Ask Peter: The LA screen industry gets a taste of NZ
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had recently catered an event for 130 people in Los Angeles for the New Zealand Film Commission. The aim of the event was to showcase the New Zealand screen industry, including the fact we have such a variety of diverse locations in close proximity. We’re one of only a handful of countries that can offer that, along with the technical skills of our craftspeople and a community that invests a huge amount of effort and pride showcasing the country to the rest of the world. The guests were primarily non-New Zealanders from within the screen industry we hoped to woo to make their next film or television show in New Zealand’s film studios, including Auckland’s new Kumeu Film Studios, as well as the great outdoors. But of course we were also showing off our home-grown talent, from directors and producers through to actors and technical folk. As we sung our waiata Te Aroha in front of the assembled crowd, I was acutely aware that we are a unique people on the world stage. I’m yet to witness any other country line up and sing together in the way we so easily do for anything other than a national anthem.
In order to get the food made for the event, which I’d spent a good many months working towards, I’d teamed up with a Los Angeles based catering company called Heirloom, having flown in from London only a few days earlier. The business is owned by Matt, an ex-Detroit chef, and staffed mainly by a team of fabulous and hardworking Mexican chefs and cooks. The menu I’d devised was based on the four geographical zones that were the focus of the night: Coastal, Forest, Alpine and Urban. As the food was served, the projections on the screen above the swimming pool changed, from coastline and oceans through to forests and rivers, high country and snow covered landscapes, and our cities. The event was held in the leafy suburb of Brentwood, at the New Zealand Private Residence, with the Consul-General Maurice Williamson happily entertaining the guests and making the Kiwis feel right at home. Fortuitously for me I’d figured out how to turn the ice machine on in his newly installed Fisher & Paykel fridge, plus I’d made a batch of cheese scones (for which I shared the recipe in Bite recently) earlier in the day, so I was in the good books and felt right at home.
From a Bite perspective, I guess I’m keen to give a shout-out to the New Zealand companies and producers that supported the event, and therefore New Zealand, on the night. Our wines came from various vineyards, with Michael Seresin’s biodynamic Marlborough vineyard a fitting one — he being one of the world’s best DOPs (Director of Photography — the camera man), alongside New Zealand actor Sam Neill’s vineyard Two Paddocks, Quartz Reef, Kumeu River Village, Craggy Range, Trinity Hill, Giesen, Garage Project beer and Antipodes water. New Zealand indigenous herbs, seaweeds and manuka smoked salt were sourced from Great Taste New Zealand. Various US distributors helped us source our New Zealand meats and super-fresh trevally.
For the coastal theme I used Cloudy Bay Clams in two dishes — the first a tostada (a crunchy taco shell cup) in which I mixed chopped steamed diamond shell clams with cilantro (coriander), chilli, lime, squash and avocado. Then I made a tamarind, turmeric and coconut curry that I warmed storm clams in, cut into chunks, and topped those with dashi tapioca and crispy curry leaves. Ora King Salmon pieces I marinated in sweet den miso paste (another recipe you will find on bite.co.nz) and grilled until beginning to blacken and paired them with roast Jerusalem artichokes, crisp baked karengo seaweed and a cherry tomato salsa. I made classic green-lipped mussel fritters and served those with kawakawa mayonnaise and manuka smoked salt. We received such fresh trevally that all it needed was a quick marinade of yuzu, ginger and mirin, then to be mixed with mango and spring onions, topped with crispy buckwheat and seaweed sauce.
When we switched to Forest I roasted venison (marinated in horopito and olive oil) and served chunks on yam (kumara) miso mash, topped with a creamy horseradish. We also served a quail and stinging nettle soup, a smoked paprika hummus and asparagus crostini, and wild mushroom black garlic polenta.
Alpine allowed me to serve manuka-smoked New Zealand elk (we used manuka wood chips from NZ), that was thinly sliced then rolled around lightly pickled jicama and fennel. Cumin-rubbed slow-cooked lamb shoulder was served with pumpkin tahini puree and minted eggplant relish. We had the most delicious beef which I served in my Sugar Club 1987 style — soy-marinated and roasted then served on raw beetroot, zucchini and silverbeet salad topped with pesto. It may be an old dish but it never fails to please.
Urban was the most challenging conceptually, but as it was the last course it leant itself to desserts. We had vegan or vegetarian versions of all dishes available for guests but I made one vegan dessert that everyone always loves — coconut yuzu tapioca, chilli roast pineapple and fresh passionfruit. That was served alongside two Middle Earth honey-based desserts of a frozen honey parfait with mango and pomegranate, and baby pavlovas topped with honey cream and strawberries. All three were light and fruity, which I figured would go down well at an LA gathering.
All in all I am happy to say the guests experienced a little of the beauty of New Zealand on the movie screen, but the manaakitanga they experienced from our host Maurice, the New Zealand industry in attendance, the musicians and assembled artists, the kai and beverages, and the general hospitality was really special and I’m sure unusual for a city like Los Angeles. From my point of view, empty plates are always a sign of success!