Tour de force
Suzanne Dale meets Murray Thom who travelled the length and breadth of the country over nine months, bringing together 80 chefs, bakers, cafe owners and hunters and gatherers for a very Kiwi cookbook.
It may seem like an overly ambitious project: commissioning 80 chefs, bakers, cafe owners, fishermen and hunters across the country, with the brief that they each hand-write what's important to them in life and contribute two recipes for a new cookbook. Then the follow-up: four of you hit the road, again and again, over nine months for a chain of three-hour-long photo shoots where you capture (and frequently eat) it all.
Most would let out their belt, book a spa retreat and breathe a sigh of relief when the book is finally done. But publisher and fledgling cake baker Murray Thom is devastated. The entrepreneur who brought us personalised plates and 2009's Great New Zealand Songbook so loved his foray into food that he says it's brought him his greatest joy. "It was by far the most enjoyable project I’ve ever done. Going on the road . . . being welcomed with such enthusiasm . . . we experienced so much community and fellowship that it was awesome . . . awesome."
It also taught him how to bake. Back home in Auckland’s Kohimarama, he has just made his first ever cake — gluten-free with boiled oranges and almonds — baked to a recipe from Logan Brown chef Shaun Clouston. It also happens to be in the book. “The cake was a triumph,” Murray says, characteristically.
The 400-page tome is a who's-who of the New Zealand food scene and features recipes from celebrity chefs such as Josh Emett, Al Brown, New York-based Anthony Hoy Fong (whose mother and grandmother were there with him cooking in the family’s Epsom kitchen) and Peter Gordon (who gets the prize, Murray says, for the worst handwriting). It also includes recipes from Kiwi cooking pioneers Alison Holst and Tui Flower, who was the subject of the first shoot in June 2013. Then there are restaurant heavyweights, along with food writers and many lesser- known Kiwis who bring the produce we love to our tables.
Pat and Cazna Gilder from Mrs Clark's Cafe in Riverton make gingerbread (toasted in a sandwich maker and served hot with caramel sauce) and there’s souvlaki and baklava from Dimitris and Nikos Merentitis who sell their meltingly tender Greek-style lamb from a caravan in Christchurch.
"Many people in this book aren’t well known but are superstars in their own town," Murray says.
"It was important for us to cover all of New Zealand.”
The journey began with a large note-covered map of the country to pinpoint the locations of the cooks, chefs, bakers and food gatherers. “I didn't want to twist anyone's arm to come into the project. The songbook was a huge help. We sent everyone a copy so they knew the brand, but we didn't have a style in mind for the cookbook at the outset. We just got on with the job. My plan was only to ask the right people to get on board.”
Murray (the driver) was accompanied by 28-year-old daughter Hayley who videoed the food preparation and Murray’s one-minute interview vignettes with the cooks. Former lawyer Lottie Hedley photographed it all and the art director was Tim Harper, who worked with Murray on the songbook.
“We did it all in-house. No PR, no hair and makeup, no touch-ups, no product placement. What they made was what we shot.
“All the team travelled incredibly happily together. In saying that, it was a long time to be travelling!” The last shoot was with Hip Group restaurant duo Scott Brown and Jackie Grant in their Kumeu gardens, in February this year.
Recipes throughout are very accessible. “We said: Can you give us a recipe that you grew up with or a family favourite (although we didn't stick to that). A heck of a lot of them mention their mum's cooking. Peter Gordon made his father's souffle omelette.”
Fathers, Murray says, usually have one dish on which they always rely. Murray is the fish fryer and steak cooker in the family — and now its novice baker. He and wife Anne cook together, making dinner each night, but Anne does the salads.
“Everyone we approached wanted to make pavlova but we thought, no, Alison [Holst] has got to make that! And we obviously couldn't have 20 roasts but most of the time it worked out. We did enjoy a roast for lunch with Martin Bosley but some of the other food had been fingered within an inch of its life! And you aren't allowed to eat, of course, until the photographer tells you that you can. What we ate was offset by the adrenaline. We had to keep moving to get it all done. Everyone thought we were going to be 300 kilos by the end of it, but we are all doing okay.”
Air New Zealand helped out as a sponsor. “To shoot the whitebaiters, we flew to Queenstown and were to drive from there to Haast but the road was closed. So we had to fly back to Auckland then fly to Christchurch and drive from there.”
Tony Kerr, whose children are fifth-generation whitebaiters, cooked the team his Westland-style fritters which he makes following the advice from his grandma Dulcie: The only thing you put into a whitebait pattie is more whitebait.
“There were so many favourite recipes from the book but I’ve got to say the whitebait were hard to beat. Eating fritters on the West Coast as the whitebait come out of the net and into the pan . . . come on!” He’s just as passionate about the barbecued crays from Kaikoura crayfisherman Rod Clark. “And, while we're at it, the Bluff oysters! Willie Calder would shuck them and we'd eat them.”
The team joined Willie and the crew on the Argosy, rising at 1.30am from their Invercargill motel beds for the Foveaux Strait shoot.
“Who gets to go to these places? That's what made it so special. Actually, every shoot was special.
"It’s certainly made me want to do better in the kitchen.”
Self-published in conjunction with PQ Blackwell, The Great New Zealand Cookbook is already on to its third print run, despite being released today. A portion of the cookbook sales will be donated to Kidscan to help fund orchards for schools.
Oysters Kilpatrick (Willie Calder, oysterman)
12 Bluff oysters
12 oyster shells, cleaned
3 rashers bacon
¾ cup grated tasty cheese
- Preheat the oven grill. Place an oyster in each oyster shell.
- Grill or fry bacon until just crispy. Chop bacon and split evenly between oysters. Add a dash of worcestershire sauce to each oyster and sprinkle cheese evenly over all 12.
- Put under a hot grill and cook until cheese has just started to bubble — oysters should only be warmed through (approx. 3 minutes).
Slow-roast spiced leg of lamb with pan gravy (Martin Bosley)
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
Pinch of sweet paprika
2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves
Juice of 2 lemons
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 leg of lamb, boned (about 2.5 kg)
200ml chicken stock
- Preheat the oven to 160C. Peel and finely chop garlic and mix in a bowl with cumin, coriander, paprika, rosemary, lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and ground black pepper. It should resemble a thick paste.
- Massage the leg of lamb with the spice rub, spreading it over the skin and into the flesh. Leave at room temperature while the oven heats up. Place the lamb into the oven and roast for 35 minutes. Pour in 2 cups of water, baste the lamb with the liquid, and continue roasting for a further 3 hours, basting the lamb every half hour. Add more water if the juices evaporate too much.
- Remove from the oven and rest the meat in a suitable place while you make the gravy. Pour off the top layer of oil from the cooking juices, then put the roasting pan over a medium heat, pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the caramelised meat juices into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper if required, then strain into a sauce boat.
- Serve with roasted vegetables, cauliflower cheese and minted peas.
Ask your butcher to bone a leg of lamb and tie it up, leaving the shank bone attached. The spices introduce a wintry depth of flavour, adding an earthy warmth.
Gingerbread (Mrs Clark’s Café, Riverton)
50 g butter
1 Tbsp each of molasses, treacle and golden syrup
1 cup yoghurt
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
Good pinch of sea salt
½ cup brown sugar
- Preheat the oven to 165C. Line and grease a loaf tin (23 cm x 13 cm x 7 cm deep).
- Melt butter in a largish pan, then add molasses, treacle and golden syrup and melt together. Add eggs, yoghurt, milk and vanilla. Beat together until smooth as.
- Sift flour, baking powder, spices and salt together, then add sugar. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in all the wet mix – beat furiously until smooth and yummy. Resist eating the mix, and pour it into the loaf tin. Bake for 45 minutes, cool in the tin, then slice, eat and enjoy.
To make ‘easy as’ caramel sauce: Put 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup cream in a microwave-safe jug, heat on high for 2 minutes, stir, then heat for another 2 minutes. Cool to let it thicken up.
To serve: Here at the café we toast a fat slab in the sandwhich grill and smother it in caramel sauce and real butter. I swear, even the staunchest ginger hater will be converted. I see it every day! Oh the joys...