Counting down to Christmas, the big question is what to cook for friends and family. Who better to ask than those in the Bay who produce fabulous casual food? [Their recipes follow article.]
The delightful old Post building of Havelock North buzzes daily with food fans who frequent Maina regularly. The name itself gives the clue. Maina, renowned for her spirit of hospitality, was chef Stuart’s mother, and baker Katie’s mother-in-law.
Stuart became imbued with the same spirit at an early age, managing to burn his mother’s kitchen down twice in the process. Cooking became his passion. His foundational cooking technique, Katie swears, would get flavour even from a stone! And his standards are high.
Katie is the baker. As a wee tot she would bake a special cake every Sunday for the family, a talent she says she inherited from her mother and her grandmother. “To me it’s a love language. Knowing the time and love that has gone into a home-made biscuit or cake makes me feel good!”
They came to the Bay at the end of 2014 with a plan to work for others, drawn by its renowned seasonal produce and wine. But the old Post building lured them; so they bought it. After an eight-week whirlwind renovation they opened in April 2015.
Stuart’s bistro style is one he feels is the simplest and most appreciated way of effortlessly embracing seasonal produce. Great all-round food, equally as popular feeding a big family or dinner for two. The sweet side is Katie’s domain, influenced by the Dutch bakers of the 1950s immigration for whom she worked. A course at the NZ School of Food and Wine in Foundational French Cooking as well as a London City and Guild’s Patisserie at Christchurch Polytech provided the final touch.
They change their menu every three months. Their suppliers are gold to them – Gourmet Meats, Hawthorne Coffee, Holly Bacon, Origin Earth Milk, Te Mata Mushrooms, Blakcat Berries, Onekawa Fruit and Vege, Epicurean Herbs … “an amazing list of locals”.
Before Christmas all the decorations come out. Christmas menus are planned for functions and the traditional Christmas baking. A big tree is put up which the community outreach ‘Faithworks’ decorates with gift tags for local children; people bring gifts that match the tag and put them under the tree. They are distributed to families who struggle financially at Christmas. A Maina tradition.
Christmas at home is in traditional style “with all the usual trimmings”. That is after Stuart has cooked for the Age Concern Community Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day. When living in Sydney they would often have 20 or 30 people to dine; as they did when living in the South Island.
But with Maina – their first owned restaurant – it is mainly family on Christmas day. Katie says she does the “usual Mum thing. Decorate the house, cook the meal, wrap the presents etc. Now the kids are grown it is more for me, but we do love our day together. And we both love to prepare a lot of different dishes with everyone helping themselves. BUT I’m in trouble if I don’t put Pork Belly into the brine on Christmas Eve. The kids love it (slow roasted) and it’s amazingly tender and delicious.”
Jennifer Le Comte
Smith’s Eatery, Picnic, Opera Kitchen, Albion Canteen
Describing herself as “just a glorified errand person”, Jennifer says she got into the catering business really through saying, “Yes, I can do this.” She studied law at university but had always loved food and restaurants and went over to visit friends in New York in the summer (some time back, she laughs), stayed six years and went to cooking school.
“Being a chef had become a very glamorous occupation. No-one ever suggested I should, but I became obsessed by food production, came back to Auckland, started as a restaurant chef, then went into catering. Then I set up a cafe as well.”
Her husband was consequently transferred to Australia. “It was the first time I had never worked. But I had two children, sons Jasper and Hugo. We came back to Hawke’s Bay because Steven thought he might buy a farm,” she laughs. It was about that time Prue and David from Mr D came to the Bay and I did a year with them. I ended up doing corporate catering, but I really wanted my own business. So I started Opera Kitchen with partners.”
As if that weren’t enough, Jennifer then opened Smith’s in Ahuriri. “First it was just at nights. We thought we’d challenge ourselves! And I loved the idea of having Aroha next door. They are great friends and we worked together to make it a destination. Which it has become.”
Albion came next. “I’m always driven by space and with the three I thought we could do Picnic, which operates on a slightly different principle. Bakers are pretty well taking over the space; it’s bread that is the specialty.” And stunningly sophisticated sweets which look like works of art.
The underlying principle of all the cafes though is “casual, healthy, light.” We have chefs at each and we are really lucky with how talented they are. Nick Haszard for instance is the typical transition chef who moved to the Bay and so Picnic has a very different customer. But all of them are really what the new Hawke’s Bay eating scene is about.”
Jennifer has a list of reliable suppliers with whom she has built up a strong relationship for ingredients – orchardists, seasonal producers and others who ensure the four restaurants are constantly providing the best. She likes to push her chefs to think outside the box. “Quince are an example. No-one seemed to even consider them; I preserve bucketloads because they are absolutely delicious. One of my crusades is to constantly question and look for new growth (pun not intended)!”
As Steven’s mother is English, Jennifer says the Christmas dinner is pretty traditional. “Turkey, chipolatas etc. I’ve really changed though. It always used to be crayfish for me; I do still buy them and they are still very special. Now though we’ll have it in the morning – a real treat – and then a really late Christmas lunch. But I’ll do a roast salmon with lemon stuffing, asparagus and new potatoes.
“And we do alternate families every year. We have a beach house this year, so there will be a lot of nieces and nephews. I’m not a big sweet person, so I often just get something and have a lot of strawberries.” Or a Christmas dessert from Picnic.
Wright & Co.
The newest cafe in The Village, and Eshla’s namesake, is a busy hub, open seven days a week for all three meals of the day. It hums with an easy atmosphere and a focus on classic favourites, plus healthy alternatives. The big drawcard is catering for everyone from the early-bird tradies in search of a good coffee and bacon buttie, to those wanting something green and lean, but perhaps a tad more sophisticated in the later twilight hours.
Eshla – one of four partners – runs the business front of house. Her career path was always focused on starting her own café, so while at Hugo Chang one night she chatted with Nick Neilson and Clint Toomer, who along with Liv Reynolds are also owners of Hugo Chang and Mamacita. In 2015 the cafe opened, the added plus having the restaurant named after her.
Now two years on, the cafe has found its niche. Clint runs the kitchen with two head chefs, for night and day. Eshla has a strong input on the ideas and whether things are do-able. “And we try to keep up to date with trends that fit within the ethos. There’s a tri-seasonal change with minor tweaks to favourites which remain. We look for local producers where we can form a brand association like Holly Bacon and Bostock. And we like to be right up with the play which is evident in the clientele we have – a lot of foodies who like eating out,” she smiles.
“It’s an exciting time in hospitality, specially for Hawke’s Bay with our restaurants being recognised with awards,” comments Eshla. She is, however, swift to point out that good results come from long hours and a good team. “We are meticulous about who we hire; only those who understand our philosophy.”
A menu for Christmas functions is high on the list currently. “We do hire out our space, which has a nice calm vibe to it. The interior as Eshla describes it is “very Wright & Co-esque. Liv did most of the decor with its soothing golds and coppers and her husband Pat did the woodwork. He’s very talented and it is exactly how we wanted, but it was he who made it happen – just like Santa Claus!!”
And for her own Christmas entertaining she relies heavily on her husband Ben Harwood, who “is an amazing cook”. Both of their families alternate for the pleasure of Christmas entertaining.
“We do have the fairly traditional day – breakfast of cold ham and poached eggs on toast with good coffee while contemplating the rest of the day and what to do. Then at lunch time we have hoards of kids in the family bursting to open presents.
“So Ben and I start the lunch with an aged Scotch Fillet roll on the barbeque, a Holly Ham (the best so it’s essential to pre-order) in the oven – which I do with apple cider vinegar, honey from Ben and his father’s farm, and wholegrain mustard – for half an hour so the glaze goes sticky. Forget crackling. Too hard!! There’s always a couple of salads, fresh and seasonal; often a potato salad chucked in with YaBon bread. I’m not really a pudding person but my sister and sister-in-law fortunately are, so we’ll have loads of cherries, truffles and anything else they dream up.
“We eat outside with bean bags strewn around under a gazebo. It lasts a long time with a few beers and bottles of bubbly. We crack the bubbly round 11am – always Veuve, Mumm or Moet – and then local wines. The table is very casual; maybe a vase of lilies and that’s it. The food is put out and everyone serves themselves. We do have crackers for the kids with those mad hats though.”
Most of Kristy’s adult life has been spent cheffing; twenty years of it overseas. But upon her return when working at a cafe in Kekerenga – a remote part of the South Island – she started doing take-home meals as a sideline. And found it had legs.
The Canterbury earthquakes spurred her to return to the Bay. “I needed family support with my 18-month-old baby and it just seemed a great business idea. I wanted to go back to cooking, but have nights and weekends free. And besides, no-one else had a homemade-dinner delivery service as their main business here. My aim was to make life easy, not only for busy working people, but also those who love food and have no time, inclination or ability to cook.”
Three years ago, after having found the original MYLK site in Parkvale (the name stands for My Little Kitchen), she set up shop. And outgrew it within six months. She now has a retail site in the same vicinity for take-home food along with the café, plus her main production site in Napier.
The food she produces is “more home-style to appeal to a wide range of customers. I have another chef who helps me innovate and develop. Of course there are the ‘must never leave off the menu’ dishes (chicken pot pie for instance), but the menu is different every week, with selections of entrees, mains, soups, salads, some side dishes. And all come in multiple sizes to suit singles or families.”
Seafood Chowder, Pumpkin Risotto, Venison Bourguignon and Chocolate Pudding certainly sound tempting. Kristy has developed a simple ordering system – either by stopping by the Napier or Hastings shops, or online. The menu is updated every Thursday; Tuesdays for last orders and delivery on Fridays.
She finds many of her customers will multiple-order delivered meals. “It’s a fabulous system for the elderly. I have one friend who has regular meals sent to her father-in-law when she knows she is unable to cook for him herself. That way she has peace of mind and knows he is well nourished.”
She now has five staff including herself in Napier, a part-timer and a casual one afternoon a week, and in Hastings four full-time and one casual. Kristy pays tribute to a special list of suppliers – “Pacific for instance –those who I know won’t let me down. Most are local. All meals come frozen. But it’s hardly complicated – simply a matter of defrost, cook and serve. We deliver as far away as Bay View and Waipukurau.” With around 2,000 take-home meals a week it’s busy and “we often sell out by Thursday lunchtime”.
Christmas for Kristy this year is being done differently, “to take the stress out of it”. Unsurprisingly she puts a lot of work into preparing the Christmas menu. “Together with my graphic designer we produce temptation – puddings, tartlets and savoury options, slow cooked pork, terrine, salmon, brandy snap baskets; scrumptious salted caramel and raspberry coulis. And of course hundreds of cakes. The new kitchen has certainly made it easier.”
Such a schedule means Kristy is barely at home. She confesses her aunt takes charge of the family Christmas dinner. “I will bake of course, but it’s a real break for me. She loves doing it and it is always a surprise. Maybe pickled pork, chicken and Christmas cake. The table set with crackers and all the trimmings, but summer style. There are usually about eight of us. Lunch rolls into a barbeque at night. And the night before Christmas I go through all the ritual of wrapping presents, with different paper for Santa. And leave food out for him and his reindeer. Then I take two weeks off and take my son for a holiday. This year it’s a Pacific cruise. Bliss.”
festive fare recipes
Red Velvet Hot Cakes from Eshla Wright – Wright & Co.
Ingredients for red velvet hot cakes :
2 cups of flour
4 Tbs of sugar
2 pinches of salt
2 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of baking soda
1 Tbs of coco powder
1 1/2 cups of milk
1Tbs vanilla paste
4 Tsp of melted butter
1 Tsp of red food colouring
Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl and form a well in the middle. Then mix all wet ingredients into a separate bowl. Slowly combine the wet ingredients into the dry mix until it is a smooth consistency.
Heat pan or hot plate and lightly grease . Place two heaped table spoons of mixture per hot cake onto pan. When bubbles start to form on the side facing up flip over and cook until golden brown.
Stack onto a plate with a table spoon of coconut yoghurt between each hot cake. Add fresh strawberries on top with a good dribble of maple syrup. Enjoy
Lemon Curd Pavlova Roulade
80g Lemon Juice
180g Castor Sugar
6 Egg Yolks (size 7)
1 Egg (size 7)
230g Butter, Diced
Whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, eggs & salt in a large heat proof bowl
Cook out over a pot of steaming water,
When the curd reaches 65 C remove from the heat and whisk in the butter
Pass through a sieve and chill.
8 Egg Whites (size 7)
10g Corn Flour
5g Lemon Juice
300g Castor Sugar
Preheat the oven to 200C
Line a shallow pan (42x30cm) with baking paper, lightly grease the paper.
Whisk the whites on full speed till stiff. Add the salt, corn flour and lemon juice
Continue to whisk on full speed.
Gradually rain in the Sugar.
Once the sugar has completely dissolved spread the mixture in the prepared tray
Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes.
The Pav should be golden brown and firm to the touch.
Place on a wire rack and allow to cool completely (still in the baking tray)
Carefully place upside down on a piece of baking paper
The bowl should be completely grease free. Rub a little of the mixture between your fingers to feel if the sugar has dissolved. Allow the oven to come to temp before popping the Pav in
VANILLA WHIPPED CREAM
1t Vanilla Paste
32g Icing Sugar
Whip the cream, vanilla and icing sugar till it holds its shape, but is still soft Strawberries to garnish
With the cooled pavlova laying upside down on a piece of baking paper: Spread with the whipped cream, marble in the lemon curd
Scatter with sliced strawberries
Roll up tightly, using the paper to help you. Place on a serving platter, making user the seam in on the underneath
Garnish with more strawberries
Amazingly Tender and Delicious Pork Belly from Katie Green, Maina
Make a large bucket of brine. Use a new nappy bucket or fish crate or something similar.
40% salt, 60% water.
Soak a whole boned pork belly (fresh not from frozen) for around 24 hours.
Have your butcher score it for you.
Take it out. Put it onto a large roasting dish. Pat it dry. Drizzle with oil and roast slowly at around 155 degrees until the juices run clear and centre of meat is cooked. Crackle skin under the grill. Watch for burn.
Gingerbread from Kristy Isaacson, MYLK
¾ tsp baking soda
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
170g butter, softened
110g brown sugar
170g golden syrup, warmed
1 egg, beaten
1. Cream butter and brown sugar, add golden syrup and egg, mix until combined.
2. Add sifted dry ingredients gradually until fully combined.
3. Tip onto a floured surface and form into a ball.
4. Wrap in glad wrap and chill for 30-60 minutes.
5. Roll out to approx 6-8mm thick.
6. Cut into desired shapes and bake for approx. 20 minutes at 170.
7. Decorate as you wish.