The modern-day diner is often concerned with provenance, especially when it comes to the protein component. In conversation with Gareth Stewart, Nourish Group national executive chef, and Will Eaglesfield, executive chef of the Imperium Collection, Restaurant and Café talked protein, and what it means in contemporary cuisine.
Eaglesfield said that at The Grille, a part of the Imperium Collection, they are all about celebrating the Central Otago and Southland produce. “We ensure that as many of the ingredients used in our dishes are sourced locally to help with carbon footprint, and to provide ‘terroir’—the flavour of the region that is as important with food as it is with wine.” Nowadays, it is imperative that dining venues can provide diners with information regarding where their food has been farmed, and if it was done so sustainably and ethically.
Across Stewart’s profile, he said that they too have a focus on fresh and local. “At Euro, our dish is day-boat caught; the oysters are freshly shucked, the salmon is ocean-farmed in Stewart Island and the clams are from Cloudy Bay. At our Jervois Steak Houses, quality beef is farmed on the West Coast, which gives the animal an unmatched tenderness and flavour that can only come from cattle fed on New Zealand’s magnificent grasslands.”
“We serve two different breeds of lamb, both sourced locally; Cardrona Merino, which is fine-grained and lean; and Te Mana, which is chicory-pasture-finished to provide extra marbling of good fats,” said Eaglesfield. “Our sirloin steak is from Wakanui in Ashburton and our pork from Havoc Farm—the ‘home of happy hogs’—a little north of Dunedin.” Eaglesfield said that the quality in this sort of product is monumentally better than that of intensively farmed meat. He said that through buying the best the region has to offer ensures an excellent result, and the chefs have to interfere with it as little as possible.
As a quality source is critical, so too is cooking methods and techniques. “Chargrilling and barbequing are popular techniques used by many of our kitchens, ensuring the meat, whether it be beef, lamb or seafood retains its natural flavour and tenderness. Low and slow-cooking is also great, particularly for red meat. When lamb shoulder falls off the bone, you just can’t beat it.” While Stewart noted the implementation of modern techniques, he believes that classic French cuisine techniques and methods are just as important, if not, more so, than modern techniques.
Eaglesfield said that their Cardrona Merino lamb shoulder is cooked sous vide for 13 hours before finishing it on the chargrill for that essential caramelised flavour. “All our steaks are cooked simply on the chargrill to order, letting each cut’s natural flavour and texture shine. Our Havoc pork ribs also get a hit on the grill and a slathering of Kiwi barbeque sauce—it provides some zing and spice, but is designed to lift the meat, not drown it out.”
Although there is a substantial market for meat products, the growing influence of free-from diets cannot be ignored. “Meat-free lifestyle choices such as veganism and vegetarianism are becoming increasingly popular, and No5 Church Lane certainly caters to this audience, accenting the region’s fine harvests and seasonal fruit and vegetable produce,” said Eaglesfield. “Guests can enjoy dishes such as southern fried banana blossoms, Hāngi style veggies, beetroot falafels and more.”
Similar to Eaglesfield, Stewart noted the importance of a sufficient meat-free offering. “At Andiamo, we offer a special vegetarian menu, made up of an array of authentic Italian dishes including salads, pizzas, pasta and risottos and the same goes for The Culpeper with meat-less tacos, tostadas and tofu poke bowls all available.”