Make My Lunch: Ed Verner takes the 10-minute challenge (+recipe)

By Greg Bruce

Each week Greg Bruce challenges a chef to make him lunch in less than 10 minutes.

It's ludicrous to ask Ed Verner to prepare a dish in 10 minutes because, in the few months his hot new restaurant Pasture has been open, he has shifted the point at which meal prep begins so far back that it could be argued that his closest equivalent in a creational sense is not another chef, but God.

For instance, he makes his own mirin. When I recently told a leading Auckland chef - himself renowned for attention to detail - that Verner makes his own mirin, he looked at me, either dumbstruck or concerned for Verner's long-term wellbeing, and said, "He makes his own mirin?"

To make koji, which is just the precursor to mirin, which is really just a cooking wine, he does the following things: precisely steams some rice - overcooked or undercooked, it won't work - puts it into an incubator he has made out of a polystyrene box and a lightbulb, heats the incubator to an exact temperature, uses a spray bottle to ensure perfect humidity, inoculates the rice with mould spores, then spends two days ensuring heat and moisture content remain constant, which is made difficult by the fact that, as the mould starts to grow, the temperature in the box goes up and opening the box to introduce more moisture makes it drop.

About half the time his attempts fail, and he must turf out the nascent koji and start the whole process again. Once he succeeds, he uses that base to make mirin - which, again, is really just a cooking wine.

So, Pasture is not the type of restaurant where anything is ever made in 10 minutes. In that regard, this was quite an unfair challenge. Verner easily exceeded his allotted cooking time just fanning the flames of the open fire on which he would cook the meat he would later serve me.

What ended up on my plate was a delightful picnic: his own sourdough, his own butter, aged for four or five weeks to give it a righteous bit of tang, some guanciale (pork jowl) and bone marrow served in what looked like the thigh bone of a medium-sized dinosaur. He served it with his own goat's cheese, some green leafy stuff and a green liquid possibly called salsa verde.

This is not the type of meal you will see on the menu at Pasture, Auckland's hottest and most innovative new restaurant, but if it's half as enjoyable, congratulations to you.

The smoky, fire-touched marrow and pig cheek, the way the food was piled, the dominance of the bone on the plate, the raw animalism of the open fire itself - I was in a modern restaurant in Parnell but I could just as easily have been in an upwardly mobile cave in the late paleolithic era. The pleasure of the food was elemental, primal, absolute.

This challenge requires the chef to make a dish in 10 minutes but by some measures this meal took weeks, months, generations, epochs. Feeling the importance of that fact, I may have allowed the timer to run a little over.

Ed Verner's scores (out of five):
Unholiness of attention to detail: 5
Probable imminence of breakdown: 3.5
Manipulation of judging process: 5
Use of enormous bone bonus (Y/N): Y
Playing God bonus (Y/N): Y

The recipe

The dish made by Ed Verner at Pasture. Photo / Greg Bowker
The dish made by Ed Verner at Pasture. Photo / Greg Bowker

Ed Verner is an intuitive cook, so recipes aren't something he does easily. Here are his tips on how to prepare this dish.

Sourdough - "Our sourdough is not something people could make at home easily and we'd like to keep that one to ourselves given how much love and infrastructure we have invested in it." Pasture's bakery is open Thursday-Sunday if someone wants this particular style of loaf.

Bone marrow - soak in water for 2 days, grill over high heat in an oven - you'd have to turn it - (we used our fire) and season with salt.

Guanciale - as this is a cured meat, best to buy it if you don't know what you are doing. Ours has taken 3 months.

Salsa Verde - take your favourite green herbs and blend with capers, anchovies, lemon juice, mustard and olive oil. It's a taste-as-you-go recipe for us. You'll know when it's just right, but as a classic I'm sure some great reference material is available for people!

- Canvas

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