We asked some of our leading chefs and food writers to tell us about an eating experience they are looking forward to this year. Their surprising answers ranged from hakarl to home kill, via unusual ingredients, old favourites and a very special restaurant. By Paul Little.
I would quite like to try shirako, which is sperm sacs of either cod, angler fish or puffer fish. I know a couple of people who have. I googled it and it would be interesting; it's quite creamy. There are many ways of cooking it but steamed is probably best. Tempura would be too easy – it could taste like anything. I love foie gras and all that. When we were in Japan last time, I had "foie gras from the sea" – i.e. monkfish liver. I managed to get some and it was unbelievable. I like Japanese-type food. Then there is hakarl from Iceland – beheaded shark that's buried and fermented – I quite like dried fish. I think I have tried most things. I tried live octopus and quite enjoyed that. I don't know if it was really alive – it was probably one of those things that keep moving after they're dead.
I'd like to get up close and personal with a tonka bean. They are a dark brown colour and look like a wrinkly raisin. A chef gave me one a long time ago. They are about the size of a regular bean and the smell is intoxicating. It's like a vanilla-y clove/nutmeg scent. Some chefs use the beans to stretch out pure vanilla because it's cheaper and easier to work with. I put it in a ramekin in a drawer and sniffed it every day for a year. I couldn't stop. I thought I'd never do anything with it but then I started to wonder. I thought you would probably grate it like nutmeg. Then I looked online and found they are poisonous, although you'd have to eat a lot of them to do any harm. They are banned in America.
Author, chef and co-founder of Giraffe restaurant
Everybody loves a big, juicy nectarine or peach but if you're in Italy, they pick fruit that is ripe, as opposed to a lot of supermarkets here that pick fruit for longevity. You never get the juice from the fresh piece of fruit dripping around your mouth and the "Oh my gosh, this is just incredible" feeling. I always look forward to that in Italy or Spain. They are off limits now, but if you go to a farmers' market here, you're more likely to have small producers picking things when they are ripe, particularly tomatoes. The tomato is a good example of something that is not picked when it should be but picked so it lasts a long time on the shelf. That means you don't get the lycopene, which is something in the tomato that is so good for us.
Also, there's a guy in the South Island - Poaka is the company name - who's farming some special pigs and doing a fantastic curing process, which is as close as you're going to find here to something you'll get in Italy or Spain. Normally here pork's full of preservatives but this guy is feeding them acorns and only killing about nine a week. [See also Giulio Sturla]
We moved to Cambridge in February last year and bought some cows – Speckle Parks that we've called Panda and Stella. They will be killed after June, if they are looking good. We had a taste of some when we arrived and it's really delicious meat. It's quite marbled and the pieces I've had have been a lovely deep-red colour. They're not melt-in-the-mouth steaks like wagyu, they're a little bit firmer but they have sensational flavour. We have enough land to feed them on and they're putting on weight well. I'm looking forward to doing everything with the meat we get, including the oxtail and suet. In particular, at the local market here, there are some amazing new artisans called Bellefield, who have won a lot of prizes. They make a miso butter and we're going to have that with the steaks. I'd like to get back as much as I can but understand it's difficult to get the cheeks some times. If I can I will get all of it back – like the brisket and the short ribs. I'm tired of going into the supermarket and seeing them pre-cut - they cook up chewy. I'd also like to get the kidneys – ox kidney is hard to get. And I would be interested to know how much fat is on the kidneys, because I like suet. Not interested in the tripe. And at the price of oxtail I'll definitely be getting the tail.
Cookbook author and co-founder My Food Bag
The meal I'm most looking forward to is something I've completely grown and gathered myself. We're living on a farm in Otago, so now I have the opportunity. I've got dalmatian climbing beans, green dragon tomatoes, rainbow Iinca corn, red malabar spinach, black russian tomatoes, black beauty zucchini and black beauty eggplant. For protein, we have heaps of rabbits around here and rabbit is really delicious. No chickens yet but they are arriving in a few weeks, so we've got to get the coop finished. I've never had my own chickens. And there will be fresh fruit for dessert. We have an old plum tree and there's also an apple tree. The apples are not the best eating apples but will be great to cook to put in an apple and plum pie. We're also making our own cider and on the benchtop at the moment I have some elderflower champagne coming along.
Former owner-chef of Meredith's
In April we are going to Alain Passard's restaurant, L'Arpege, in Paris. It's been on my radar for a long time but the last time I went to Paris it was fully booked. He was one of the first Michelin-starred chefs to focus on vegetables on the table and, as a chef, his restaurant is like a holy place you want to go to. There is so much craft in French cooking – this is how we learn as chefs. It was controversial 20 years ago when he pulled all meat off the menu. That revolutionised things. It was outside the norm of French cuisine. The cooking world was shocked. He has meat again now and everything comes from his three organic farms. We owe a lot to him and he's still going in his 60s.
[Michael Meredith's as-yet-unnamed new enterprise will be opening in Britomart later this year.]
Caterer and cooking school teacher
I love fresh oysters with balsamic vinegar. Any other way is sacrilege. I have always loved them but the more you eat oysters the more you lust for them. Mostly now you don't eat Bluff oysters; you mainly eat farmed oysters - and they are not as plump. When it comes to fried oysters, Bluff oysters were probably really good because they were big and fat. They might have tasted better with batter. We get them from our fish supplier. Even when I go to a restaurant, if they have special oysters on, even though they are expensive, I'll always buy them. And they are gone in a moment.
Owner/operator Ripe Deli.
I'm enjoying a more plant-based diet in general nowadays and it's often lentils that I crave, so I would love to eat more of them this year. I haven't been to India but would love to go for the vegetarian cooking. I always hear such great things about the food there - so flavoursome, with all the fresh spices. A trip would be fabulous. A couple of chefs at Ripe make delicious dahls, which got me fond of them and wanting to learn more. That's definitely my favourite way of eating lentils. I love dining at Satya restaurants – their dahi puri is so good. Cassia's Indian food is another favourite. I also have fond memories of eating tripe years ago in London and would like to eat it again.
Chef and co-owner, Cassia
A while ago we visited Singapore and Bali, where the food is amazing. I can't wait to go back. Singapore is renowned for the stalls at the Maxwell Food Centre. Tian Tian Hainanese chicken rice is a favourite there – it is just steamed chicken, caramelised and served with a broth made from the carcasses and some steamed rice. It sounds pedestrian but it's magical, because there is a secret dressing – it's made of ginger, garlic and chilli. When everything is combined, it's very nourishing and comforting. The chilli crab of Singapore is also wonderful. There's nothing like getting into the claws of the fresh crab. It is spicy but really it's more aromatic, with a lot of herbs and chilli. A restaurant called Labyrinth has a chilli crab icecream but the standard chilli crab is pretty amazing.
This year I was supposed to be going an old friend's younger son's wedding in New Hampshire. I'd been looking forward to going to the greatest little lobster shack in the world. I've researched and I think the best one is called Sanders Lobster Shack – where you sit out on a pier. You put your gingham bib on – it sounds hideous but it's useful – and they give you a lobster dinner that includes a mug of chowder – so thick you can stand the spoon up in it – two lobster claws, oysters and fried clams and little dishes of melted butter and thick mayonnaise plus soft, white bread – it's the whole thing. And sometimes there is a piece of corn. You get a little fork to dig out the meat. It's all very dribbly, and probably a cardiologist's nightmare. And right now, it remains a dream, for me.
Cuisine magazine chef of the year, 2018
I am always looking for a good piece of jamon [dry cured ham]. There's a unique flavour when it's done right – this is not the animal, it's how it is made and what the animal eats. Last year I found a pork producer in Canterbury, called Poaka, which is Māori for pig. He finishes the pork with chestnuts. It's the closest thing to Spanish ham I have found here. The Christmas hams in the supermarkets - for me that's a boiled pork leg. It's not a quality ham. I have also found, when you eat at this time in life, you have to be more sustainable. It is better to eat the jamon like a cured leg of ham - you don't want more than three or four slices at a time. And a leg will last you more than six months because it never goes off. I never wanted protein as a reason to eat but as something that is delicious and the balance around it with vegetables.
There is a moment at the end of summer, when autumn is about to break – pears come into season, walnuts are ready to eat if you've collected them and the feijoas are ripened – it's so New Zealand and I get very excited. I love combos, when they cluster like the pears, walnuts and feijoas and you can roll them into a dish like a humble crumble - it's a bit of magic. There's also a slight melancholy because it means the end of summer. I am a really seasonal beast and other food writers would probably say the same. I have to generate four recipes a week – but I never run out of ideas because the seasons keep changing. There's something about going from summer to autumn that is very poignant and makes it my favourite change of season.