Could it be that you’ve been overindulging? In humble pie that is. A recent national survey by Gregg’s shows that Kiwis lack confidence in their cooking ability. According to the results only one in ten New Zealanders rates their cooking as excellent, while one in five feels the need to apologise to guests for their home cooking. If the thought of cooking a meal to entertain guests gives you shakes that only a hefty glass of wine will calm, read on.
I went in search of some expert advice from around the Bay for those looking to wield a spatula with greater aplomb. The Hawke’s Bay chefs interviewed have years of experience in the kitchen and among them a plethora of awards, but even they have had their fair share of kitchen ‘oopses’.
Here they offer their top tips on cooking with ease, their most unforgettable kitchen nightmares, and some ideas on fail-safe meals for entertaining.
Ten Twenty Four
“Keep it simple, fresh and easy.” That’s the advice from Kent for anyone feeling clumsy in the kitchen. “Take a moment to think your dish through. Then have all your ingredients to hand.”
On kitchen disasters: “They do happen! The worst for me was in London where a pot of boiled eggs was forgotten. The explosion was like being in a war zone and the smell! The eggs exploded into millions of pieces which were found throughout the kitchen for days. I was not popular!”
Kent’s favourite dish to cook for guests? Grilled bacon tossed through fresh pasta with herbs and a couple of eggs in it to bind the carbonara, plus good cheese grated over the top.
Clearview Estate Winery
Peter advocates simplicity in the kitchen, “Try not to overcomplicate your cooking. Doing one or two things really well is better than trying to do lots of things and stressing yourself out.” His philosophy: “Good food comes from being relaxed and enjoying what you’re doing. So have fun cooking and trust your instincts, they are usually right.”
His kitchen disaster happened quite recently, and publicly: “At Locavores Lunch (FAWC 2014), I was cooking duck breast on the barbeque and the fat ignited causing some impressive flames and smoke. Luckily the duck was saved and finished on another barbeque, the fire was put out, and mine wasn’t the only barbeque to catch on fire.” Phew.
Peter’s go-to, no-stress dinner party dish is rosemary and garlic roasted lamb leg with roasted root vegetable salad. “This is great for both winter and summer. In winter toss a bit of honey and a few spices over the veges before roasting, and reduce some red wine in the roasting juices to make a quick tasty gravy. In summer toss a bit of feta and some fresh oregano, basil, mint or a combination of your favorites through the veges after cooking. Some salsa verde splashed over the lamb before serving is a great addition.”
Jennifer Le Comte
“The oven is not a miracle worker!” Jennifer warns, “If it doesn’t taste good going into the oven, it won’t coming out either.” Her tips for learning to cook with greater assurance: “Cook what you like to eat, and make it by tasting every step of the way.” Advice that may be music to your ears when it comes to baking.
Jennifer’s favourite meals for entertaining are, “Anything that you can do the day before and reheat. I love tagines, slow roasted lamb, pies.” All dishes that are perfect for these icy winter evenings.
Prue recommends starting with a tried and true recipe book. “Troll through bookshops as it is inspiring to read recipes and view pictures.” Her other tip to secretly gain new tips and advance your cooking skills: “Take time out to go to cooking classes.”
Her worst kitchen nightmare was catering for a large event and coming in on the day only to find that the beans in the cassoulet – even though refrigerated – had fermented overnight and could not be used. “The portions suddenly got a lot smaller!”
Prue’s fail safe meal: “French roast chicken. Cook the chicken in a large casserole dish with the lid on. Baste it with olive oil and add a good splash of chicken stock. Not a lot can go wrong with roasting a chicken and serving a delicious salad on the side.”
And for the cheats among us? “The other idea for summer is to go to a reputable deli and purchase some items and make up platters – no cooking required.”
Off The Track
John’s advice is in line with a common theme, “Keeping it simple is always a good idea and using fresh ingredients is the key.” His mantra: “Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and above all have fun.”
Having been lucky enough to dodge any major kitchen mishaps in his cooking career so far, he does however recall: “Probably the worst would be the power going out in the middle of service with a full restaurant ready to order.”
John’s ‘go to’ easy meal for entertaining is a beef or venison casserole. Winter comfort food at its best
The Old Church
Andy is a proponent of stepping outside your comfort zone in order to expand your culinary skills. “Try a new recipe and you may be surprised.” He also recommends visiting the Hastings Farmers’ Market on Sundays to check out all the amazing local produce.
Andy cites his worst kitchen disaster as being a particularly messy one: “I was doing a cooking demo a few years ago and I had just finished making a stew. When I was taking it off the stove to show everyone somehow my tea towel got caught on the stove top. This ended up with the pan tipping over and me promptly emptying the contents onto the floor! Everyone was very good about it.”
“I have to be honest when I answer this question,” says Andy of his fail-safe meal, “My wife Emma cooks a mean roast or wild duck curry.”
Lucinda Sherratt and Ben Cruse
Little Black Bird Eatery & Catering
“Make a cooking vow,” suggest Lucinda and Ben, such as: “I will try one new thing every week.” To achieve this they propose searching for inspiration in cookbooks, magazines, websites, YouTube, Pinterest and even Facebook. “Don’t be afraid to ask chefs at your favourite eatery how they do things. Try something simple first then as you gain confidence start to delve deeper; it’s a lifelong journey.”
Lucinda’s worst kitchen nightmare happened just when she thought her event was going off like a bang. “I was on an onsite catering job for 60 people; everything was going like clockwork, the main meal was due to be served in 20 minutes so all the food was in the ovens and BOOM (literally) the power went off! There was a complete shut down for 40 minutes which involved electricians and a lot of stress to rectify. The meal was still amazing and the guests were very understanding of the delay, but it was definitely a touch and go situation.”