Dariush Lolaiy, with his appreciation of tradition, modern sensibilities, unhealthy fondness for meat, fantastic glossy hair, Mediterranean complexion and beautiful refined beard, has long been considered Auckland's most telegenic chef. But here we are in 2016 and still nobody has given him a show. It's New Zealand television's greatest shame.
His weekly radio slot on bFM's breakfast show, Choice Cuts, which ran for three years, was a lovely, extended prose poem in praise of meat and meat-related substances, so I was not surprised to arrive in the kitchen at his restaurant, Cazador, to find a fat pheasant on the bench alongside some boar pancetta ready to be cut into lardons, and some duck fat waiting to be tossed into a frying pan with thick, white abandon. I was surprised when he told me he would be making a caesar salad.
The rules of this challenge, as regular readers will already know, are that chefs have 10 minutes to prepare me lunch. Lolaiy took 40 minutes, but we were filming him, and kept asking him to re-do stuff for the cameras, so it was mostly our fault.
I had planned to ask him to prepare the whole thing a second time under timed conditions, but I didn't because it was nearly 3pm and I was so hungry I could have drunk a jar of raw duck fat. Instead, I asked him if he could have prepared it in 10 minutes. He said, "Yes," and we were good to go.
Eating the salad, with its big chunks of lettuce dripping with various types of fat and its grand slugs of meat, was a primal experience, like being back in a less sophisticated, more enjoyable era. I grunted with pleasure, and said something about how unhealthy it all was.
"What I like," he said, ignoring me, "is all these levels of moisture. You've got the egg, you've got a sort of moisture from the anchovy fillet, moisture from the bird, the lighter end of the lettuce is juicier and crunchier and more bitter, and the other end you've got the flavour of the dark greens. And then the key is the dressing, having a rich, but refreshing, dressing."
We ate in Cazador's dining room, with Lolaiy's wife, Rebecca Smidt. Lolaiy said his most recent caesar was about six years ago at the deeply unfashionable Las Vegas hotel, The Golden Nugget.
The caesar salad is an unfashionable dish and Cazador is also unfashionable, with its aged interior and its location way down Dominion Rd, but Lolaiy is extremely fashionable. In fact, he's a pleasure to look at. Nic Watt, last week's subject, is an attractive man, and has probably the nicest skin of the three chefs who have so far appeared in this feature, but Lolaiy - manly and unaffected - is a superior all-round example of chef crumpet. Al Brown, our first subject and the one most frequently on television, couldn't even be bothered to button his shirt.
Smidt mentioned the trend for chefs to become more involved in food service and I asked Lolaiy if he would be into that idea. "I like that," he said, "but dare I say I'm not wholly comfortable with the thing of chefs being rock stars."
I say he should start getting comfortable.
Dariush Lolaiy's scores (out of five):
Appearance of dish:
Reckless disregard for diners' physical wellbeing:
Willingness to make a dish no one has eaten in a decade:
Beard bonus (Y/N):
Booze bonus (Y/N):
Recipe: Pheasant Caesar Salad
pheasant breasts (or free-range chicken)
2 heads of baby gem lettuce
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 anchovy fillets
1/2 small clove of garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp creme fraiche
1 Tbsp fresh grated parmesan (plus extra for garnish)
1 small shallot
2 Tbsp cabernet sauvignon vinegar
Handful of croutons
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Season the breasts. Put a little oil or fat in a pan and brown the breasts.
Place in the oven until cooked through - about 8 minutes.
Leave to rest as you finish the other ingredients.
To make the dressing:
Using a mortar and pestle or in a food processor, combine the yolk with the anchovies and garlic. Slowly add the olive oil until combined.
Add the creme fraiche and parmesan cheese. Mix until combined. Adjust seasoning with salt and lemon juice.
Slice the peeled shallot into thin rounds. Season with salt and soak in the vinegar.
Cut 1 head of lettuce in quarters lengthways. Rub with olive oil, season with salt and grill for about 1 minute each side, until charred.
Cut the fresh and grilled lettuces width-ways at 3cm intervals so you are left with ribbons of lettuce.
Slice the breast meat into 1cm wide slices. Toss the breast meat in a large bowl with a few spoons of dressing, the lettuce and the croutons.
The dressing should coat the leaves and meat, add more if necessary.
Finish with the shallot, and extra parmesan.