|Tamara’s Thoughts: Metamorphosis|
During every journey, it helps to pause and look back occasionally, to appreciate how far you have come.
When I arrived here from Europe, New Zealand’s culinary culture was just beginning. Eating out was considered to be an indulgence and even in Auckland there was nowhere you could go to buy a decent cup of coffee. As a young newbie ‘fresh off the boat’, I remember vividly trying to order an espresso in one of the very few Auckland restaurants one afternoon. The waitress informed me with a surly smile that “filtered coffee can only be served if you order a meal as well”; and dinner service was going to be available in two hours . . .
This was 20 years ago - and things have most certainly improved. The quaint tea shops that dotted the towns and cities have morphed into chic cafes, now offering good coffees all day and quality food that is second to none in the world. Predictable pies, greasy fish and chips and other questionable British fare have been given a sexy make-over and are now mingling with new and exciting foods inspired by vibrant cuisines from all over the globe.
To be fair, some food was always fantastic here in New Zealand. From honest home-cooked roasts and stews, to zingy relishes, the best ever fresh fruit and heavenly pavlovas; to this day, high quality local ingredients remain our strength. We are extraordinary food producers. We have completely nailed the supply of tender beef and lamb, can offer the most succulent seafood and have gained a reputation for making some of the best wines in the world. We no longer need to look outwards for excellence, deferring to Britain and France as our main points of reference.
In just a few years we have embraced a myriad of new ideas for cooking at home and created a New Zealand food culture that can stand proud as more and more top chefs emerge. They have all helped to propel this country to the lofty heights of international acclaim: Simon Gault; Al Brown; Martin Bosley; and Samoan born Michael Meredith with his amazing Pacifica-inspired flavours; Charles Royal with his vast knowledge of Maori food and Peter Gordon who brought us fusion cuisine.
There are so many more heroes in our food industry, dreaming up exquisite vanilla products, perfecting the art of smoked seafood, promoting native herbs and producing unique condiments too numerous to mention. And not to forget our brilliant, local coffee roasters. Aaah, that elusive espresso finally reached our shores and I am convinced that New Zealand’s coffee quality is now right up there among the very best you will ever find.
I am looking forward to testing this theory next month, while sipping on coffees in Austria, Germany and Italy, in the name of research.
I’ll let you know how it all turned out.