Food UK

Wellington plates up for festival

Wellington on a Plate

Wellington on a Plate

On the culinary scale, Wellington New Zealand – the city that Lonely Planet dubs ‘the coolest little capital in the world’ – has the perfect melange: a thriving food culture that has launched international food stars the likes of Peter Gordon, more cafés and eateries per capita than almost anywhere else in the world, and an appetite to match.

Mix in an award-winning terroir, a nascent and rapidly developing craft beer industry, an edgy new world style that thrives on innovation and a city that likes to dish the capital treatment – witness November 2012’s fabulous world première of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – and this is the making of New Zealand’s largest culinary festival, a Wellington region-wide celebration of edible pleasure.

Five years down the track from the first festival in 2009, the programme has quadrupled and Wellington’s denizens are again sharpening their palates as Visa Wellington On a Plate (9 – 25 August 2013) serves up its biggest ever and most tempting banquet.

Top eateries
Festival co-director Sarah Meikle says the ingredients for the 2013 programme include 110 of the Wellington region’s top eateries and 113 festival events over 17 days. An inclusive menu that stacks up everything from haute cuisine to the simple pleasures of seafood straight from the ocean and the best home baking.

Local product – artisan food and beverage producers, great wine from the vineyards of the Wairarapa wine region, lamb and beef grown on the surrounding hills and grasslands, seasonal fruit and veg, and locally-caught fresh seafood – are a mainstay of the festival, inspiring culinary arts and fueling the menus.

Craft beer is also on the slate. The city that styles itself ‘New Zealand’s Craft Beer Capital’ boasts a series of craft breweries and Wellington connoisseurs consume more than half of the national craft beer output.

Night markets, day trips, gourmet dégustation events, food trucks, hands-on dumpling and pizza making, master classes (with Josh Emett, Peter Gordon, Maggie Beer and Dean Brettschneider among others) and hotly contested ‘battle of the burgers’, baking and top chef competitions feature during the festival that will provide something, says Meikle, for all-comers from top chefs to domestic cooks and kids in the kitchen.

Prison Gate to Plate
The festival brews up with a big weekend (9 – 10 August) that includes the Beervana festival, trade secrets from the best for foodies at Wellington Fisher & Paykel MasterClass (10 – 11 August) and various events including Prison Gate to Plate – a four-course dining experience delivered by Rimutaka Prison inmates.

Celebrating the thriving local craft beer culture, Beervana – which pulls in 10,000 punters over two days – takes the archetypical beer fest experience to another level by mixing the brews with food matches compiled by top chefs. Of the 200-plus brews on show, many are produced within the region, some within just a couple of kilometers of the stadium hosting the event.

Celebrated Wellington chef Martin Bosley – one of the prime movers in establishing the culinary festival – will be at the stadium serving up his take on fine food matches that complement the hoppy flavours. Serving food to match beer has been a revelation for the chef whose eponymous waterside restaurant is renowned for a signature dégustation menu that’s normally accompanied by fine wines. Now diners can have the same experience with beer matches served in pinot noir glasses.

Bosley, who also serves as food director for Beervana, says that the opportunity to collaborate with the town’s up-and-coming brewers is a classic example of the collegiality that defines the Wellington food fraternity and one of the main reasons for the success of Visa Wellington On a Plate.

“Wellington’s geography means that there are a lot of us thrust into a relatively small space between the hills, harbour and Cook Strait. There are 60 [eateries] in Cuba Street alone … we rub shoulders, we collaborate and we help each other. There’s the recognition that if one does well, the others will too,” Bosley says.

The opening weekend will also see Prison Gate to Plate – a meal prepared and served by Rimutaka Prison inmates who have been under the tutelage of Bosley as part of a NZ Corrections Department rehabilitation programme. Bosley has spent the past seven months tutoring six prisoners in kitchen arts and says the $70 x 70-head dinner will be the result of a journey of discovery that has challenged his own prejudices while helping the prisoners develop new skills.

Themed events
Prison Gate to Plate is just one of 113 events themed around titles that are, in their own way, a taster for the creative force – flavours, personalities and experiences – that makes Visa WOAP a standout experience. Highlights include:

  • The Sugar Club Retrospective at Capitol restaurant is a blast from the past harking back to the 80s menus in Peter Gordon’s original Wellington establishment.
  • The Larder’s Jacob Brown – a localist whose food philosophy leaves nothing to waste – is whipping up a couple of events ‘deer’ to his heart. Stag Night presents six courses of venison offal, and Pest Control will feature a menu using possum, gorse, rabbit and thistle among other ingredients.
  • Full Circle Feast demonstrates that what goes around comes around. Craft brewers Garage Project supply Longbush free range pork with spent brewing grains that are fed to the pigs to supplement their natural, free-range grazing. Ti Kouka Café uses this pork to create sausages, roasted pork belly, pulled pork, and terrines for a four-course full-circle feast.
  • Miramar’s Coco at Roxy Theatre – in Wellington’s film central – will hold An Unexpected Party in the Middle of Middle-earth, making merry with a Shire supper of Pudding Lane pork pies, seed cakes and Tuatara ales accompanied by song and merry-making.
  • The Oyster Saloon – a food truck popup in Cuba Quarter – is set to serve up a shucking good catch of fresh shellfish.
  • Bird lovers will get their fill at Zealandia: Karori Sanctuary. Kakapo & Kai is a dinner date with New Zealand’s famous feathered celebrity – flightless giant parrot Sirocco and a two-course meal inspired by the natural kai / food from the sanctuary forest.
  • Lamb-connoisseurs can enjoy a woolshed lunch on Pirinoa Station – a 16,000 hectare working farm in the Wairarapa.
  • Chocoholics will fulfil their deepest desires at the International Chocolate Festival (6 – 8 September) at the Hotel Intercontinental.

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