Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's wedding plans went awry partly in a stoush over wild venison and freshly-caught seafood, the jilted venue owner claims.
Robin Pierson, whose Bushmere Arms in Gisborne has been dropped as a venue, says celebrity chef Peter Gordon wanted locally foraged produce and a "hunting and gathering" dining experience for the 150 guests.
That included wild venison and crayfish.
But Pierson says he rejected these plans for fears they would break strict permits and food hygiene rules. He believes that is, in part at least, why the couple chose to look for a different venue - and left Pierson claiming they owe him a $5000 cancellation fee.
The Herald on Sunday has seen a raft of email exchanges between Pierson, Gayford and Ardern's electorate secretary Barbara Ward, which reveal how negotiations unravelled over the past few months.
In one, Pierson writes: "Clarke's intentions to provide wild venison for the menu - it is my understanding that this contravenes all food hygiene regulations."
Pierson was convicted in 2008 after serving contaminated turkey to Christmas diners.
He also feared falling foul of Fisheries officers over the seafood menu and raised this with Ward in another email - "but they didn't come back with a permit, we never got that far," he told the Herald on Sunday.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister would not comment on the menu stoush.
"We have provided answers to the relevant questions. Otherwise, the details of the couple's wedding are a private matter and we are asking that this be respected."
Pierson continues to demand $5000, saying his venue on the outskirts of Gisborne was booked two years ago and the couple owe a cancellation fee. He admits his "feathers were ruffled" by Gordon doing the catering.
The emails also reveal apparent frustration from the other side over the Gordon stoush.
In one, Ward says Ardern and Gayford were clear from the outset they wanted Gordon as their chef.
"The details of how this could work were to be worked through. There have been strenuous attempts on our side to try and find a way forward," Ward wrote.
"It became apparent that the possibility of Peter and his immediate team being the chefs on the day were a bridge too far for you and this was reflected most starkly in the costing proposal that you sent through after our visit and after the proposed menu from Peter was sent to you.
"This costing proposal excluding the food and chef was so excessive and quite frankly it shocked us all. You were very dismissive of Peter's menu and it was clear that having Peter in the mix was unworkable for you."
Ward worked on the wedding plans in her own time and not using taxpayer money, the PM has said.
In another email, Ward disputes Pierson's claim there was a mutual agreement over the booking.
"Your stated assumption that we had a mutual commitment to hold the wedding at Bushmere Arms is incorrect. Everything has always been subject to the couple's approval and it has been crystal clear that while issues were still being worked through a final decision had not been made," Ward wrote.
Ward regretted how things turned "pear-shaped" and asked Pierson to submit another menu without Gordon's involvement. The quote was more expensive than the original and was eventually declined by the couple on August 31.
"The wedding pack costs you originally sent through to the couple, and on which they have budgeted, are very different and considerably higher. The end result is that the couple felt that they were simply not wanted and unwelcome at Bushmere Arms," Ward wrote.
The Herald on Sunday understands the couple are now searching for another venue in the same area.
Pierson says he still wants his cancellation fee, which he says reflects the amount of time and money he has spent preparing for the event and the loss of earnings for blocking out two days for the wedding.
"This is uncharted waters. We've had some cancellations because of Covid and I fully accept that's out of everyone's control. But this is not. They have decided they can't get what they want so they are going to another venue."
In a final email to Ward, Pierson wrote: "I am no longer interested in responding to your continued false claims and assertions. Your offer of $1250 is not acceptable and I have attached a copy of my original invoice. Please pay asap to prevent this situation from getting even more pear-shaped."