The North Island is home to the country's tastiest toasted sandwich once again, with Mount Maunganui's Freeport with Cleaver & Co taking top honours in the Great NZ Toastie Takeover 2023.
Talented young chef, Brooke Moore, has won the hotly contested title and snagged bragging rights for the North for the second time only in the competition's history with her impressive creation Surf, Turf and Smoke, Monsieur.
A firm feature on the culinary calendar, this year's sixth annual Toastie Takeover saw 185 eateries battle it out for the title of this year's top toastie, with 150,000 toasted sandwiches consumed by the event's conclusion.
Open to all New Zealand eateries; participants came from as far north as Kororāreka to as far south as Invercargill. They ranged from sandwich specialists to fine dining restaurants, breweries and food trucks, with a vegan fast food chain, a subterranean cocktail bar, Wellington Airport, the Bluebridge Cook Strait ferry and even a retirement village in the mix.
A standout for competition judges, Freeport's winning toastie featured housemade smoked lamb pastrami, smoked prawns, mozzarella, smoked cheddar sauce and McClure's Sweet and Spicy Pickles, sandwiched between locally-made BreadHead miso tahini sourdough and served with smoked aioli and pickle juice gel.
Twenty years of age and born and bred in Taupo, Moore joined the Freeport team just seven months ago after roles at Taupo's The Landing and Baked with Love. As senior chef de partie at Freeport, she runs the BBQ section.
While having no formal qualifications, Moore describes herself as being "obsessed with food" from a very young age, working in hospitality from age 14 and in cooking roles straight out of school from age 18. Moore's twin sister Olivia also works in food styling and photography.
Thrilled to have won the top prize, Moore said she relished the challenge of coming up with Freeport's first-ever Toastie Takeover entry.
"I tried to make it as relevant as possible to the Bay area, with everything made by us in-house, except for the delicious sourdough, which is a favourite from our friends at local bakers BreadHead," said Moore.
"The concept of surf and turf is meant to signify the Tauranga region - the beautiful coast and the amazing seafood right here on our doorstep, juxtaposed with the sheep grazing on Mount Maunganui."
The win will come as no surprise to locals. A favourite with Mount Maunganui residents and Bay visitors alike, Freeport with Cleaver & Co owners Aaron Hodson and Tim McLaren have been serving up mouthwatering creations from their Bayfair base for four years.
Moore's winning lamb-pastrami sandwich was a labour of love and a standout for judges.
Toastmaster royale Joe McClure applauded Moore and said her exceptional toastie left her wanting more.
"The brilliance of Moore's Toastie lies in its great use of ingredients and the innovative concept of surf and turf within a region that truly exemplifies both. Each bite was a harmonious blend of flavours, with the succulent surf and turf elements perfectly complementing each other. It was a delightful culinary journey that showcased the creativity and skill of Chef Moore," said McClure
Head judge Kerry Tyack said the judging team had noticed a significant leap forward in toastie innovation in 2023, and entrants took the competition very seriously.
"Seasoning levels were much more consistent, the choice of cheese more considered, and the importance of monitoring fat content has been noted. We feel there is still an opportunity for fine-tuning in bread type and thickness. Some toasties were too bread heavy and so lost points," said Tyack.
Moore and Freeport with Cleaver & Co will now receive a bespoke Rikki Berger trophy and a year's worth of McClure's Pickles, with the winning toastie remaining on the menu from 11.30 am to close, seven days a week until early August.