What do you get when you combine the talents of a long-standing Platinum Beef and Lamb Ambassador Chef who reigns from Wellington, and a fresh faced Beef and Lamb Ambassador Chef representing Hawke’s Bay cuisine….? A culmination of exquisitely executed dishes that would make any New Zealand beef and lamb farmer proud to see their product used in a myriad of culinary techniques, profiled in a well-renowned event – the Hawke’s Bay Winter Food and Wine Classic (FAWC!).
After a typical Hawke’s Bay stunning cloudless sunny day, Sunday evening saw an intimate degustation dinner hosting 40 guests who were fortunate enough to get their hands on a ticket, gathered at Napier’s Mint Restaurant. Nestled on Marine Parade as one of the Six Sisters – six identical Victorian buildings built in 1897 which withstood the 1931 Napier earthquake, Mint boasts a dining experience not to be forgotten.
Owned and operated by Steve and Ruth Beere, the restaurant stood out in this year’s Beef and Lamb Excellence Awards, after numerous years of receiving the award, with the cherry on the top being Steve taking Beef and Lamb Ambassador Chef status in February. His passion and culinary flair using all local ingredients, certainly shone through at the FAWC! event which started with a poached Ox tongue that had been macerated overnight in a vanilla stock – you can imagine how this melted in the mouth and could be cut with a butter knife. This was served with anise pickled Spanish onion, with a zing which woke up diners’ palates and an apple celery cream – married beautifully with a buttery 2015 Sacred Hill Rifleman’s Chardonnay.
I was sitting next to another Beef and Lamb Ambassador Chef, Scott Kennedy from Nero restaurant in Palmerston North who was equally impressed and is also a chef who shares the culinary passion of using beef and lamb secondary cuts.
The following two courses were developed by Wellington’s Boulcott Street Bistro head chef, Rex Morgan who represents a 30 year cooking career and strives to showcase each dish using distinctly indigenous New Zealand ingredients. He wowed diners to a scorched Wagyu that had been sugar cured (rubbed with sugar, salt and herbs and left to sit and absorb the flavour and tenderise), accompanied with anise beets, a Shittake mushroom duxelle that delivered a peppery bite, and kewpie ketchup. As with the first course, not a morsel was left on anyone’s plate. This was matched with a 2014 Collaboration Ceresia.
The third course gave me the privilege of trying a lamb cut I hadn’t had before, and it was lamb cheeks which were the hero of the dish. They were braised in stock on a low heat for 2 hours, and served on a smoked potato purée with a crunchy buttercup and kawakawa spring roll – the taste of New Zealand certainly shone through. A 2013 Giesen Clayvin Pinot Noir rounded off this dish beautifully.
A 14 hour braised lamb shoulder by Steve was the next to charm us. This was topped with delicate paper thin slices of another secondary, and new cut for me to experience – lamb heart, which had been sous vide to tenderise it, then barbecued over pinecones to caramelise and enhance flavour. Nestled on a bed of silky smooth truffle infused creamy kumara, I asked those sitting around me, can it get any better than this, of which there was a resounding agreeance that it couldn’t be topped. A 2014 Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah was a match made in heaven.
We were then delighted to a surprise dish, not on the menu, as if the Masters of beef and lamb had just whipped it up in some spare moments of their methodical process. A blue cheese custard with a beef jerky which Steve had smoked and dried overnight with walnuts, cranberry jelly and beetroot chips.
The grand finale, but in no way the least, was a sugar cured beef fillet that was sous vide and sat atop a bone marrow crumble, smoked onion purée, spinach mousse and cepes jus – absolutely stunning with a 2014 Collaboration Argent Cabernet Sauvignon to end an amazing evening.
There is always room for a sweet treat to finish and Steve showed his true dessert colours with a citrus and anise capsule, filled with a white chocolate creameux and poached mandarin – absolute perfection on a plate.
You would think one’s palate could be exhausted after a diverse collection of flavours and textures, when in fact each course complemented the one before it on a journey of culinary delight dancing on all my senses.
The harmony of flavours from one course to the next only made me realise how the natural flavours of our quality New Zealand beef and lamb are enhanced and appreciated in a range of cookery techniques that needn’t be complicated. Just ask someone who is passionate about the product and they’ll only be too pleased to share their ideas, be it a farmer or a chef, who all have a place in passing on cooking knowledge.
A big thank you to Steve Beere, Rex Morgan and the team at Mint Restaurant, I’m certain every diner that experienced your innovative creations, will be back again.