Are New Zealanders better cooks in general now than 40 years ago?
Men are. It’s exciting to see so many men taking up cooking and sharing in the everyday tasks of shopping and preparing meals. Every woman could cook 40 years ago, as they had to every day; but many have lost the art of cooking or lost interest, sadly, due to takeouts, cafes and ready-to-heat-and-eat meals from freezers, chillers and supermarket shelves. Recipes used to be only on the women’s pages of newspapers and magazines, but now they can found everywhere. Those who can cook do so with far more variety than the old meat and three veg that was prevalent on New Zealand dinner tables 40 years ago.
Have TV food shows helped or hindered?
Television has aroused interest in food but sadly has moved people from the kitchen to the couch. It’s like, we watched the show, now we’re hungry, so let’s dial up a pizza! Having food heroes on television can inspire children into the kitchen, however, and that’s a wonderful thing. I am sick to death of tears and sarcasm. Cooking is not about competitions for amateurs. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is my all-time favourite as he gardens, cooks and seeks amazing artisan food producers, all with wry humour. Rick Stein is another favourite with his championing of local food. New Zealand’s Nici Wickes on World Kitchen and The Food Truck guy, Michael Van de Elzen, really convey enthusiasm for food through their own journeys and I love the way they eat with such gusto.
Are our tastes more refined?
They sure are, thanks to the onslaught and expansion of ingredients, ingredients and more ingredients. We have so much choice, especially with so many talented artisan producers. Farmers’ markets have been the most exciting development on the New Zealand food scene since I began writing about food, apart from the birth of our wine industry and, of course, coffee’s arrival.
Has restaurant service improved?
S-l-o-w-l-y. In the past decade working front-of-house has finally emerged as a position to be proud of. It used to be seen as a student job (such as when I waitressed on Ponsonby Rd in the seventies) or a temporary occupation, but now the apprentice training schemes are fantastic.
What’s your biggest bugbear to do with New Zealand’s food culture or industry?
I wish Tourism New Zealand would get some of our wonderful fresh food and zingy wines into its publicity posters. Tourists marvel at the taste of our food, the amazing cafe and restaurant scene and the depth of our wine industry. Why don’t we have a food and wine trail from North Cape to Bluff, just like the cycle trail?
What are you picking to be the next big food trend?
We are going to see a lot more South American-influenced food, which has already started with the explosion of Mexican food in our city cafes and restaurants. We’re also valuing food history and many chefs will have their own gardens.
Judith Tabron of Soul Bar showed me how to cook more taste into everything by taking the onions and garlic in the pan well beyond a pale golden colour. I now cook things to a nut-brown colour, including pastry, which adds a real intensity of flavour.
If you were to offer one piece of cooking advice?
Keep it simple – everyone will love you for food that is simple to eat.
If you were on a desert island, what would be your luxury and what could you eat every day?
A case of Waipara Riesling each week and a plump crisp-skinned roast chicken; and I think I could eat fresh seafood every day – I would probably have to anyway.
EVERLASTING FEAST: A TREASURY OF RECIPES AND CULINARY ADVENTURES, by Lauraine Jacobs (Random House, $55).