Expert chefs on what makes winter food

By Nici Wickes

Three of our favourite chefs share their take on the season's best ingredients - and explain how they use them to create comfort food with a difference

Head chef Mark Southon from Foodstore. Photo / Babiche Martens
Head chef Mark Southon from Foodstore. Photo / Babiche Martens

Whether eating out or dining in, the cooler months present a different kind of challenge than summer, when we're surrounded by fresh and light produce.

We talk to three professional head chefs - a TV chef in charge of a busy Viaduct Basin restaurant and recent winner of the Lewisham Outstanding Chef Award 2013 title; another who is creating a stir with what he's offering at a gorgeous rural dining destination and who is about to launch a new pop-up dining concept; and a head chef from what has to be one of the most consistent performers in the busy bistro scene on Ponsonby Rd. For all of them, winter is about taking the best of what's on offer and turning it into magical dishes that comfort and make us feel warm and fuzzy - we'll drink red wine to that!


MARK SOUTHON

Head chef at Foodstore and 2013 Lewisham Outstanding Sous Chef Award winner

What's your must-have winter ingredient?

This time of year is great for root vegetables; swedes, jerusalem artichokes, kumara, pumpkins and of course my favourite - the ugly-looking celeriac.

We love celeriac at the Foodstore because it is such a versatile vegetable that you can bake, roast, puree and eat raw. Currently we're making a puree from it, flavoured with a little thyme, cream and butter. It goes with pan-fried john dory, cured ham from Salash, a local curing company, pickled onions, South Island scampi and a saffron butter sauce.

At home I keep it simple and make a remoulade from julienned raw celeriac, bound with sour cream, fresh horseradish and chives, served with smoked eel and baby beetroots

It's a great dish for the better, more summery weather days in winter.

Winter versus summer cooking?

The best thing is that food becomes more homely and comforting.

There's heavier, more substantial food like stews, roasts and slow-cooked hunks of meat. Being English, I love a good old Sunday roast with all the trimmings.

Do you have a secret food pleasure to get you through the winter months?

Other than chocolate in any form in front of the fire, you mean? Yes, there are truffles and the season starts in New Zealand during the winter months.

I am lucky enough to be going on a hunt and foraging for truffles down in Central Otago very soon, so if we have a good day this means that everything we eat will be made more amazing and pleasurable by these fabulous fungi.


MIKEY NEWLANDS

Head chef Bracu, Bombay and soon the pop-up allechanterestaurant.co.nz

Must-have winter ingredient?

Bone marrow, I know it's not exactly seasonal but I love bone marrow in the colder months, whether it's roasted and served on crusty bread a la Fergus Henderson, or as the treat in the middle of your osso buco. I can't get enough of it at this time of year. It goes smashingly well with my other seasonal favourite consumables, truffles and Bordeaux wine.

When I lived in France I once made a truffle and bone marrow toasted sandwich, which I washed down with some of the above. It was pure hedonism. I have never made it again; there's something about the time and place where I was. I think if I did it again it would be a bit like "chasing the dragon". And I don't have an expenses credit card like I did then.

Here's a great dish that uses bone marrow: Slow Cooked Oxtail Stuffed with Morels and Bone Marrow. This is a dish I have been thinking about all summer and have been waiting to get on the menu. I cook a whole organic oxtail from Harmony Meats very slowly (at about 100C) in stock, red wine, garlic and thyme (aka "the usual suspects") for four hours or until I can prise the meat apart gently and remove the cartilage and bones. (At this point you could just reduce the cooking juices and glaze the meat and you would have yourself a fine winter dinner with the addition of some mashed parsnips and braised kale. Or add spices - chilli, coriander, etc - to the cooking liquor and serve it with warm tortillas for a great way to share a winter meal.) But I stuff the boned oxtail with a chicken mousse, morel mushrooms and diced bone marrow, wrap it in cling-film and lightly steam it to set the stuffing. I then slice it into rounds and glaze with the cooking juices and a disc of beautifully white bone marrow on top. We serve this with onions that have been pickled in red wine, a puree of black garlic (a fermented one from Korea that has an amazing flavour; it's the illegitimate love child of a bottle of balsamic vinegar and a garlic clove!) and a potato puree made with our own cultured butter. Bitter leaves from our garden definitely make this a winter kind of dish.

Winter versus summer cooking?

I love to cook during autumn and winter, and to be honest I think for a chef it's a little easier. I try to be very mindful during the warmer months of keeping the menu as light as possible, whereas now we have the chance to make everything a bit more luxurious. I am not advocating a wholesale "butterfest" but we do allow a little more leeway in this regard.

When I think winter and of my time in England I always think of game. When I was working at Tom Aikens restaurant in London we would have gamebirds (grouse, partridge, pheasant and one giant goose) hanging by their necks in the fridge. When they feel "through" (read rotted through), often it was left to the "new guy" - me - to gut and pluck the birds; it's a smell that never leaves you. I try to make game a feature of my menus at this time of year; currently we have a game terrine that features hare, pheasant, wild boar and venison on the menu and I have also been lucky enough to cook some partridge for private guests. It's something that is still truly seasonal, (especially in Europe) and particular to this time of year.

Secret food pleasure to get you through the winter months?

My lovely partner, Amanda, makes some seriously good soups this time of year, which I always look forward to. Sometimes, being a chef, it's hard to get people to cook for you but Amanda and her "bowl of soul" never fail to make me smile. Whether it's a tom yum, miso broth or a French onion soup, it always looks and tastes good enough to be in a magazine ... seriously. A bowl of her soup and a glass of excellent red wine (Puriri Hills is a current favourite) and I'm as happy as the cat that got the cream.


SARAH CONWAY

Head chef Ponsonby Road Bistro

Must-have winter ingredient right now?

Can I have two? Cavolo nero and tamarillos. We make pesto with the cavolo nero and toss it through linguine. Cook the cavolo nero down in olive oil and garlic (no water). Season well with salt, pepper and dried chilli flakes. Let it cool and whizz it up with toasted pinenuts, almonds and parmesan. Also good with a little ricotta and anchovies. A great way to eat your winter greens.

Winter versus summer cooking?

The changing of the seasons is always exciting - new ingredients to play with! I love the deep, developed flavours of winter cooking. The sweetness of root vegetables, the hunks of meat braising in red wine and stock, bowls of buttered brussels sprouts. And slow cooking or roasting just takes care of itself, while you are busy doing other things - like sipping red wine and reading the Sunday papers in front of a roaring fire.

Do you have a secret food pleasure to get you through the winter months?

It's no secret - I love custard. It must be my British side. My very talented sous chef, Sylvia, is a star in the dessert department, and right now she's making steamed tamarillo puddings with lashings of orange-scented custard. I can't get enough of it.

- NZ Herald

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