A feast of flavours

By Anna Tait-Jamieson

I am full of energy; I love sex, passion, lust and life. My friends find me tiring, and I am a glutton.

This is my personality profile as revealed by my preference for chocolates with cherry centres.

I am at Shoc Chocolates in Wellington, a company founded by two therapists - hence the psychoanalysis - and I'm here on a gourmet tour, so there's no use my denying the latter part of the analysis.

The tour is run by Zest, a culinary tourism company that specialises in providing a behind-the-scenes look at some of the best food producers, restaurants and wineries in Wellington and the Wairarapa.

The Walking Gourmet tour is aimed at small groups of no more than six people. It takes just half a day, and follows a route that starts in Civic Square and skirts the waterfront, before ducking back into Courtenay Pl and the Cuba quarter.

Zest is run by food lovers Catherine Cordwell and Susan McLeary. Both have extensive backgrounds in food promotion so know everything and everyone on the culinary circuit. The businesses they choose to visit are cutting-edge and the people who run them have personalities to match.

Ed Simpson at Shoc is as well-versed in chocolate as he is in psychotherapy.

He has organised a blind tasting of shards of chocolate chosen from the drawers of his apothecary cabinet. The flavours range from Earl Grey tea to basil, lime and sea salt. The salty chocolate is a revelation but my favourite is the Tanzanian 72 per cent single origin bar, closely followed by a sinfully rich chilli hot chocolate.

The next treat is only a few doors away. At Meat on Tory we enjoy a perfect pink noisette of lamb with walnut and mint pesto, cooked by another passionate man, Ian Domett.

Imagine being so distressed at the closure of your local butcher, and so p--d off at the quality of supermarket meat, that you toss in your job, retrain and open a specialist butchery in the heart of the city.

This man knows everything about meat and he knows how to cook it. He can tell you the breed and where it was raised. The pork is Murellen, the veal is from Hawera, and his lamb is Texel Coopworth from Wharekauhau station in the Wairarapa.

The Angus beef is aged so well it almost falls off the hook. I know because I spent some time in the chiller where I also found specialty sausages, pies and pates. When I came out Ian offered to grind some beans and make me a coffee. How many butchers do you know who can froth a cappuccino?

Actually, pretty much everyone in town knows their ristretto from their macchiato. Wellington is the self-acclaimed capital of coffee, and if you want to dispute that I would suggest visiting the headquarters of the Mojo Coffee Cartel with a Zest tour guide.

You'll be taken out the back of the cafe, past the sacks of raw beans to where the coffee is roasted. Maybe you'll try your hand at being a barista, even join a cupping session where your palate will be tested on single varietal brews. Pick the Kenyan from the Monsoon Malabar and you'll pass as a local.

No food tour of Wellington would be complete without a visit to Moore Wilson's Fresh Market. Every boutique producer in the region is represented at this foodie mecca and Zest groups are treated to tastings of whatever is new or most interesting.

We sampled a new mineral water and rhubarb fizz, tasty snow beans and a variety of cheeses including a superlative three-year-old cheddar which Moore Wilson age because no one else will.

Having spent the morning out-the-back, in the chiller, head-in-the-oven, or behind the counter - it's only fitting I end the tour in the vaults of a landmark restaurant that used to be a bank. The thick-walled room with its huge steel door is now Logan Brown's prep kitchen and today it's being used to prepare our three-course lunch.

As befits our insider status, we start with a dish that's currently off the menu: the restaurant's celebrated paua ravioli, and we finish with something that's never been listed: a sliver of the hitherto illegal substance, Roquefort.

It's a generous afterthought from the head chef, Shaun Clouston, who joins us for a chat. I compliment him on the superb lunch, especially the slow-cooked lamb that was fall-apart tender and deliciously flavoured. "Ah yes", he says, "it's farmed on the coast in the Wairarapa."

"Hmm, Texel Coopworth," I say. And he's truly impressed. How could I possibly know that?


Zest Food & Wine Tours

Walking gourmet half-day tour costs $210 per person.
Taste Wellington full-day tour costs $395 pp.

Full and half-day tours in the Wairarapa include visits to producers and vineyards.

- Detours, HoS

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