Grant Allen masters the art of venison with Clooney restaurant's head chef Des Harris.
What happens when you mix together a super chef and one of New Zealand's premium products?
You get some of the best food I have been lucky enough to eat this year. At a recent lunch, Des Harris and his team from Auckland's much-lauded restaurant Clooney, created some visual and taste sensations, using farmed-raised New Zealand venison.
New Zealand exports farm-raised venison to 50 countries around the world and has an export value of millions of dollars.
A visit to Hawke's Bay Woodburn venison processing plant earlier in the year showed me the sophisticated and efficient methods that are used to prepare this meat for the market.
Not one single part of the animal is wasted, and many cuts are packed on-site to be supplied directly to the end consumer.
Multiple destinations are catered for and the state-of-the-art plant is a testament to the industry's ability to meet a demanding global market.
As with much of our premium production, until recently New Zealand had been a forgotten market.
I have always argued that the best we have here should be available here and it seems that the deer industry is having the same thoughts. Farmed venison cuts are now readily available in many supermarkets and this meat is a winner.
Venison is a very lean meat, it is rich in flavour and food value and can be cooked extremely quickly when using the right cuts. It ticks a lot of boxes in regard to the modern cook's requirements.
Despite our addiction to food television, it appears that we are cooking less and wanting to spend less time in the kitchen.
Many now understand culinary terms once used only by professionals but few of us are using the techniques.
You may know what a "reduction" is, but do you ever do it?
Food writers are being asked to come up with recipes using only five readily available ingredients that take 20 minutes to cook. That sounds like a snack to me and while I don't spend hours cooking at home, much is lost by this "dumbing down" of kitchen skills.
A simmering casserole, layered with flavours, gently cooked for several hours is inevitably a better result on the table than a few tosses in a pan.
Yes, a professional kitchen has the time and skill to make complex food but, in reality, none of the methods used are impossible in a home kitchen.
These recipes may seem like a major amount of work, but broken down into their steps, there is nothing difficult about them.
You will learn some new techniques that can be used in your future cooking. You will learn some old techniques, such as pickling, curing and salt-baking that modern chefs are reviving in their kitchens.
You will start the New Year with a thrill by stepping up to the challenge of doing something new and you will be well-rewarded for your hospitality.
How about not just watching MasterChef, but becoming one in 2014?
Best wishes for a bright and happy New Year ahead.
Have fun in your kitchen, savour all the wonderful food we are lucky enough to have in our land of plenty and many, many thanks for reading this column during the year.
• Flash-cured venison carpaccio with rosemary, chicken parfait, sherry and morels
• Sugar-cured venison, miso toast, pickled plum and apricot relish
• Roasted venison, pickled blueberries, beetroot, morcilla and radicchio
Recipes supplied by Des Harris of Clooney