Studying at art school, Jesse Watson probably never thought he would end up launching a brand of aioli. But life has a funny way of working out sometimes. He started off helping his dad, Malcolm, sell a crushed garlic product to restaurants when the demand got really high; that one product became two; and the rest is artisan history.
While selling the garlic crush they discovered a real gap in the market for good aioli. "The pre-made stuff was really sub-standard back then so people either had to make do with that or make their own. There was no middle ground. Since we already had one of the key ingredients it seemed only logical to try and fill that niche," says Jesse.
And so Top Shelf's first three aiolis were born. With a huge focus on ethical, clean, production there is no palm oil used, no fillers, no additives and no preservatives - pretty much as close to home-made as possible.
I particularly liked the double garlic aioli and the piripiri with horopito flavour.
The latter is not a traditional aioli but the combination of the creaminess of a mayo-style base, the spice of piripiri and peppery horopito with a sweet note to balance, really works. It would make it the perfect partner for wedges or southern-style chicken wings or even an old-school prawn cocktail with a twist.
The rest of the range is also very good. The classic tapenade is actually not that classic as it's made with green olives and contains no anchovies but the resulting fresh, green taste is very appealing. The chilli tapenade is not for the faint-hearted but would be excellent through pasta or stuffed with cheese in a chicken breast.
There's not enough space to go through the whole range of aiolis, mayonnaise, tapenades, bruschetta pastes, pestos, fetas, olives and antipasto tubs. One favourite I do need to mention is the garlic and herb marinated feta. Big bold flavours, this is no shy cheese and would be as divine on a platter as it would be cooked as part of a meal. My best advice would be to go to La Cigale or Takapuna markets where you can sample them all and choose your favourite. Guarantee you'll walk away with more than one.
Where to buy:
Nosh, Farro, La Cigale, Takapuna Markets, Auckland Fish Markets, small selection of New Worlds (Vic Park, Remuera, Devonport, Albany).