Not many chefs can draw their career line from Ponsonby’s legendary Open Late Café to a bunch of Michelin starred restaurants, Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck and London’s Savoy. But when James Beck fell for food after dropping out of law school, he fell for it hard.
“I always pushed for the best establishments, to get the best training, the best place in the kitchen to learn,” says James.
“I did six months in a family restaurant in Elba [Italy] it was simple family food, but then all these places with labs and test kitchens and 40 staff.”
Back in New Zealand in 2008, he went back to basics, working with Hohepa, the organic farm and cheesery near Napier, producing food right where it was grown. This summer, after four years he sold his Hastings organic café Taste Cornucopia and with partner Amber (she was front of house at Taste) opened Bistronomy in the hip quarter of Napier.
James’ reputation for combining very very modern techniques with good local produce was cemented by a legendary 15 course dinner at the first Hawkes Bay Food and Wine Classic, FAWC. With its cool Scandi-meets-Japan décor, open kitchen and sharp front of house, Bistronomy does Hawke's Bay proud.
Sit at the counter and watch James and his small kitchen crew dance around the tiny kitchen. Yes, there’s sous vide and clever things done with gelatine, but there are also deep, rich flavours and no annoying dots on plates. He makes vegetables as interesting and satisfying as any meat dish (but the meat and local seafood are dreamy too) and then has fun with clever tastes for pudding.
James has given us recipes for three dishes from his summer menu that require the best and freshest ingredients you can muster, very simple prep and then some assembly.
Kingfish ceviche with tomatillo corn salsa, avocado mayonnaise, and passionfruit granite
Make sure to ask your fishmonger for sashimi grade kingfish. This dish is also great with trevally, kahawai, tuna or even salmon. Prepare all of the ingredients ahead of time except for the ceviche which you marinate just before serving to ensure you don’t overcook the fish.
For the granite (prepare one day in advance)
100ml fresh passionfruit juice
20g white sugar
Dissolve the sugar in the juice and freeze in a small container.
For the avocado mayonnaise
1 ripe avocado
150ml extra virgin avocado oil
Salt and pepper
Zest and juice of ½ lemon
Either by hand or in a food processor, whisk all of the ingredients except the oil. Once the avocado is nice and smooth slowly drizzle in the oil making a thick emulsification similar to mayonnaise. Adjust the seasoning.
For the salsa
1 tomatillo diced (don't worry if you can't find these babies as the recipe works fine with just tomatoes)
1 tomato, deseeded and diced
½ corn cob, kernels removed
¼ shallot, finely diced
1 red chilli to taste, finely diced
1 small bunch coriander,finely sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
Combine all the salsa ingredients and set to one side.
For the ceviche
Juice and zest of 3 limes
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp raw sugar
75ml extra virgin avocado oil (can substitute olive)
320g thinly sliced kingfish
Combine all the ingredients for the ceviche except for the fish. Ten minutes before serving marinate the kingfish in the ceviche marinade. Place a dollop of avocado mayonnaise on the plate. Strain the kingfish and place so that it overlaps the mayo. Use a small ring mould to press the salsa to one side of the kingfish. With a microplane, a grater or simply a fork, rasp the granite and place in it a mound over the fish and salsa. Garnish with a sprig of coriander and serve.
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