Recognised internationally as a leading chef and culinary arts innovator, Graham Brown is the executive chef and international ambassador for Deer Industry NZ. Brown's reputation with venison is second to none and he is regarded as the expert on preparing and cooking New Zealand farm-raised venison.
Earlier this year, he demonstrated his food-matching credentials to 600 of the world's leading red wine advocates during a session the sold-out Pinot Noir Conference in Wellington. Brown's New Zealand farm-raised venison focused menu unveiled an array of innovative, nutritious and versatile recipes, simple enough for the everyday cook to recreate at home.
We sat down with Graham to chat about his role at Deer Industry NZ and all things venison ...
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TAKE UP COOKING?
I began cooking when I was a teenager, as a patrol leader in Scouts - I really enjoyed cooking dinners on camp trips. Then, while working on a vegetable farm during the school holidays, I was introduced to the chef of the United Service Hotel in Christchurch, who really inspired me to continue cooking. He then offered me a job as a dishwasher, which I accepted in the hope of landing an apprenticeship, which I very fortunately started a year later.
WHERE DID YOU DO YOUR TRAINING?
I firstly trained at the United Service Hotel in Christchurch, then moved to Hanmer Lodge to continue my apprenticeship, before moving to Melbourne to train at the Southern Cross Hotel.
WHAT'S THE FIRST THING YOU REMEMBER COOKING?
A leg of lamb, cooked in a biscuit tin oven over a campfire in Scouts. Then it would have been a classic apple pie - delicious!
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE OF COOKING?
Contemporary. I rely on creating dishes out of the fresh produce New Zealand has to offer. I also liken my cooking to a magic box. In my years as a head chef in both Australia and New Zealand, and then when I opened Scarborough Fare on the beach at Sumner, I never had set menus. I liked to switch up the menu daily to incorporate the fresh produce available, into the dishes on offer. I love cooking with odd ingredients and making up completely new dishes.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR DEER INDUSTRY NZ ROLE
I'm very lucky in that my job allows me to travel around the world a lot. I promote the superior quality of our farm raised venison to chefs and consumers via educational demonstrations at culinary schools, participation in food shows and events all over the world. My role also requires me to travel to New Zealand's venison export markets several times a year to conduct workshops and demonstrations with chefs throughout Europe, United States and China.
A major theme of my work also involves getting chefs to think outside the traditional applications and seasonality of deer meat. NZ farm raised venison has so much to offer all year round, as it is such a healthy meat and a wonderful canvas to work with.
TELL US ABOUT THE MENU YOU RECENTLY CREATED FOR THE PINOT NOIR CONFERENCE IN WELLINGTON
Many world-renowned Masters of Wine and wine enthusiasts attended the conference so I wanted to create a diverse menu in order to show attendees all the great things about our wonderful, versatile venison. Pinot noir and farm raised venison is a pairing like no other, so I also wanted the menu to champion and complement both of the products, without one overpowering the other.
I think the menu is innovative, nutritious and versatile, yet the recipes are all simple enough for the everyday cook to recreate.
Included was Venison Medallions with Orange, Sumac and Zhoug Relish; Venison Yakitori with Miso Dressing, and Tea-Smoked Venison with Roasted Beetroot, Walnuts, Goats Cheese with a Raspberry Vinaigrette.
WHY ARE VENISON AND RED WINE SUCH A GREAT PAIRING?
Pinot noir is an ideal wine match for tender and delicious farm raised venison as they both have subtle gamey flavours. The unique taste of venison also lends itself perfectly to the fruity notes, and earthy peppery infusions in pinot noir. They're both also very elegant flavours, which nicely complement each other.
WHY DO YOU LIKE COOKING WITH FARM RAISED VENISON IN PARTICULAR?
Farm raised venison is a fantastic canvas to work with. I am yet to find a cuisine or style that doesn't quite work. It's extremely versatile in that with it you can make elegant, sophisticated dishes or simply barbecue it up with some salt and pepper. Both work incredibly well. Venison is a great flavour carrier due to its lack of fat.
WHAT'S YOUR GO-TO COMFORT MEAL?
You can't go wrong with farm-fresh poached eggs on hot buttered Molenberg toast, with Wattie's baked beans, grilled tomatoes and bacon. Simple, yet so delicious!
WHAT ARE A FEW OF YOUR OTHER SUGGESTED CULINARY PAIRINGS FOR VENISON?
Farm raised venison has endless delicious culinary pairings. I personally love grilled venison with southwest spices, homemade barbecue sauce and shot of Jack Daniels. Venison also lends itself greatly to Asian-style dishes, such as summer rolls, gyoza with shiitake, Thai salad, barbecue ribs - the list goes on. Or Italian-style dishes with porcini mushrooms, summer grilled vegetables and Salsa Verde.
TELL US THREE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF THAT WOULD SURPRISE
I am a major petrol head - I love motorbikes and fast cars. I used to race but now enjoy the engineering side of things, inherited from my father 'Buster'. I also love music, and have taught myself how to play guitar. As much as I love to travel, I don't like flying, although Air NZ makes it slightly more enjoyable.