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It was truly a Wild weekend . . . . .

Greg HeffernanThe sky was a perfect blue, not a puff or whisp of white in sight. The shining sun rained downed to cause a flood of 30°C plus heat and high humidity. Pans flashed, pots rattled, stoves added more heat, bbq's were fired up, foods of all shapes, sizes and origins were being prepared, and people from all over the world were all heading to just one place . . . . . Yes! it was time yet again for the 2003 Hokitika Wildfoods Festival!

A festival that celebrates all the wild-foods found in abundance here on the West Coast of New Zealand. Yet again it was a great success with over 22,000 people entering the gates . . . not bad for a town witth a population of just 3,500! New Zealand is well known for its outdoor pursuits, we are famous for daredevil nature and extreme sports . . . it is after all the home of the bungey. We are also the master of extreme cuisine at times also, so what was on the menu for this throng of daredevil culinaires? Over one hundred stalls were serving the likes of :

Drinks Meat Dishes Seafood Miscellaneous
wild fruit ciders
Billy tea
wildflower wine
scorpion shooters
whitebait vodka shooters
worm slammers
gold laced liqueurs
wallaby burgers
wallaby curry
spit roast thar
wild boar wontons
wild boar sausages
wild boar kebabs
wild boar spare ribs
wild boar curry
pigs offal
horsemeat burgers
braised lamb shanks
ostrich sandwiches
emu burgers
emu satay
goat satay
venison tongues
venison curry
venison chop suey
venison kebabs
bush chicken souvlakis
roasted merino
chamois kebabs
seagull legs - bbq'd
whitebait patties
smoked eel
bbq tuna steaks
garlic prawns
steamed mussels
salmon eggs
garlic snails
pickled punga
huhu grubs
wild mushroom pastries
waffles with forest berries
beer ice cream
pesto ice cream
chilli ice cream
stir fried scorpions
worm sushi
worm truffles
stir-fried grasshoppers
bbq'd locust
wasp larvae
beef testicles
bbq'd bulls penis
sheep's eyes
seagull eggs

The crowdsIf you can stab it, shoot it, hunt it, spear it dig it up . . . it will be cooked and served. Sounds all very wild I know and that is the idea of course! Sounds all very barbaric? Maybe, but I think many of us have forgotten that the Sunday roast, the meat in the Big Mac, the contents of the breakfast sausage do not all come naturally wrapped in plastic on a neat little tray . . . this is about going back to basics, back to being a hunter / gatherer.

It celebrates the fact that here in New Zealand one can still live and, very well I might add, by going out if you want to and hunting or gathering your own foods. How would you like this for your evening meal tonight? This is a typical menu that could be made with foods gathered here within just an afternoon, and only cost you the price of your petrol or shoe leather. I don't know about you but for me that sure beats the hell out of frozen pizza!

Half shell Oysters with Lemon wedges
Grilled lobster served with New Zealand Greenlip Mussels Mariniere
Venison fillet steak with a wild Cherry sauce, served with fresh crisp salad
of young ferns and sweet potato pie
Gratinée of summer berries and fruits

If you would like to find our more about this unique food festival:

  • For previous columns about the festival
    • Its fair game at the 2002 Hokitika Wildfood's Festival <click here>
    • Wild? They were livid! <click here>
  • For more complete knowledge about the whole festival, go to the official Wildfood Festival website <click here>

The JudgesMy participation in this wonderful day was to organise the 'New Zealand Wildfoods Festival Chef of the Year' competition. Nine of the country's top chefs, came from all over the country . . . flew or drove down, up and across the country to compete for the title. In three heats of three, they had one hour to cook four portions of a dish (based on wild-foods) of their own creation.

The JudgesOur guest judge was Chef Greg Heffernan. Greg managed to find time from his busy international schedule consulting for the likes of Air New Zealand, International City & Guilds, Hilton Hotels and New Zealand Beef and Lamb to come and be our judge for the day. Busy schedule indeed, after leaving us he was winging away to spend ten days onboard ship as guest chef of one of the world's biggest cruise ships.

The dishes created by all the chef's were amazing and all judged along International Salon Culinaire guidelines, but after tallying the points Chef Greg Heffernan's choice for this years title of 'New Zealand Wildfoods Festival Chef of the Year' went to:

Chef Greg Piner - Lambardi Restaurant, Grand Saint Moritz Hotel, Queenstown

The winning dishChef Greg Piner as it happens is an ex-student of the Polytechnic that I work at, but he trained before I arrived under Chef Tutor Alex Hayward. He put together an amazing dish that he finally presented not on a plate, but thought outside the box, serving it on some floor tiles, which really blended in with the 'wild' theme of the day. Chef Greg described his dish as:

"Razzcherry and garlic pocketed alpine venison rubbed with kawakawa and watercress pesto. Perched on a moi moi rosti, wilted wild greens, needle mushrooms and highlighted with a Dunstan thyme jus. Buttered piko piko surrounds the dish and topped with beer battered elderberries"

Thw WinnersAsked about his winning dish Chef Greg Piner said that his Head Chef had given him a lot of free kitchen time this last week to practice and perfect the dish. He also offered an explanation behind the dish.

"The creation was inspired by the best wild ingredients New Zealand has to offer". The venison was sourced from the Kaikoura ranges, renowned hunting country. The pesto was made from the native herb kawakawa (Maori for 'sour'), its unique flavours combine well with the Cromwell watercress. Pocketed with roasted elephant garlic and sweet razzcherries to balance the sharpness of the pesto. The rosti was made from moi moi or pirapira which is a native purple fleshed potato and wild baby greens. Piko piko fern fronds add that freshness and his tribute to the West Coast was roadside elderberries lightly fried in a beer batter made from a locally brewed beer - Monteith's Celtic Red.

I would be remiss if I did not offer my thanks to all those involved in the organisation of this event, so I would like to pass my sincere thanks to the following:

  • The Wildfood's Festival organising committee
  • Guest judge Chef Greg Heffernan
  • All our 2003 Professional Chef Programme trainees; who have been with us for just four weeks and got to wear their chef whites for the first time
  • Chef tutor Alex Hayward
  • Our administration team: Bobbie, Michelle, Lynne and Trish
  • Our marketing team: Alan and Julie
  • Air New Zealand for supplying the judges flight
  • Quality Hotel Kings for supplying the judges accommodation
  • Catering Hardware for the generous competitors prizes

There is no recipe this week due to my busy involvement with all the above, but I hope you enjoyed the column anyway. Join me next week when we start the countdown to St Patrick's Day with a true Irish recipe to get you started and in the mood for celebrating!

See you all there next year?

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