Cooking in the middle of New Zealand
I’ve flown to Nelson, New Zealand, and have been given the use of a car by the Rent-a-Dent and, despite the lack of dents, the car is great and off I go – I’m following Highway 6 through to the end of Highway 60 in Collingwood.
But first, Nelson: as a tourist destination it has much to offer, with artists of all types, has a farmers market, a regular market, a thriving wine region, a great shoreline to explore, and a variety of accommodation on offer – but more of this in a future story, so watch this space.
As this is the biggest fishing port in Australasia [and for people who don’t live down under let me explain this word. it just means this part of the world – New Zealand is part of the area not part of Australia which is hours away by plane!]
I also plan on eating fish and, as a bonus, attend a cooking class with Vivienne Fox, well-respected for her fabulous Saltwater Café which sits right on the wharf beside her fish supplier Guytons Fisheries, which is also next door to the only fish shop where, so popular are its fish and chips that customers need to order by an appointment time: a shock to new-comers to the area when they first ring with a phone order.
Emma, who has been in the region a couple of years, tells me about it: “I heard again and again that Havens Fish & Chips was the best place in NZ so thought we had better try them. I couldn’t believe that when I rang I was told – ‘Sorry, can’t do that in ten mins, 6:40 is the first space free’ – that’s when I knew they really must be great, fish and chips by time slot!”
Tom and Vivienne Fox, who successfully ran Mapua’s Smokehouse, purchased a café on Nelson’s waterfront, renamed it Saltwater Café and Bar, and have turned it into a specialist seafood restaurant using fish caught by the boats of neighbouring company, Guytons Fisheries: Wellington architect Ian Athfield (who they also used to update their home) helped with the redesign, while local artist Daryl Frost has impressive works in both their home and café.
I have been waiting for sometime to have a cooking class and, as Vivienne and Tom Fox had just returned from Japan, and with all the updates happening at the café, I was invited to join a small group at their home for the lesson which fortuitously included risotto – and long on my list of recipes and techniques to discover.
In the kitchen, with an oil picture of Hamish, a wild heron, (kotuku) hanging behind us and as Vivienne prepares for our class, she tells me she had fed him daily when they were in Mapua. (33 km west of Nelson) Hamish is a local attraction and even has an ice-cream shop named after him. As rolls and plaits fly from her hands and into the oven I learn of her passion for bread and fish, then it’s time to clean a fish for Thai fish cakes, make a risotto then poached fruit for dessert.
Vivienne loves to put honey in her bread, and to make it last, uses butter in the recipe too. She also says her ‘grandparents were green before there was such a thing as green’ as they grew their own wheat and other grains, milled it and made their bread.
She’s also not fussy about measurements. “Bread is forgiving – cakes are not!”
Usually the cooking classes are ‘hands on’ but as it’s in her home this time we, an eclectic group of women, mostly get to watch a professional at work, although we all help with stirring the risotto.
As we eat the fabulous end result, I ask them about a local street I found – ‘Quiet Woman Way’ which they decide must have been named by a hopeful man. In return they tell me that the reputed geographic Centre of New Zealand, celebrated on a hill in the city centre, is actually in Golden Downs Forest some 30 kms away: just another of those interesting things we tourists find when we spend time with locals – no matter where in the world we are travelling. TELL VIVIENNE Heather Hapeta reccommended her cafe and class.