For example, we have commentators saying fine dining is dead! Let’s look at this. Does this mean restaurants will not carefully source and cook presentable food? Does it mean restaurants won’t have staff that will nurture you and create a dining experience, or is it a restaurant saying, let’s not care?

I’m confused by the term in any sense. What is ‘fine dining’? I for one have just provided the best I can. And who is labelling this anyway? Not our industry!

Foreign cuisine

We have mainstream media lamenting we do not have a national cuisine!

By the very nature of the media largely being owned by two foreign groups, it’s interesting that their view seems to be one of looking overseas for cuisine. Their awarded restaurants seem to have the same dishes and lookalike photos of global trends … if we follow, we get a hat! This is becoming a problem down the line to new establishments being created to get this acclaim. What we refer to as clone restaurants. Like clip art!

Recently a friend of mine opened in Wellington stating that he was following the international bistronomy trend (think, no table clothes) and the new nordic food movement. Chef Rene Redzepi, from Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant that started the hype into Nordic cuisine, now admits it was too restrictive and has closed his place and moved to Australia.

In the mainstream of life, we as a nation cherish the new and will always dine in a new establishment regardless of the media

… until a bad review! My issue: Whilst these magazines praise the offshore product, our young cooks will not push their craft into being uniquely New Zealand. This to me is a crying shame.

Local!

Now here is a curly one! Here in Hawke’s Bay, we boast about good things growing here and this is accurate. My issue is by whom, what are they growing and how do we find these products. It’s a minefield. Even at our local farmers’ market, we find stalls purchasing fresh produce from Turners and Growers.

Our region has to grow up a little. When I work in Hawke’s Bay, very few local growers contact me with what they have and tell me how I can purchase. This continues across the board with very poor local distribution and restaurant providing; it’s frustrating to know that it’s here, but we can’t find it.

In terms of my own restaurant, we have a pure East Coast appellation as much as we can. It’s always interesting to me the number of suppliers out of our region who are always on the phone letting me know what’s happening on the farm etc. Their product is also the first to arrive in my kitchen each day in many situations; the local product even arrives after service. This frustration is also found in supermarkets, where there is a major reluctance to let us know what breed of animal we are buying and its origin, Hawke’s Bay etc.

Why is this? We know there are several lamb and beef species raised in New Zealand. Joannie at Origin Earth is leading the example here that I admire. We know the single herd of East Friesian sheep she makes her feta from and so on; proud to have her brand. There are many like Joannie. Tom at Hawthorne Coffee is very good for the education of my staff etc. There are too many in this list to mention here.

Finding truly ‘local’ produce can be a challenge

Sharing and small plates

Whilst this is certainly not a new trend by any means, it is finding a new attraction in our industry, mainly for the reason of making our spend work better.

Today’s restaurants face a competition for their seats like no other time in history, even economic collapses. The dining dollar has certainly been swallowed a lot by our daily coffee fix and lunching in cafes, congratulating ourselves that we are spending less. We have a multitude of drive-in fast food joints, food trucks, markets and the new trends like My Food Bag etc. keeping folks at home.

I am often asked to speak to industry people and I always explain that the restaurant competes with every other form of entertainment. A walk on the beach, lying on the couch. The small plates and sharing concept allows you to integrate your leisures by multi-mixing entertainment, a walk along the beach, pop in for a drink and a ‘taste’, then go to a movie. It certainly is a great thing. As prices drop, so does the turnover drop.

So restaurants are integrating their bars into the dining space. This is a 30-year-old trend, but it’s got traction as our skill levels have increased. I find it immensely appealing to know I can pop into a good chef ‘s business and let them create their small plates of the day for me, either by degustation or small sharing plates. It’s more fun for the establishment too!

The consideration, though, is with a cheaper spend, rising fixed costs and an escalation of food pricing, will it all be the emperor’s new clothes all over again?

Social media & online marketing

At the end of the day, the most powerful tool this planet has yet found can also be a minefield. To me as a small business it’s invaluable, especially as we probably have one of the toughest locations to deal with there is. Shouldn’t be, but that’s the reality.

Now we have an endless array of third party sites offering consumers the chance to vent their grief over our hard work publicly, and in many cases destroying restaurants. The dining experience is in the hands of the customer; they have a responsibility to play their part.

Recently I read on one of these sites that they could not give us the best score because two of our paintings didn’t match! Or the customer that does not notify staff of a problem they may have had in an establishment, but goes home, signs up to a site and then belittles the establishment.

As I say its a minefield. To me, one of the handiest tools for customers can be a nasty curve ball for businesses. A lot of clients will shop around and ask for several restaurants to create menus for a function. These get dispatched and then the one they choose gets the booking, leaving the rest to chase down to see if there is a booking. One percent may say we have booked at restaurant X, thanks for your time.

The online booking buttons have a 25% ‘no show’ rate in our restaurant. By that I mean they make a booking online, that we accept and prepare for on the day, only to find that they haven’t turned up. We then chase down the numbers, to be told that they didn’t get our emails yada yada.

Region of fantastic restaurants

I’m proud that we have a real talent pool of world-class chefs in Hawke’s Bay, and, as a result, fantastic restaurants. Seven of the top 50 in Cuisine magazine right here in our region. You should try them all! They are all very different and all bring their soul to the table, and I am sure there will be more on this year’s list, and that’s fantastic.

The region as a whole needs to embrace food tourism a hell of a lot better than our regional tourism organisation is doing at present. Everyone and everything in this region make us great as a whole. When we stop pyramid thinking and promote evenly, we will all be the better for it.

A dream in this hospitality industry is for the client to come into Hawke’s Bay, and find what is our magic culinary carpet! This will increase our bottom line, as operators and region alike! Many operations will be able to pay above minimum wage and one day our youth will be proud to stay in the region and create our wonderful mosaic of Hawke’s Bay.

Kent Baddeley is chef and owner of Ten Twenty Four restaurant in Hastings.

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