The countdown is on, with only six days to go until the opening of Whangarei's first Gourmet Night Market.
The official opening will be carried out by Mayor Sheryl Mai on Friday October 13 before punters can enjoy a wide range of multicultural cuisine at pop-up restaurants in the one place while listening to live entertainment.
Held at Whangarei's Canopy Bridge, there will be around 35 food vendors operating out of trucks, vans, trailers and tents. Menu items include Mexican, Indian, Spanish, Mediterranean and European cuisine, pulled pork, sea food, gelato/sorbet, wraps, crepes and plenty for the health-conscious, including smoothies, gluten free, wheat-free, RAW and organic options.
Behind the initiative is Onerahi resident Leeann de Vries. With a taste for multi-cultural cuisine and memories of similar markets in far-away places, she decided it was time to bring the experience to Whangarei.
She created a Facebook page to register interest and was 'astounded' by the response.
"We've had emails from ex-pats as far away as Egypt, Canada, and a Kiwi returning from Australia to join the night market, as well as many well-wishes from other market organisers from around the country and businesses alike. As for our local community, people have said they are ready for this and it needs to happen. We need somewhere we can go and take the whole family."
The food vendors hail from as far south as Tokoroa and from the Far North.
"For many food vendors, being mobile is their lifestyle. Many travel to various events around the country to get the exposure they need and bring their twist on food. We anticipate, as vendors learn more about the night market, they will travel the distance," says Leeann.
There will also be a mystery author/tv presenter/food stylist among the vendors and plans are in process for theme nights where he will do cooking demos. "He will be our roving food mentor for our vendors, offering support and advice."
Musicians will include a range of solos, duos and bands, both local and from outside the area.
Tables and chairs will be set up around the stalls and there will be a waste station for rubbish that would be sorted and recycled.
"I want people to bring their families and have a picnic at the Town Basin. Bring a blanket, bean bag or a chair and enjoy the atmosphere."
Leeann says every inch of space, both inside and outside the Canopy Bridge, will be filled with food vendors and, with the amount of interest received in the night market, expansion may happen sooner than anticipated.
"We have big plans on how we will keep the market active, fresh, lively and social fun for all to enjoy. This includes seasonal themes. And, who knows, we may consider a winter market if one can brave the cold with your raincoat and gummies."
Leeann's says her own foray working with food didn't go so well.
"My only experience was serving it as a waitress very early in my career at The Grand Hotel on Bank Street. I remember learning then how to cook Chicken Flambe' on an open grill in the middle of the restaurant and, even under guidance, I burnt the chicken and somehow the juices disappeared. Never again."
She believes her background in management will serve her well with this venture.
Her goals are to grow economy and build businesses, revitalize the community and create a social platform for people to enjoy while encouraging environmental sustainability.
"We believe, with the support of our community and local businesses far and wide, the night market will sustain a very long and well-developed future."
The first Gourmet Night Market will be wrapped up with a performance from the Hatea Kapa Haka group.