For most of my adult life I have thought of myself as a reasonably adventurous eater. But am I really? It was a strangely warm afternoon in mid-October, as I watched Onslow Bar & Eatery's head chef and co-owner, Pip Wylie, at the burners, laying slabs of lamb's fry in a flaming hot pan, when I found myself asking that exact question.
Before she had started making my lunch, Wylie had asked if I was happy to eat lamb's fry, and I had said, "Absolutely!" but it was fairly early in the cooking process, when the smell first hit me, that I started thinking I might not have been telling the truth.
Lamb's fry is not an adventurous cut of meat, not really - it has appeared in weekend breakfasts in white-bread New Zealand homes for decades - but adventurousness is a nebulous concept. Why, for instance, have I been happy my whole life to eat a chicken's back, but acted like a petulant child the one time, a few years back, when I was served its feet?
Wylie says her affinity for offal comes from growing up on a farm, but I can't say for sure whether my knee-jerk repulsion for it comes from the fact I grew up in Pakuranga.
It was a meal of incredible volume and gravity. By the time she plated it on a single dish, 8 minutes and 20 seconds after she began cooking, it was a wide, brown tower of abundance. I could happily have eaten just a few bites and called it a day, but when I asked Wylie if she'd be sharing with me, she told me she didn't like lamb's fry.
I could have cried, and who's to say for sure that I didn't? I ate the lot of it. Why? When you're a serious food reviewer, you have to put aside your personal tastes in the interests of serving the greater good, but when you're just a low-level narcissist on a weekly free lunch junket, whose interests are you serving?
Wylie was sitting next to me, possibly watching every bite, so I ate it, partly out of politeness, but that wasn't the whole reason. The sauce was heavy on cream and garam masala, there were plenty of grotesquely wonderful fatty lardons, there were shallots, some darkly suggestive Middle Eastern spices, there was silverbeet to cut the richness and the whole lot sat on a sopping chunk of ciabatta.
I loved the dish in every way except one. With each bite, I tried to put that one aside, but I just couldn't. It kept coming at me; it was everywhere and it would not be defeated.
It was my own fault. Wylie had done all she could. Before a chef can understand you, you first need to understand yourself.
Lamb's fry with streaky bacon, shallots, Marsala and cream
200g lamb's livers (lamb's fry)
100g streaky bacon, diced
2 Tbsp oil
2 shallots, sliced
1 handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 pieces sourdough, toasted and buttered
1. Remove sinews and slice livers into 1.5cm thick pieces
2. Heat pan to a medium-high heat, add oil
3. Add shallots and bacon to pan and stir until golden brown (2-3mins)
4. Add livers. Fry for one and a half minutes, then flip and repeat on the other side (as you would cook a steak).
5. Add Marsala, then cream to the pan.
6. Reduce to a thick liquid (a further two minutes).
7. Just before serving, toss in parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
8. Serve on buttered sourdough.
Pip Wylie's scores (out of five):
Facilitation of voyage of self-discovery: 5
Logical coherence of position on offal: -5
Diner's tears bonus (Y/N): Y
Delivery of recommended daily intake of iron: 5