The owner of Grey Lynn deli Ripe tells Viva about her new cookbook - a miracle considering most of their recipes are made up day by day.
Grey Lynn's Ripe Deli has been serving home-made takeout meals since September 2002. Something of a revolutionary concept in the food service industry at the time, it was the brainchild of proprietor Angie Redfern.
"I remember that you could never just go and grab something healthy to eat. There were lots of great cafes where you could sit down and have a nice meal but if you were on your way somewhere and you wanted to grab something fast, McDonald's was about your only option," she says.
How things have changed.
Today Ripe Deli offers TV dinners such as spaghetti bolognaise, chicken parmigiana and seafood paella as well as salads, slices, cakes, sandwiches and wraps. Everything but the bread is made on site and it all reflects Redfern's core philosophy that food should be delicious and healthy. "We try to incorporate good stuff, such as slipping LSA [linseed, sunflower seeds and almond meal] into the muesli, without compromising taste."
And unusually for a bustling neighbourhood deli that makes 300 cups of coffee each day, you're unlikely to find exactly the same dish served twice. Ripe is an egalitarian work environment where the chefs have a great deal of creative freedom in the kitchen.
"We've got about six chefs and a couple of bakers and I kind of let them get on with it all. I just sort of give guidelines of what I like and what I think we should be doing ... but I try to give them a free hand."
With thousands of unofficial "recipes" and no set menu, Redfern, 38, struggles to name even one staple item. "Probably that raw energy salad [grated beetroot and carrot with pomegranate molasses] which we got from my friend Jo who owns [Remuera deli] Madam Jojo's. We don't have a favourite orzo salad or anything; we create fresh ones each time," she says. "People come in and they go: 'That salad yesterday ...' And we're all like: 'Oh, ****, what went in there?' To be honest sometimes I've tried to get [the chefs] to be more structured - 'Please let's get some more recipes down' - but it just never has gone that way. And I think that's actually part of the secret of it."
For a deli with such an off-the-cuff approach to its food, it's perhaps unexpected that more than 130 of its dishes have finally been documented in Redfern's new book: Ripe Recipes. Arranged seasonally in two-month blocks, it provides a gentle nudge for anyone who's ever struggled to remember exactly when, say, the tamarillo or feijoa season begins.
The recipes for rhubarb butterscotch layer cake, beef daube and pear-and-date chutney are among Redfern's favourites. Provocatively titled sections such as the Dressing Room, the Slaw Floor and the Root Room have recipes for dressings, coleslaws and root vegetables respectively. The Green Room contains Brussels sprouts with bacon, cabbage and caraway, creamed silverbeet with horseradish, as well as pea and mint puree.
New projects such as the book help keep Redfern motivated in her quest to bring unfussy and nutritious cuisine to an ever-expanding market. And with her business well-established, she's enjoying the opportunity to contribute to the community. Half the income of Ripe Deli's baked goodies sold at a recent triathlon event went straight to Westmere School. "It's nice to be in a place now where we can put a bit of time into helping support other things more."
Taumaranui-born Redfern shifted to Britain with her parents at the age of two and the seeds of her culinary career were planted during a three-year hotel management course at Bournemouth University. Her time as a commis chef at London's Savoy hotel further cemented her love of cooking. "I worked in the larder section there. It was only a short stint because I couldn't stand working evenings. I very much discovered I was a morning person."
Then followed a job in designer Tricia Guild's in-house cafe where the emphasis on "healthy salads and keeping things very simple and fresh" still underpins Redfern's cuisine. A trip back to New Zealand about nine years ago "just to sort of check out where I was from" turned into a permanent relocation.
"I just loved it here, really. Things were possible. In the UK it seemed really difficult to set up a business." Redfern identified with the Kiwi can-do attitude and shortly opened Ripe Deli on a "shoestring budget" with help, both practical and financial, from friends and family. It's the social side that Redfern loves most about the food service industry.
" I've always liked the whole shebang. I don't like to be hidden away in a kitchen."
So now that dozens of Ripe's recipes have been published in black and white, perhaps Redfern and her team will take the opportunity to standardise the deli's fare?
"No, I don't think so. You know, already, a few months down the track, I think I'd tweak the recipes here and there." And it's no doubt that spirit of spontaneity and irrepressible evolution that moved one Facebook fan to describe Ripe Deli's offering as "the bestest kai in town."
Ripe's raspberry and coconut slice
In this recipe raspberries can be substituted with blueberries or blackberries. The berries can be fresh or frozen both work well.
6 egg whites
2 cups (320g) icing sugar, sieved
2 cups (200g) fine desiccated coconut
1/2 cup (75g) self-raising flour, sieved
175g unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups (175g) raspberries
1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm slice tin.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the egg whites, icing sugar, coconut and flour until well combined. Fold in the melted butter until just combined.
3. Pour mixture into the lined tin and sprinkle with berries.
4. Bake in oven for 35 minutes or until firm to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
5. Slice when cool.
* Ripe Recipes ($59.99: Beatnik Publishing) is available now at Ripe, 172-174 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn and at ripedeli.co.nz or from good book stores from December 8.