Experts pick what to eat at Wellington on a Plate, writes Alexia Santamaria
It's nearly that time of year again when Wellington erupts into a city-wide smorgasbord of unbridled culinary joy - with everything from wild and wacky burgers to multi-course high-end degustations to events that combine interactive theatre, food and art in amazingly creative combinations. Visa Wellington on a Plate is back again - for the whole joyous month of August. Lucky us.
As always there will be special dining events - 140 of them this year. And for the first half of the month, there will also be Dine Wellington (August 1-15) where you can get special festival-only dishes at selected restaurants. Burger Wellington will rule the second half of the month (August 13-31) and there's also Cocktail Wellington running for the duration, where different bars will be serving up their special Visa WOAP creations. It's one of the country's biggest, most diverse food festivals, which really has something for everyone, whether you are after a multi-course Syrian feast or a burger with cheeto-coated chicken.
We spoke to five festival chefs about their own special events, plus the ones they're keen to go to.
Jackie Lee Morrison, Lashings
Almost since the day it opened, Lashings has been a Wellington crowd favourite, famed for its ridiculously addictive brownies and other sweet treats. Jackie Lee Morrison is an ex-London pastry chef with a background in fine dining in Michelin and five-star hotels. She moved to New Zealand in 2016 and opened her boutique brownie bar in 2018. Lashings' single-origin chocolate brownies now have a cult following and the team loves working closely with other Wellington-based businesses like Fix & Fogg, Baron Hasselhoff's, Six Barrel Soda, Shoots Microgreens, and Wellington Chocolate Factory. It's a very Wellington affair.
This year, Lashings is part of a collaboration called Sex & Food: A Burlesque Dining Event. The other half of this much-anticipated event is Wellington's premier drag king, comedy and cabaret producer Hugo Grrrl. It's going to be a steamy night of burlesque and interactive dining (don't take grandma) including a multi-course menu of interactive snacks and sharing dishes alongside eight sexy burlesque acts full of blush-inducing moments. A hilariously risque, fun and delicious event.
I'm a huge fan of our friends, and Laneway neighbours, Shepherd, as well as the crews over at Taste of Home and Romeo's Deli & Bar, so I was gunning for a ticket to Taste of Homies. Sadly, so was the rest of the city, and their event sold out in minutes. I'll just have to stand in the Laneway and inhale the delicious smells that will be coming out of the kitchen. I also think Brisket's Diner pop-up at BambuchiSan, Pintxos Run Amok, by Restaurant Amok at the Garage Project Taproom and Who Dat'? It's New Orleans! at Whistling Sisters are going to be amazing.
Vaibhav Vishen, Aston Norwood
Vaibhav Vishen is an IT guy turned-chef. After a few years in the tech industry, he realised it really wasn't for him and after working for a bit in New Delhi, moved to Wellington to study a Bachelor of Culinary Arts and Business at Le Cordon Bleu New Zealand. He went on to work as the head chef of the fast-paced Mr Go's in Wellington and the Spring Kitchen at the DoubleTree by Hilton and is currently the executive chef at Aston Norwood and co-owner of The Basement Bar and Restaurant at the Mercure hotel in Auckland.
Vaibhav is involved in the My Kashmiri Odyssey and Chaat Street events but is particularly excited about My Kashmiri Odyssey, dining theatre that takes the audience on a journey through Kashmir, his home town. It's a six-course experience with drama, storytelling and gastronomic delights exploring elements from medieval Kashmiri Wazwan to 20th-century street foods. " I am so excited about this one as I get to share Kashmiri food, culture and stories in a theatrical setting. It's all put together by Leo Gene Peters and the team from one of Wellington's most innovative theatre companies, the Slightly Isolated Dog. It is going to be epic."
It's hard working in hospo and not being able to get to as many events as you'd like but my picks for this year would be A Tour of France at Le Cordon Bleu, Bar Salonika by Field & Green, What and Why the Fusion by LTD and Le Cercle Noir by Shepherd
Margaret Gabriel, Lulu Bar
Margaret Gabriel has been a chef at Lulu Bar for a couple of years after working at the Chateau on Mt Ruapehu, Huka Lodge and Hilton Hotels. She loves being able to express her Samoan background through the menu with a modern take on traditional flavours.
Lulu Bar's event is called Taste the Pacific but Margaret jokingly calls it the Fancy Boil-up. "At Lulu, we are all about the flavours and dishes of the Pacific and I explained it to the boss as "a boil-up but fancy!" The name just stuck so every time they explain it to guests they call it the Fancy Boil-up, and it always gets a laugh." Taste the Pacific is going to be very hands-on - guests will be able to shuck their own oysters and make their own pina colada. There will be a limitless boil-up served with sides of fry bread, and live entertainment from local artists.
The events I would most like to go to is 30 Years Young, which is Boulcott Street Bistro's birthday, and Migrant Kitchen Degustation at Shed 5 because I would be able to taste so many flavours and dishes from around the world.
Hayden McMillan, Floriditas
There's been much fuss about Hayden's return to New Zealand last year, and rightly so after his huge success with Etta - the restaurant he and his wife, Dominique, ran in Melbourne for five years. The couple has now bought into iconic Wellington restaurant Floriditas with founder Julie Clark and her husband, James Pedersen, who've operated it for 15 years. Hayden's past experience includes working at well-known French Cafe, Vinnies, Meredith's and TriBeCa as well as running a pop-up, The Waiheke Island Yacht Club, in San Francisco during the America's Cup.
Floriditas' event is called Flora no Fauna and for seven days, the restaurant will transform into an all-day/all-night vegetarian eatery, The team is out to prove that even the most stoic diners can still enjoy hearty breakfasts, lunches and dinners, minus the meat. The menu will contain only New Zealand's finest fruit and vegetables to showcase the amazing producers of Aotearoa.
There are going to be so many great events this year. World - the fashion house - is doing a perfume, canape and cocktail experience called Around the WORLD where food and drink are matched with scent. Bar Salonika - Field and Green is turning into a Greek restaurant for their event - Laura is one of the best chefs in Wellington and I can't wait to see what she will do. The Larder's event Boon-tiful Larder will be amazing too. Palisa Anderson of Boon Cafe in Sydney is legendary so I'm very excited about that one.
Rupert Palaroan, Master Kong
Rupert Palaroan started his cooking career in the Philippines, working in his family's restaurant. Since coming to New Zealand he has worked as a sous chef at Apache, as head chef at Mr Go's and then did a stint in Sydney as the head chef of Honkas Bar and Eats showcasing Filipino and Asian flavours. He is currently the head chef of Master Kong, a modern Asian Wellington favourite.
Master Kong's event is called Rice and Shine, a fusion take on yum cha combining traditional Asian dishes with classic European brunch favourites - bacon bao, karaage chicken waffles, and brioche ramen are just some of the options. Tickets include bottomless yum cha-style food service. Rupert is also really excited about the Dine Dish he's doing for the festival. It's called Kamayan Boodle Fighter after the traditional Filipino banquet style of eating - the ultimate communal dining all served on one long banana leaf-lined trestle table and eaten with hands. For Dine, instead of being all Filipino food, it's going to be made up of morsels designed by different members of the Master Kong team, all reflecting their specific culinary heritage.
There are so many great things happening at the festival but I'm really excited about the Burger Masterclass 2021 with Ollie Edwards at Rosie's Red Hot Cantina and Taco Joint. I really admire Chef Ollie's "dude food" he's so well known for - his burgers are so amazing. There are so many delicious festival dishes on offer but I'm sure Chef Le's at Apache is going to be so good. His stories when it comes to food are something that really inspires me. What he does to Vietnamese cuisine, how he tells a story, how he elevated it, motivated me to do the same with my home cuisine after I worked with him. I also can't wait to try the festival burger from Foxglove [dry-aged beef brisket patty with cheddar, bone marrow, red onion, pickle and paprika mayonnaise in a beef fat buttered Brezelmania potato bun, with oregano salted skin-on shoestrings, black truffle mayonnaise and a hot marrow bone malt whisky shot.] I just love the idea of how all those ingredients will work so well together.