For the next two weeks I’d like to share some stories and recipes from the Venice Biennale because many of you have commented on my Instagram feed (@chefpetergordon) and Facebook posts.
My partner Al (Alastair Carruthers) is the Commissioner for this year’s entry at the 57th Venice Art Biennale and for the past two years we’ve visited Venice frequently (I know, such a chore) to set up a series of events providing national hospitality to guests of New Zealand and to VIP visitors, artists, museums and art gallery leaders, and patrons from around the world over the few days of Vernissage — the pre-opening period of the Biennale.
The foodie events I was involved in included a dinner for 200 at the Italian Navy’s Petty Officers’ Club and a tour of the Venetian lagoon (where I served warm rum, lemon peel and Allpress espresso cocktails based on an old drink called Ponce Livorno) with a visit to an artichoke farm plus lunch at the best restaurant on the island of Burano — Trattoria al Gatto Nero. The week concluded with the Commissioner’s Dinner for 300 on Certosa Island in the Venetian lagoon.
Lisa Reihana is this year's artist in the New Zealand Pavilion, located in the remarkable Arsenale, (the old shipbuilding marina which once employed 10,000 people). Her work Emissaries has been a huge hit with the International press. (Check the New Zealand at Venice Facebook page.)
The Certosa Island meal was for 300, mostly Kiwis, including Lisa, her partner James and their whanau, and our fabulous Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy and her husband Sir David Gascoigne. There were also local Venetians and Italians, British, Irish and many others from all around the world.
I took it upon myself to creatively showcase what New Zealand can produce, and to inspire our guests at the end of a really busy week. Al decided to sit everyone on three long tables of 100 under a huge green and white striped marquee, which made it feel a little bit like an old naval dining tent. With the help of a few New Zealand patrons I had to produce two small plates for the first course.
The rest of the meal was catered by a local Venetian company il Molo — Al and I had met them many times previously — along with our good friend Alice Tibaldi Chiesa, working on my menu and making sure we’d all do New Zealand proud at this important event.
The patrons who helped prep need to be named because they worked tirelessly. They were Leigh and her mum Sue, Michael, and Helen. Helen is a superstar as she had offered to come for four hours and stayed for 13!
At the end of 2016 I’d written to several New Zealand companies asking for support for the Commissioner’s Dinner and was thrilled when Ora King Salmon and Cloudy Bay Clams replied offering to support the meal, which also meant supporting Lisa’s fantastic work.
This led me to think what the theme of the meal should be, and Al and I decided it should be a collaboration and collusion of New Zealand and Venice, which ultimately became the theme of the whole week.
I took 23kg of food and equipment with me from London to Venice as I knew I wouldn’t find New Zealand karengo (seaweed), fresh wasabi paste and yuzu juice (among other things) there. The patrons and I created two dishes — the first was a raw salmon salad (or a vegetarian one, replacing the salmon with diced silken tofu which was spectacular, I must say).
Here’s a version for you to try — I’ve replaced the yuzu with lime and lemon juice to make it somewhat easier to create at home. Pesce crudo means raw fish by the way. Next week I’ll tell you about the pasta vongole mash-up …