Hawke's Bay chef Gary Grootelaar gives his top foodie picks in the region
In my early years as a young golfer from Lower Hutt, I used to come to Hawke's Bay to play tournaments. I remember passing the Hawke's Bay sign and the sun coming out. I also remember the brown hills in summer and the sight of endless vineyards. Entering through State Highway 50, little did I know that this was going to be my future home.
There's a saying that in Hawke's Bay, you can put a stick in the ground and it will grow. There's an abundance of food and wine all year round, which is only enhanced by the amazing creativity of our producers. The variety is endless and every season I'm excited about what is on offer.
From the sea to the rivers, from the market gardens, orchards, vineyards and organic growers, Hawke's Bay has it all and, as a chef, it's fantastically inspirational to live here.
I'm struggling to select my top five foodie finds. There are so many places that belong there. However, these five places send shivers down my spine, make me emotional, fill me with joy and leave me in awe.
1. Dig for truffles
When I was living in Europe, truffles became a regular part of my repertoire so to know this black gold is on our doorstep at Sacre Monte Truffles, just down the road, is magic. Going to Sacre Monte and finding truffles myself is always an overwhelming experience. The surprise and delight on our guests' faces when they find a truffle and then get to taste truffle for the first time is a thrill. We love it, which is why we have been running our Winter F.A.W.C! Truffle Heaven event for four years with great success.
2. Dine at Pacifica
When I came across Pacifica 10 years ago and met owner and head chef Jeremy and his partner ,Nathalie, I felt I finally was tasting NZ cuisine. Pioneered by Jeremy, Pacifica is an absolutely inspirational and unique restaurant. Dishes like smoked hoki porridge, venison carpaccio and bone-marrow croquettes to name a few are to die for and an absolute showcase of Hawke's Bay produce. These dishes are created with his heritage and techniques and they tell his story. This is a must for every foodie visiting Hawke's Bay.
3. Wine at Smith and Sheth
I can't get enough of visiting Master of Wine Steve Smith's latest venture, Smith and Sheth Oenotheque. Not only does Steve make outstanding wine, but the Heretaunga Wine Studio is an amazing adventure that engages all the senses. The experience is mind-blowing and leaves me in awe of the skilful and creative people we have in Hawke's Bay. To taste the wine, learn about the terroir and discover the stories and people behind it is very moving.
4. Bubbles at Alpha Domus
Having tasted some of the best champagnes on the planet, I was pleasantly surprised by a sparkling wine from our neighbour, Ton Ham, the owner of Alpha Domus. He welcomed us to the Bay with a 12-year-old bottle of bubbles: Cumulus. My first thought was "really? A New Zealand sparkling wine that is 12 years old" . . . boy, was I wrong. Upon opening the bottle, the small bubbles, the yeasty smell, the colour and of course the dryness and taste, made me think this is one of the nicest bubbles I have ever tasted. Alpha Domus produces beautiful wines and tasting Cumulus is an absolute must when you're in Hawkes Bay.
5. Try something new at Poivre et Sel
One of my other favourites in Hawke's Bay is a restaurant called Poivre et Sel. The French couple who own it really know their stuff. The food is innovative and exciting. The last time I was there I was treated to a new and daring dish that included mushroom icecream as well as capsicum icecream. It was amazingly tasty and imaginative, it was challenging and bold, and deserves a place in my top five.
Gary Grootelaar is the owner and chef at luxury lodge The Manse, Hawke's Bay
CHECKLIST: HAWKE'S BAY
The Winter F.A.W.C! Festival (Food and Wine Classic) runs from June 4-27. The full programme is available at fawc.co.nz and general admission tickets go on sale from April 21.