like it bold and gold, angst and man, burnt caramel and bitter carbon. Many don’t.

Food is our medicine it is said and I medicate readily. Eating is a game as much about pleasure as it is about nutrition. Sometime part of the pleasure of eating is knowing that you are looking after yourself. Sometimes you can’t help yourself and that is pleasurable also.

Tobacco, beer and coffee: Only one of these is bad for you. Spent coffee grounds should go to the compost. Plants, earthworms, beneficial fungi and bacteria love em. Got no garden? Then feed the compost to a public tree or shrub somewhere. Caffeine is essential so if you ever see me drinking Decaff then you’ll know the decline has set in. Life without narcotics is a life half lived and flavour is only part of the equation.


My Two Grandfathers: The Gardeners.

November 1, 2016




Both my grandfathers were vegetable gardeners through necessity. Bob because he was dirt poor for a good half his life and had a family to feed and Bill because he was a farmer in age when going to town to buy supplies was a luxury. So ingrained in their natures was the task that they both maintained large gardens until their deaths never growing less than enough to sustain both themselves and their long dispersed families.

Bob was a ‘by the book’ man, the legendary ‘Yates Garden Guide’ to be specific, and applied the recommended chemicals at the correct time of year to the sticky mustard coloured clays of the Western Waikato where he lived. His garden was all neatly boxed in straight rows in stark contrast to Bill’s which was a bit of a jungle. Bill was a soil man and the sandy loam of the central Waikato was his canvas.

“Look after the soil” he would say “and the rest will take care of itself” and it did. Both made compost but for Bob this soil building material was simply an adjunct while for Bill it was everything. Besides his numerous compost bins Bill dug long trenches in his garden filling them with leaves, grass clippings and cow manure. He also saved his urine for the fruit trees and the cabbages. Bob would never conceive of such a thing especially when you could achieve the same effect with a bag of fertiliser. I don’t think Bill ever added anything from a bag to his soil, he was an ‘organic’ gardener, Bob was not.

Bill followed a tradition his mother had bought over from the ‘old country’ (Ireland) and kept a corner of the garden “for the fairies”.  The story goes: provide a safe spot for the fairies and in return they will protect the garden. Lush with wild carrot and parsnip, comfrey, lemon balm and a whole assortment of self-sown grasses this technique was not as obtuse as it might at first appear. This untamed patch was a breeding ground for the kind of predator insects that hunted the less desirable creatures that can be a gardener’s nightmare. Bob just sprayed chemicals over everything.

Bob’s garden, as prolific as it was, always struck me as a bit sterile while Bill’s was something of an exercise in esoteric spirituality. Surrounded by a wall of wild parsnip and mustard that stood a good seven feet tall by early summer, his garden thrilled to the sound of bees and butterflies and every leaf hung low under the weight of ladybirds (the ultimate predatory insect). The soil was a mass of worm casts and fungi proliferated. His was an ecosystem, Bob’s was a carefully maintained production facility. That said, both methods worked well and the crops were abundant.

Bob’s speciality was garlic, onions and shallots; Bill’s was carrots and potatoes and when he was in the mood, watermelons. Huge juicy things of the like I have never been able to find at the supermarket. Bob’s wife Cath pickled the smaller onions and all the shallots and together they would harvest, prepare and freeze enough beans and peas to keep them supplied through the year. Bill’s wife Sylvia bottled everything until one year, fed up with the toil and grind, announced that she had had enough and put it to rest. After that they just pulled what they needed straight from the rich soil at the back of the house supplementing with store bought stuff.

I spent much of my pre-school years living with Bob and Cath. I remember the scratchy aroma of chemicals coming from the tool shed and the rich scent of garlic lifting up through the house from the vegetable storage racks in the basement. By this stage Bob was the manager of the local State owned coal mine and had a gardener tending to his crops, trimming his hedges and mowing his lawns.

Bill ploughed up a bit of paddock every year and teased sackfuls of produce from the loam. This was in addition to the garden at the house. He also grew citrus of every conceivable stripe not forgetting plums, apples and feijoa. His Rome Beauties still are the best apple I have ever had and his fig tree was a miracle. A magnet for birds he had set up a system of interconnected rattling cans and with a tug on the wire that reached in through the kitchen window, sent the birds scattering at his leisure. The contest for those florid violet beauties was intense.

In the high summer we would often sit under the plum tree eating the bird pecked fruit lying on the ground, “the birds know exactly which fruit is ripest and if it is bird pecked you can be sure it is good.” Otherwise we talked soil and nothing gave either of us more pleasure than turning over a sod and examining the worms, fungi and various wriggling insects. “A healthy soil provides” Bill would say. When I repeated this to Bob he would look at me as if I was talking a foreign language. In his eyes Bill was a bit dreamy and impractical.

Bob had no fruit trees but he knew who did and sometimes in the evening of a the late summer we would go raiding. Probably not the kind of activity a man of his standing in the community should be indulging in but he revelled in the sneaking about and the quaffing of stolen fruit. I admired Bob. He was self-made man who had endured an inordinate amount of suffering through his life. Bill’s life had been altogether easier and while both men were about as different as chalk and cheese both shared a mischievous of humour that suggested in some ways that both were still boys at heart.

Bob was somewhat O.C.D, as demonstrated by manicured perfection of his garden. Bill was anything but. Everything he touched was an experiment in make-do and delightfully ramshackle. Both men had their difficulties as husbands and fathers but by the time I rolled around they had found their rhythm and were ready to pass on what they had learned, grateful I think for a young soul eager to listen.

Both were mentors and both offered me varied glimpses of the secret magic they saw the world and later when I had my own family and set in a garden to feed them I discovered a bit of both men at work in my style. Like Bill I was devoted to the philosophy of soil and like Bob I kept it all perfectly manicured and clockwork. I maintained a wild place for the fairies staying true to ages old tradition while maintaining an interest in the orthodox. Often when I was out the back weeding or spreading compost I caught myself talking to one or another. With Bob it was all about process and organisation, with Bill it was all about ideas, invention and soil.

Both died at roughly the same age, in their mid-eighties. Bill just dropped dead in front of me and Dad while we were out on the farm one morning and Bob spent his last year or so in an Alzheimer’s facility. I remember Bob, a biblical Christian, saying that a man was due “three score years and ten” (60-70 years depending on the source) and should expect no more. Bill’s wife had done her time on the farm and was ready for the easier pace of town life. He didn’t want to go and as it turned out, didn’t have to.






Review: The NZ Food Show 2015

December 2, 2015

Our trip to the 2015 edition of the NZ Food Show begins with a chauffeur driven trip in the new Mazda CX9, a kind of mix between a people mover (it can seat 6) and an SUV. Okay, everything I know about cars could be written on the side of a matchstick but this vehicle was seriously comfortable, noiseless and boasted a whole heap of luxury accessories like back seat air conditioning, inbuilt GPS and a sunroof. The backseat was so wide I had to use a cell phone to communicate with the person sitting across from me. Safely delivered to the Food Show, our adventure begins.

Set within the sprawling ASB Showgrounds Complex at Greenlane in Auckland, this was serious food business with a vast range of products on display and this review will concentrate on products that caught my eye and appealed to my sensibilities.

Kumara Chips

First up was Nelson potato chip maker Proper Crisps. Made exculsively from Agria spuds, (a yellow fleshed potato specifically breed for its frying properties), these chips are glorious and are only further enhanced by Proper’s slightly thicker cut and use of a healthy frying oil, in this case sunflower.

Proper have just moved into Kumara chips and their product possesses all the flavour qualities of a good old Saturday night roast kumara. Unlike a number of other ‘Kumara’ chips on display at the show, these chips were made from a mixture of traditional purple skinned Kiwi kumara’s (sourced from Kaipara) and orange-fleshed sweet potato. Skin on, the product was crisp, tasty and potpourri of enticing colour. The other products on display were not actually Kumara, rather they were all made exclusively from sweet potato and were all, to the tee, made in China. Unlike Proper, these knock offs were oily, tasteless and a misrepresentation- that’s you Sunny Hill and Kenny’s- Sweet potato is not Kumara.





Next up is Marlborough Garlic Noir and what a delightful surprise this product was. Black garlic is an aged product offering the taste buds a wide range of subtle flavour variations including liquorice, caramel and that indefinable quality the Japanese call umami.

Back in South Korea where the product was first developed, it is considered a health food and is used in a variety of products from pizza and energy drinks through to chocolate. Rich in anti-oxidants, black garlic is chewy, tasty and would make a great addition to a cheese platter. I can also imagine it would go well with a hoppy beer.




Urban Hippie is a Nelson based miso manufacturing operation owned and operated by former chef Takehito Saiama. Miso is a fermented soybean product, a staple of Japanese cuisine and brim full of health giving nutrients. Urban Hippies Miso is a superior quality miso made the traditional way from high quality ingredients but the product that really grabbed my attention was Misomite.

Like most Australasian’s I was bought up on marmite/vegemite, a salty spread made from yeast bacteria and comes with a bevy of claims for its nutritional qualities, qualities that apparently don’t stack up. For a start the product is loaded with sodium and the B-vitamin profile is not as rigorous as marketing suggests. Urban Hippie has developed a miso variant made from rice, soybeans and salt (“minimal” Takehito assures me) that tastes remarkably like vegemite/marmite. At $7 for a small jar it isn’t cheap but oh my god it tastes amazing. Move over Kraft and Sanitarium, Takehito Saiama’s Misomite is the future.




Moutai is to China as whiskey is to Scotland. Often called the Spirit of China, this hearty tipple comes from the Guizhou province and is distilled 11 times before being set aside for a 5-year aging process. Made from wheat and sorghum the taste is somewhat akin to sake but with a more complex flavour profile, (earthy and humic with a multitude of undertones from umami to caramel) and a kick that’ll send you into the next dimension. I tasted a teaspoon full and for a moment of two, lost my bearings as my head spun in a thousand different directions. I explained this to a Chinese friend a few days later and he laughed before proudly telling me he could drink a whole bottle and stay on his feet, if he could afford it that is. Moutai is not cheap.



The Hemp Farm grows hemp and manufactures a variety of products from hemp seed including cold-pressed oil, cosmetics, food supplements and animal feed. All their hemp is grown on 7 hectares of land in the central Waikato and they plan to shortly diversify into hemp fibre textiles. They are also raising money to develop a revolutionary new type of hemp harvester that will help them to expand their business. You can help them by joining their crowdfunding project.

By the way, hemp oil is superior nutritional oil and tastes amazing. It’s a pity NZ’s stringent anti-cannabis laws make it so hard for growers to operate because this kind of Omega 3 rich oil is exactly what the Kiwi diet needs more of.



Te Mata Figs manufacture a variety of fig-based products made from figs harvested from their 2000 tree orchard in Havelock North. Their product range includes chutney, relish, syrup, jam, fig, compote and of particular note, Fig Port and Cardamom paste which is so seriously delicious I could have quite easily eaten the whole container. Damn you minimal samples and your taste teasing ways.




Macs Beer was out parading all the old favourites plus a notable newbie, Macs Green Beret IPA. Rich and spicy with deep hop hit and citrus undertones, this drop was the business and is exactly what and IPA should be. A real contender.

The other Macs newbie is Mid-Vicious, a low alcohol Pale Ale, being marketed as a ‘rock star with a day job’. Frankly, it’s an insult to the name it’s playing off, Sid Vicious, and so lacking in flavour that my own warm urine looked attractive in comparison.


Environmentally Friendly Packaging

Earthpac make biodegradable packaging from potato starch, much of which is sourced as a by-product from the food manufacturing industry. Earthpac products include plates, cups, takeaway containers, and cutlery, bags and packaging filler. Their big news is that they have developed a biodegradable meat tray that is set to displace the non-recyclable polystyrene trays currently used by supermarket chains.

Earthpac’s example was poorly underwritten by the wealth of ‘one use’ plastic spoons and sample cups in vogue at almost every stand at the food show. Terribly wasteful and in this day and age we can do an awful lot better.

Bee Wrapt – Eco Food Wrap is a cotton fabric infused with NZ beeswax. This reusable food wrapping cloth is being marketed as an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic food wrap. It can be used for wrapping school lunches, cut vegetables, cheese and that bowl of leftovers destined for the fridge. The cloth comes in a variety of beautifully considered prints.



Hot Sauce

There were a number of Hot Sauces at the show, all of which were proudly displaying awards won at various international events. Culley’s boasted a variety of flavour variations and they all seemed pretty good until I wrapped my tongue around Huffman’s. Made in Wellington by Chef Nicolas Huffman, this is aged hot sauce made from chilli peppers, smoked Spanish paprika, vinegar and salt is astonishing. Unlike the more iconic brands such as Tabasco and Crystal, whose predominant characteristic is heat bound up in vinegar, Huffman’s sauce is big bold pepper with a subtle vinegary undertone and a hint of smoke. This tasted so good that in one brief moment it totally altered my notions about hot sauce and how it should be.




South Korea is not the first place that comes to mind when I think of table grapes but there they were, perfectly formed bunches of black grapes soon to be a feature of produce stands across our fair land. Certified organic, these greenhouse-grown grapes carry a deep intense flavour akin to a decent pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon. A superior product all round, well-done South Korea, well done indeed.



Jen Vegas specialises in Goan style (South India) pickles and curry pastes. Cooked in small batches, this product is not cheap but Jen’s focus is on quality over quantity and it shows; the pickles are sensational. I am a big fan of anything aubergine and Jen’s aubergine pickle was the ‘bomb’: rich, delicately flavoured and brim full of the aforementioned vegetable, this I suspect is what Indian pickles should be but so often are not (leastwise in a commercial sense). The recipes have been handed down through Jen’s family and are according to the woman herself, the personification of what one would expect if visiting Goa.



Ice Cream

NZ Natural (est.1984) supplies ‘real’ NZ made ice cream to some 700 branded franchisees across 22 countries. While I stood chowing down on a bowl of mango ice cream the Sales guy explained that Asian consumers did not like sweet ice cream while Indians like it about twice as sweet as the Kiwi palette can handle. As for the mango ice cream, yep, it was pretty damned good, all-round creamy, fruity and not overly sweet.



I am not a meat eater but I did work in the pie industry for many years (Sales and marketing for Maketu Pies in the BOP) so when I saw pies on display my interest was piqued. The Carey family run some 600 cattle on the Taranaki coast near Opunake. These bulls are fed on pasture that gets a good dose of salt spray from the ocean every time the wind blows which, according to the Cary I spoke with, accounts for the meats unique flavour. Le Dejeuner, a bakery in New Plymouth, makes two pies for Green Meadows Beef: Super Steak Pie and the Magic Mince and Cheese. These are serious pies filled to the brim with meat and wrapped in flaky pastry.

The pies and various cuts of beef, sausages and so forth can be purchased directly from Green Meadows Beef.




The various brands owned by Hamilton’s Prolife Foods include Alison’s Pantry, Value Pack, Donovan’s Chocolates and Mother Earth. Mother Earth recently bought out gourmet peanut butter maker 100% Nutz and changed the branding to Mother Earth, otherwise everything about this peanut butter remains the same, notably the use of a special breed of peanuts sourced from Australia that have the same nutritional profile as olive oil.

Besides standard peanut butter styles, (smooth and crunchy), Mother earth offers a Dark Chocolate peanut butter (a seriously tasty and healthful alternative to Nutella) and one with chia seeds. This butter was denser and richer than your standard peanut butter and the intriguing texture grew on me with each successive sampling.

Bell Plantations dried peanut butter is a totally natural product designed for adding to smoothies, baking and cooking. Very tasty indeed and it should be noted here that peanuts are a powerhouse of beneficial nutrients and are an especially good source of resveratrol, thehealth preserving compound more usually associated with red wine.


Vegan / Vegetarian

Raglan Coconut Cream Yoghurt from the Waikato’s west coast is perfect for vegans, hardcore animal rights activists and those who suffer from lactose intolerance. An alternative way to get some beneficial bacteria into your gut without the cow, it was a damned sight tastier than I imagined but the intense coconut flavour is not, I imagine, for everyone.



Fry’s is a South African company that manufactures vegan food products from grains and soy. Fry’s are a fixture of the frozen foods section of most NZ supermarkets, and are designed to replicate the taste and texture of meat. The various sausages, chicken styles and mince replicas were damned tasty but a little too close to the real thing for this vegetarian to feel comfortable eating. That said, these products should convince the most hardened of meat eaters that they don’t always need to eat the ‘real thing’ and with the experts are telling us a little less meat all-round is good for the body and the environment, Fry’s just might be worth taking home on occasion.



Laucke is a 115 years old family owned South Australian Flour milling concern that manufactures a variety of grains for break making. On display at the food show was their range of bread mixes for the home baker. These mixes are available at the Supermarket and the bread is seriously good. I tried the pizza base, the ciabatta, the sourdough rye and the wholemeal loaf and any of these was as good as anything available from my local artisan baker. Of particular interest was the flour fortified with selenium, an essential trace element severely lacking in NZ soils.




A food show in NZ is not complete without the presence of Meyer Cheese. Ben and Fieke Meyer arrived in NZ from Holland some 30 years ago with a dream; they wanted to make quality Gouda cheese from grass fed NZ cows. They eventually found themselves on a farm at Templeview (West of Hamilton), milking their own cows and making cheese in a small factory next to the cowshed. These days son Miel runs the shop and the brand is NZ’s most awarded and lauded artisan cheese. Nothing new was happening here except damned fine cheese.



I have seen Food Snob brand Bulgarian Feta’s on display at my local Countdown and despite the reasonable price I have been reluctant to purchase due to my ill informed ideas about this former Eastern bloc nation. Food safety was my primary concern and I was relieved to discover that Bulgaria, a member of the EU, operates to full EU food safety standards and conforms to EU best practice for agriculture. The Goat feta I sampled was mild, nicely salted and possessed a pleasant acidic finish. NZ goat feta is notoriously expensive and Food Snob has done us all a service by importing this well priced product.



Our time at the show is almost at an end and the Mazda CX9 is waiting outside to take us back to the office but one last stop. Wild West Worcester Sauce is made in Dargaville by Katie Noel from a recipe she has been refining for 25 years. The sauce is aged for 10 months before bottling and unlike the commercial varieties that haunt the supermarket shelves, Katie’s sauce is so full of flavour it literally set my taste buds on fire. Sweet, acidic and everything in between, it’s hard to find the right words to describe this sauce, so lets just say “bloody marvellous.”

Wild West operates a ‘closed loop’ manufacturing process, meaning: they find a use for all their by-products e.g. the onion used for flavouring the Worchester sauce ends up as a moreish onion jam.



It was a fun show with lots of exciting Kiwi food innovation on display but the bins full one-use plastic cups, spoons and forks disturbed me. Kudos to those retailers and manufacturers who were using biodegradable items, this is the example the entire show needs to emulate if it wants to show the many overseas buyers in evidence that NZ truly is ‘clean and green’ and a world leader in all aspects of food manufacture.

NZ Food Reviews: Auckland and Cambridge

November 15, 2015

                                              Poppa’s Pretzels

Featured image                                                                     Image: Narcis Poppa

The street food scene in central Auckland is booming, and on this corner of Queen St is a virtual cornucopia of international styles that includes Popa’s Pretzels. Iulia and Narcis Popa migrated to NZ from Romania six years ago in search of fresh seafood. Iulia (a lab technician) and Narcis (an irrigation engineer) thought that NZ, being surrounded by ocean, would be the perfect destination for a family dedicated to the gastronomic delights of the sea. They weren’t wrong, but what they didn’t count on was the price. Narcis: “We were quite shocked at how much fish costs here, it is cheaper to buy frozen NZ fish in Romania than it is to buy it fresh here.”

Nevertheless, the couple have settled in and have built a thriving business around one of Romania’s favourite street foods, the humble pretzel, a type of baked bread product made from dough and shaped into a twisty knot. Iulia: “In Romania, a good pretzel maker will always have line of people waiting their turn to buy,” but “Kiwis won’t stand in line, and a line turns customers away.”

A bit of a shame really because the wait is worth it. The pretzels here are not only sensational – delightfully crispy and salty – but are only the start of what’s on offer. The other house specialty is the Manakesh, a kind of Middle Eastern variant on the pizza with a sauce made from herbs and spices rather than tomato. On top of the sauce is layered spinach, a variety of cheeses, olives and peppers, and of course meat for the so inclined. Once the Manakesh comes out of the oven it is folded and cut in half. The result is comfort food of the first order and frankly, I could eat this all day, everyday.

Also on the menu is the Pretzel Pie, a Popa’s innovation that turns the traditional pie on its head. Using bread dough instead of pastry, the result is remarkably similar to what one would expect from pastry. The outside is crispy while the inside is soft and flaky without any of the fat that is the norm with a standard pie. Among the flavours is that old Kiwi favourite, mince and cheese as well as a number of vegetarian and vegan options. The pretzel pie is a triumph: warm and nourishing, they are generously proportioned and keep one satiated for hours. If you want a pie without all the guilt, the Pretzel Pie is the perfect solution. I still haven’t fully explored Popa’s menu, but intend to do so as time, money and appetite allow. Thoroughly recommended.

                            The Top Cafe Dumpling House


                                                                 Image: ‘Frank’ Bo Feng

On the far side of the Ironbank complex on K-road in Central Auckland is the Top Café Dumpling House. Owned and operated by ‘Frank’ Bo Feng, this café specialises in the dumpling style typical of Bo’s home city of Tiajin, (a ‘small’ city of 7.5 million not far from Bejing).

Frank came to NZ seventeen years ago to study English and IT and quickly feel in love with the place citing ‘the beautiful natural environment and the friendly helpful people’ as the reason he stayed on.

As his IT career progressed his mind turned more and more to his mothers dumplings, which he describes as ‘very flavoursome’. He tried dumplings at every establishment he discovered but none matched his memories so he decided to start making them himself.

The Top Café Dumpling House makes the dumplings from scratch and in the Tiajin style. At every table is a bottle of Chinese vinegar, soy sauce and chilli oil for dipping. The chilli oil, like the dumplings, is made by Frank and is extremely popular. Frank- “Kiwi’s love my chilli oil dipping sauce,” so much so that he is preparing to bottle and sell it.

Frank makes and sells some 800 dumplings a day. As each batch is made they are snap frozen and reheated as required, this means customers can take the frozen product home to eat at their leisure.

What we ate:

I ordered the Egg and Vegetable dumplings and my companion choose the Pork and Cabbage style. We also ordered the Chinese cucumber salad.

The Price:

$11.00 for 15 very substantial dumplings, $5.00 for the Cucumber Salad

The cucumber was a Chinese variant, a crisp and slightly sweet cucumber seasoned with a sesame oil based dressing. The result was like the dumplings, very moreish with a complex range of flavours that tagged the taste buds perfectly.

The dumpling were partially steamed and partially fried, firm and filled to capacity. Halfway through my plate I was full, and unlike my more considered dining companion who took the remainder of his dumplings home, I persevered and finished my plate. Frankly, they tasted so damned good I couldn’t stop eating.

Top Café is eco friendly, that is: the takeaway boxes are biodegradable and the plates are made from renewable plantation bamboo. ‘Frank’ Bo Feng was a friendly and outgoing host and joyously enthusiastic about his product and his customers.

This was my first time with dumplings and the experience was exceptional.

                                  Breakfast at Little Algiers

Down the Ponsonby Road end of K-Road is a French Algerian style café called Little Algiers and never having been to neither France nor Algeria I cannot comment on its authenticity but the menu seemed rather straightforward Middle Eastern with a French twist.

My dining companion ordered the omelette, which came served in a large cast iron frypan with a small dressed salad stacked up in the centre. He declared it magnificent. I had roughly the same thoughts regarding my wrapped Kofta pita. Kofta is akin to falafel and is usually associated with meat though this café offered a chickpea based vegetarian option, which was my choice. This was seriously good: warm pita chock full of fresh vegetables and covered in a delicious lemony dressing. The Kofta themselves were crunchy, flavoursome and filling.

As for the coffee’s, they were seriously good, so good in fact that we ordered seconds and contemplated a third before coming to our senses.

This is a casual little diner that was, on this morning, operated by one person, a rather mischief Algerian chef/performer. The perfect breakfast.


                                     Galbraith’s Alehouse.

Galbraith’s Alehouse is set within a beautifully appointed heritage building, (the former Grafton Library circa 1912). It is all warm native timbers and polished brass. The atmosphere is convivial and welcoming and the parking opportunities are generous. The Ale is brewed on site.

What we ate:

Triple Cooked Fries with a side of broccolini dressed with Parmesan cheese, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and slivered almonds.

The fries were thick, ultra crunchy and possessed a heart of pure tenderness. 5/5

The broccolini was cooked to perfection, that is: fresh, crisp and exquisitely dressed. 5/5

What we drank:

Earl Grey tea, which my dining companion declared to be: “a damned fine cuppa”.

My pint of Russian Imperial Stout (Rurik) possessed the same velvety smooth qualities as Guinness but with an extraordinary depth of flavour- undefinable spicy undertones and hints of caramel. This is seriously good drop. 5/5

The service was prompt and staff friendly, knowledgeable and helpful.

                                    The Queen Vic Chippy.

queen vic chippy shop owners

                                                   Image: Amanda and Bernie, Head Chippers

The Queen Vic Chippy is across the road from the B.P station on State Highway One as you drive into Cambridge and is an essential destination for all connoisseurs of NZ’s favourite deep fried cuisine. Okay, I am a vegetarian so I cannot comment on the fish, (which is fresh and like everything else served up here, is made in house – none of that frozen battered stuff here), but I can comment on the chips, potato fritters and the onion rings.

The chips are cooked to your liking, and I like them crispy, and not once have I been disappointed. As for the potato fritters, these babies’ are huge, big slices of fresh potato dipped in the Queen Vic’s secret batter and fried until golden and crispy, so big are they that one can almost imagine them as great big sides of deep-fried battered fish.The potato inside is soft and the grease pours down your chin. What more can I say?The onion rings are the same deal, humongous, crispy and devilishly moreish.

Whenever I pass through this pretty little town the Queen Vic is an essential destination and the 6 people manning the fryers and the mass of seated patrons flicking through the generous selection of magazines on offer as they wait for their orders attest to the quality of food, which includes homemade burgers, cheesecake and mussy peas. Yep, this place is the real deal, a proper old school Fish and Chip shop.

Visit the Queen Vic. Website



The City Works Depot, formerly home of the city’s infrastructure team, is a collection of eateries, bars and a brewery scattered across a former industrial site with one tremendous asset, parking and lots of it, all without pesky meters. I discovered Odette’s when I turned up to interview local musician Eden Mulholland recently. The coffee was nothing out of the ordinary, but Eden’s plate of bacon and eggs looked pretty damned good, even to a dedicated vego. The bacon was streaky style and cooked crispy, the poached eggs were perfectly formed and the side of sourdough rye dripping in butter topped off a substantial looking feast.

A couple of weeks later, my companion and I rocked up to try a couple of items from Odette’s extensive and rather eclectic menu, and one of the more interesting I have seen in recent times. We started with the coffee (still nothing special going on here) and followed it up with the Olive Pickle – olives in a sauce made from sweet peppers, walnuts and seasoned with cumin. This affair was accompanied by a generous piece of Lavosh. This thin and crunchy Middle Eastern bread was seriously tasty, but the best was yet to come.

Yes, I’m talking fries: hand cut agria potatoes (that’s the yellow fleshed frying spud) sitting on a bed of rich mayonnaise. The fries were crispy on the outside and light and fluffy in the middle and sitting on a bed of mayo as they were, you could not escape the rich garlicky goodness that coated every chip. Odette’s is a beautifully appointed café/restaurant with particular attention to design details. The seating is especially comfortable, the music subtle, the staff attentive and the service fast. The whole effect is quite special, and I look forward visiting again.



Vegetarian or Vegan

November 15, 2015

Featured image

I’m a vegetarian, that is: I don’t eat meat but I do consume animal products like milk, milk products and eggs. A vegan, on the other hand, eats neither flesh nor animal product. A vegetarian should not wear leather (I do … I was given a leather belt years ago and it seems a waste to discard it), a vegan would certainly never wear leather, a product formed from the skin of a slaughtered beast.

To the militant vegan, I am worse than a meat eater, because although I subscribe to the idea of animal welfare, I still participate in the exploitation of animals. I enjoy yoghurt and from time to time, grilled cheese. I am also partial to blue vein cheese since reading that scientists researching the blue mould discovered it to be a powerhouse of beneficial bio-medical compounds, ones that protect the heart, arteries and brain. My body says yes, but my mind is full of hesitation.

There are close to 7 million dairy cows in NZ and let’s face it, they pay the bills. Besides producing some 18 billion litres of milk every season, they are a major source of meat protein. Every year these several million cows give birth igniting the lactation process. Male calves are a by-product and some are kept for rearing into beef but most, along with undersized and unhealthy females (quality females are kept as replacement dairy stock), make up the mega bobby calf cull. The 2013-2014 season saw around two million four-day-old calves being turned into veal, sausages, meat patties and pet food.

As for mum, her life is fast and hard.  While she is offering an economic return she is well-cared for, but the moment she falters, she is dog meat. A cow can live for 20 years; the Kiwi cow averages 5-7 years. Besides pet food, she makes a profitable hamburger.

But she’s just a dumb cow?

I began my working life on the family dairy farm. The attitude was appalling and I look back on my education with a degree of horror. I am ashamed of the harm I caused on the road to my enlightenment and I especially regret the Camel Incident.

She was a unique beast, named for her height and posture. I always thought that by cow standards she was a genius. She could open the gates precisely designed to be cattle proof and she had no fear of the electric fence. The method of the NZ farmer is to start putting aside pasture in late summer so that by winter there is a surplus of fresh feed to sustain the herd through winter when grass growth is at its slowest.

The paddock is divided in portions by a strand of electric wire of which the cows are totally in awe. Not her – she knew that a whole paddock of fresh grass was for her and her alone, all for the price of a couple of uncomfortable shocks.

She decided that we were friends and every time she saw me she rushed over to a bunt, a cuddle (this is a creature that weighs close to a tonne and is more than capable of crushing a man), a tickle and a good cleaning. The cow tongue is rough and smelly, her saliva copious but her affection real and heart-felt, to the point of procreation. I learned to be very wary when she was on heat. The affections of this massive beast were frightening. Imagine an avalanche trying to mount you.

She was fat, unproductive and troublesome. She had to go.

I begged for her life, but Dad insisted, “That’s the way it is, any exceptions will only cost us money and set a bad example.” Most cows need to be forced onto the truck but she ambled up the ramp, ever curious, looking for adventure.

An hour later she was at the works and her life at an end. I lost faith in the farm after that but it wasn’t the trigger for my vegetarianism, which had come years before in a way I can’t adequately explain.

I was standing in line with a group of Hindu boys out from Fiji for a Kiwi education. It was a Catholic boys’ school and the fees these boys provided helped to pay the bills. Regardless of the economic benefit they allowed, they were treated with disdain; preached about Catholic truth and were directed to the end of the line in the dining hall awaiting special meals. This is where I found myself one night, late and at the end of the queue watching these quiet boys receiving their meals, mixed veges and a few deep fried potatoes. It was sparse and there was no meat. I had never seen such a thing. When my turn came I asked the cook about this strange dinner. “Hindus are vegetarian,” he said, cigarette dangling from his lips (it was the 1970s), “they don’t eat meat.” A light went off in my head and I said without further thought, “I’ll have what they’re having.”

I didn’t go full on vegetarian right away, it was a process, but a genie had awakened in me and there was no going back. Chicken, beef, sheep and pig were right off the menu but fish took a little longer. This went south after I read an article on fish intelligence. It seems that by large they experience pain and pleasure on a scale discernible enough to rate alongside whales, dolphins and octopuses and I could not eat a creature that enjoyed living.

I explained to animal rights campaigner and vegan Lynley Tulloch that when I eat cheese I give a thought for the cows that sacrifice so much for my sustenance. She tells me this is a cop out and in a way she is right. I do it salve my conscience because I do feel guilty.

I could give up dairy but I don’t want to. If I could source affordable, sustainable and readily available product I would.

There is a retired couple in the deepest darkest Wairarapa who have created a cottage industry from a cow they rescued. She became fallow, and a fallow cow produces no milk. They bought her from the farmer (she was waiting to be sent for slaughter), offered her care and lots of quality feed and she got pregnant again. Years later she is the backbone of a small herd, an outcome almost unheard off the in NZ dairy system. Sadly, their cheese is priced way beyond my means.

Veganism and vegetarianism are not new phenomenons. There have always been a minority who have urged their fellows to act more thoughtfully toward those creatures over which we have dominion, the most notable being the Jain, a religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. The Jain faith, once the dominant religion of the Indian sub-continent, dates back some seven centuries BC, giving some indication of how old the animal rights movement actually is. More closer to our own time, Mohammed, the founder of Islam, urged a more compassionate attitude toward the beasts that toil and provide for us.

Some people see past the conditioned norms that tell us that animals are lesser and not subject to the same feelings that humans are. Cutting edge neuroscience, informed observation and Facebook are teaching us differently. The latter in particular is a veritable goldmine of videos showing us pigs, dogs, cats and goats playing, bonding and doing goofy things. These videos that remind us that emotions like love, joy, and the need for companionship are universal traits, ones not confined to the human sphere.

In 2011, an estimated 58 trillion chickens,1.4 trillion pigs and 300 million cattle were slaughtered internationally.

Pigs are smart and rate better on intelligence tests than dogs, humanity’s erstwhile best friend; and cattle, while they may be incapable of operating a digger or driving a laptop, possess emotional qualities not a hundred miles removed from their human masters, but what about chickens?

Chicken was the first meat I happily gave away. Unlike a carefully butchered joint of meat that bares little resemblance to the creature it is carved from, the chicken maintains its complete shape and form after slaughter and all I could see (this is before my vegetarianism), was bone, sinew and bits of blood, all of which caused me some degree of unease, a hint of the latent and as yet undiscovered proclivity within my nature.

But it’s just a chicken?

The orthodox view is that a chicken is a pretty basic kind of intelligence, again an assumption that is not borne out by the latest research into bird intelligence. Okay, so maybe chickens don’t rate as high as the clever crows of New Caledonia or parrots like the kea, but they are clever wee beasties with reasonably complex emotional lives.

I did not realise this when my wife turned up with two red shavers a couple of years back. Katie and Christina became a subject of intense fascination as they followed me about and around the garden, scratching and pecking and speaking in sympathetic tones that spoke of reassurance and contentment.

Because they were so thoroughly rough on the garden I decided to build them a run. It was as large as your average backyard (big enough, I thought, to satisfy their wandering nature), and built to contain.

Their first hours locked away were consumed by investigation as they poked and prodded for a way through the defences. Within two hours they were out, thus setting the pattern that was to follow. For every gap I bridged, they found another escape route. Despite my best efforts I have never been able to imprison them as intended.

Chooks are creatures of habit. They leave their perch at a precise time in the morning and return to it at the same time every night. At 6am it is their habit to enter the house through the cat door and seek us out in bed. They like to cuddle up close and chat for a while before going about the routine of their day.

The other thing that amazed me about these remarkable girls is the way they quickly established a hierarchy within our larger family of cats and guinea pigs. The cats were left in no doubt who ruled the roost and to our immense surprise they became the guardians of peace, tolerating none of the occasional cat fights, rushing into conflagrations and quickly and assuredly prising apart the warring parties. How could I ever consider even eating these girls? I wouldn’t and I couldn’t because I love them, and in their own way, I know they love and more importantly, trust me.

I have come to the conclusion that my mysterious vegetarian proclivity is based on my natural empathy toward all living creatures, my choice and not one I care to impart on others. I am a pragmatic kind of non-meat eater that accepts that not everyone feels as I do. My only wish is for a more enlightened attitude toward the creatures that serve us. Here I quote Temple Gradin, a mildly autistic animal behavioural scientist whose special talent is her ability to see the world from the point of view of the animals she studies. Her work has revolutionised the design of slaughterhouses, making them more “compassionate” toward the beast walking towards it demise.

She says: “I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we’ve got to do it right. We’ve got to give those animals a decent life and we’ve got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect.”

I will leave the last word to Tommy Lee, drummer with Motley Crue and occasional meat eater, who said in a recent interview with me: “We do some pretty shitty things to animals and it isn’t right.”

Animals slaughtered worldwide 2011:

Chickens: 58 trillion

Cattle: 300 million

Ducks: 2 trillion

Pigs: 13 trillion

Goats: 430 million

Turkeys: 3 trillion

Sheep: 517 million

Biggest meat Consuming Countries:

1. Luxembourg 136 kilograms per capita.

2. United States 125 kilograms of meat per capita.

3. Australia 121 kilograms per capita.

4. New Zealand 115 kilograms per capita.

5. Spain 110 kilograms per capita.