Throughout the interview I tried to conduct with Cibo head chef Kate Fay, which Cibo owner and maitre d' Jeremy Turner wouldn't leave -and largely dominated, he referred to her as "Fayzie", which, in its bantery informality, offered a bit of a clue as to the nature of their relationship.
Fay had had no interest in taking part in this feature; Turner had more or less bullied her into it. Although Cibo has long been one of the city's most well-known and admired restaurants, Fay has never been much interested in the media attention that follows so many of Auckland's leading chefs.
It was probably appropriate that they did the interview together. Their lives have been professionally intertwined since they started working together at Cibo in 1999. During the interview they did a lot of possibly good-natured bickering.
"We can have our spats, man," Fay said, "we sometimes have our spats."
"We do have our spats," Turner said, "most definitely."
I asked them how they dealt with those spats. To appreciate Turner's answer, it's important to note that I had forgotten to bring a photographer to the restaurant, which was a fairly major mistake, given that it precluded Fay's making of my lunch, which was the primary purpose of the visit.
"Admitting your faults is always good, Turner said. "We're not perfect. Like, look at you, you f***ed up."
When Turner asked if I wanted a glass of water, Fay said: "Don't give him a f***ing glass of water when he f***ed up."
This was probably all good-natured, but it isn't possible to know for sure. This sort of banter, which so defines the relationship between Fay and Turner, can conceal all sorts of emotions, and the concealment of emotions might be quite important when tensions are high and you have 100 booked for dinner.
Not long after, though, Turner said something unexpectedly sweet: "I don't think I've ever met a chef more humble than Kate."
"Really?" I asked.
"No, no, no," he said, spitting the words out quickly, "She's very humble." He then changed the subject, as if trying to forget what he'd just said.
He had already made me one coffee and now he stood to offer me another. I said, "No thanks." Fay said: "Yeah, because the other one was so memorable."
The conversation turned to cooking. Fay said: "Jeremy's cooked for me once and ..."
"We haven't done it again," Turner said.
"What did you cook?" I asked.
"Chicken and rice," he said. "Raw chicken and very badly cooked rice."
The discussion of this meal went on for a while. It's probably fair to say that this one exchange yielded more information about Turner's cooking than the rest of the interview did about Fay's.
When I came back the next day with the photographer, Fay made us Cibo's signature whitebait omelette with its sweetly oozing sauce. They sell hundreds of these things a month and have done for years. They say they could never take it off the menu. It was good, honest food, completely lacking in pretension. It wasn't trying too hard. It didn't need to prove itself to anyone.
Kate Fay's scores (out of five):
Honesty of dish: 5
Originality of dish: 1
Willingness to be bullied into this: 5
Quality of whitebait: 5
Quality of banter: 4
Recipe: Whitebait omelette with ginger soy lime butter
Ginger soy lime butter
1/2 white onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 piece of ginger peeled and finely sliced
2 Tbsp coconut vinegar
50ml white wine vinegar
50ml chicken stock
1/2 red chilli finely sliced
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp kecap manis
2 lime leaves crushed
150g diced unsalted butter chilled
Juice of 1/2 lime
Combine the first nine ingredients in a saucepan and place over moderate heat until reduced by half.
Add the cream and reduce again until the liquor is lightly thickened. Remove the reduction from the heat and whisk in the chilled butter.
Strain the sauce and season with salt and the lime juice and set aside in a warm place to keep warm.
20g fresh whitebait
Maize cornflour for coating
1 tsp chopped chives
Salt and pepper
Dredge the fresh whitebait in the maize cornflour. Sieve off the excess flour
Heat the clarified butter to medium heat and add the floured whitebait.
Cook the bait unitl it is golden brown and crispy, season with salt and pepper and chopped chives and set aside while making the omelette.
80g of whitebait
Salt and pepper
Pinch of baking powder
1 tsp chopped chives
Whisk the egg and add all the other ingredients.
In a small pan heat olive oil to coat the pan pour in the egg mix and swirl pan until fluffy and puffed.
Toss the omelette to cook on the other side then place some of the crispy whitebait inside the omelette and roll.
Place on the plate and sprinkle on the remaining crispy omelette and drizzle on the soy butter.