There are a couple of things I get a kick out of. One is putting together a dinner party and another is collaborating with like-minded people to create a one-off event... so when the team at Bauer approached me with the concept of 'Seasonal Suppers' needless to say I jumped at the chance to get involved.
When given the opportunity to roll out what is essentially your ultimate dinner gig for 50 or so people in a unique space, you really want to showcase where you are at as a Chef, i.e. the foods you love and how you love to serve them.
Freshly shucked shellfish served over ice with a splash of acid in the form of fresh citrus or good quality vinegar is always a special way to welcome your guests. It should come as no surprise to people who know me that this is how we kickstarted the evening.
Glass of bubbly in hand, we moved everyone through to a long dining table as a massive roller door lifted to reveal spectacular views of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.… and a rustic spit, slow roasting lamb shoulder over Manuka.
The first dish was inspired by one I had spied at another table while dining in Dubai last year. I was intrigued by lots of thin circles covering the base of a plate, then looking back over the menu it clicked when I saw 'Octopus Carpaccio'. I set myself the task of creating my own version.... Grilled Octopus w/ Chorizo and Red Capsicum Vinaigrette. Visually stunning and tasty as – possibly my favourite dish of the night.
To follow large platters of whole fish graced the length of the table. Oven roasted Turbot accompanied by wasabi custard, green olive tapenade & flatbreads.
Bowls of Bitter Green Salad with Duck came next, a lovely way to make a subtle transition from seafood to red meat country. Simply dressed with good quality walnut oil, apple syrup and slithers of fresh pear. Bitter, sweet, nutty and salty from the process of cooking the duck legs confit style - it ticks all the boxes.
Up till this point guests had been treated to the delicious perfume of lamb fat occasionally dripping from the spit onto hard wood embers - without question one of my favourite culinary scents, full stop.
The lamb had been marinating for three days in spices, ginger, garlic and lemon zest and juice. After 3 hours or so on the spit it literally fell apart. It ate like a dream served with simple condiments; chargrilled carrot and coriander salad, Baba Ghanoush, eggplant kasundi and yoghurt. You could emulate this dish on a smaller scale using an Asado Grill.
Dessert was always going to be a pudding of some sort as I don't really do 'clever fancy' at the end of a meal. I have a terrific relationship with Billy Scott, a strawberry grower in the Hawkes Bay. Billy's Strawberries are how strawberries are meant to taste. Sweet with just the perfect amount of acidity to create balance and harmony – the epitome of Summer. So for dessert we simply lined the table with hundreds of berries and placed crystal bowls filled with Strawberry, Rhubarb & Lemon Curd Trifle down the centre. It was the knock out punch of the evening.
Food plays a massive part in any dinner party situation, but matching wonderful wines throughout the evening is of equal importance. Champagne or bubbly to start (& ideally to finish!), along with serving a range of the extraordinary wine New Zealand has to offer to top the meal off.
I'm big on generosity and equally not a fan of waste. To pull off an evening with a number of courses (and flavours) I'm all for serving as much as possible in a family style situation rather than individually plated. That way people can take as little (or as much) as they want and still stand a chance of being able to walk at the end. What I also love about this style of service is that everyone partakes in serving one another, which never fails to break the ice and get the laughter cracking.
It took a crew of many to realise our eclectic (and ambitious!) vision for this event. A huge thank you to everyone involved – we had a blast! Jess & Amber at Bauer for steering the ship, Jono at Type 40 for venue intel & production, Claire at One Lovely Day for the styling and the team at Collective for helping us piece together a kitchen where there wasn’t one. And who knew there were great boutique rental companies out there like Arkade & The Pretty Prop Shop offering such unique tableware and furnishings.
I can’t wait to find out who’ll be dreaming up Winter's menu...
Photography by Sarah Grace