Cazador, Danbri Farm, A Lady Butcher, Simon Gault: The Meat-Eating Tastemakers Who Won’t Be Going Vegetarian Anytime Soon

By Kim Knight
Cazador's Rebecca Smidt and Dariush Lolaiy sharing a steak. Photo / Babiche Martens

Committed carnivores put their necks on the chopping block of public opinion.

We were raised on the sheep’s back and lived off the fat of the land. When the chickens came home to roost, we roasted them.

In the 1930s, the average New Zealander ate 130 kilograms of sheep, beef

Climate change, animal welfare and pro-plant-based diet messages have not fallen on deaf ears — an estimated six per cent of New Zealanders are vegan or vegetarian. One study found the cohort least likely to quit meat was politically conservative men; meanwhile, another just-released study into teenage food choices found more than 50 per cent of meat-eaters thought the practice was natural, nice, necessary and normal.

Are you still eating meat? Viva Premium asked five committed carnivores for their thoughts:

Chef and food entrepreneur Simon Gault has cut down on red meat, but he won't be giving up a weekly steak. Photo / Babiche Martens
Chef and food entrepreneur Simon Gault has cut down on red meat, but he won't be giving up a weekly steak. Photo / Babiche Martens

SIMON GAULT is a chef, food entrepreneur, author and healthy eating advocate. His new biography, No Half Measures, is out now.

“The demon is the processed meat. Your bacon, your ham, the sausages — it’s the preservatives and the E numbers and the sugar.

“You’d probably find half the cafes in New Zealand are using bacon from Europe that’s full of preservatives and rubbish. It’s cheap. It’s literally half the price. I see that in my deli. I sell good bacon and if I pitch it to 100 cafes, I’m lucky if I get two who will see the benefit of paying the extra.

“I definitely eat less red meat than I used to. If you’re having 350g of red meat a week — two, or possibly three, steaks a week — that is plenty. And there are a lot of good things about meat, especially in New Zealand, given it’s all grass fed. It’s a saturated fat that everybody gets worried about, but everything in moderation.

“Most people will go for eye fillet because it’s tender and melts in your mouth but I believe it lacks flavour in comparison to a scotch fillet, sirloin or rump. Fat is flavour, right? And in moderation it’s ok. My meat of choice would be a Scotch fillet and I would grill it.

“People have got into cooking briskets and all that sort of stuff. Slow cooking. That’s really good, and you could say it’s healthier. It’s when you start putting all these massively sugary rubs on that it goes pear-shaped — but it’s not like you’re having that every night or every week.

“Kiwis are big on bacon, sausages and ham, but go into a supermarket and try to find a shaved ham that doesn’t have sugar in it. It’s very hard to do. Stay away from processed meats and fill your boots with unprocessed stuff, up to 350g a week.

“Could we talk a bit about cooking meat? Lots of recipes say to take the meat out of the fridge 20 minutes before you cook it. That’s a waste of time. Get it out a couple of hours beforehand, because you really want to get it to room temperature. If you put something stone cold into a pan or onto a barbecue, it’s no good.

“There are two options for seasoning. Season it on both sides with salt the day before cooking and put it on a cake rack in the fridge and let it dry out. Initially, you’ll see all this water come to the surface, but then it will be reabsorbed. Otherwise, you can salt and pepper just two or three minutes before you cook it. Don’t do it 20 minutes ahead, because you’ll start pulling the moisture out and the meat won’t have time to reabsorb it.

“The most important thing is that regardless of how you cook a steak — frying pan, barbecue, oven — when you take it away from the heat, it will continue to cook, and it will increase in temperature by about six to eight degrees. Take it out, let it stand for 10 minutes, and it will keep cooking. Then, when you cut into it, you won’t have a pool of juice all over the plate. It’ll all be in the steak.

“You do not need to have scorching hot steak. Just take it away from the heat, accept it’s going to cool down a bit and get over it. If I’m cooking outside, I’d rest it on a plate and wrap it in tinfoil. In a restaurant situation, I’d have a bath of warm butter just sitting at the back of the stove. And trust me, that butter tastes wonderful at the end of the night!”

Flashback: Dariush Lolaiy and Rebecca Smidt from a 2017 photo shoot at their restaurant Cazador, where wild game shot by Dariush's dad adorns the walls. Photo / Babiche Martens
Flashback: Dariush Lolaiy and Rebecca Smidt from a 2017 photo shoot at their restaurant Cazador, where wild game shot by Dariush's dad adorns the walls. Photo / Babiche Martens

REBECCA SMIDT is married to chef DARIUSH LOLAIY. They co-own Cazador, a restaurant known for its taxidermied decor, on Auckland’s Dominion Rd.

Rebecca: “People say we’re the meaty restaurant. We don’t have any more meat on our menu than others. Obviously, the decor sets a tone! It is challenging, but every single piece in here has been shot by Dairush’s dad. These aren’t things that we’ve bought, they’re not trophies — they’re meat. It is what it is.

“We see the future of meat as being vastly different. People will eat much less and it will become a very special occasion luxury item. That’ll be driven by climate change and that will be a factor in the price of meat increasing. We don’t see meat being a core part of our diet; our children will grow up with a different relationship with food than we have. If our grandparents were to see our diet these days, I just don’t think they’d make sense of it. They had such humble experiences with food. Our whole way of life is just vastly different and not sustainable.

“It’s tricky. You want to be the patriotic Kiwi. We all have relationships to farms and farmers. And it’s not to demonise those practices that have sustained New Zealand for so long, but it’s to ask ourselves: How do we marry our responsibilities to future generations with our deep lust for luxury eating? How, as restaurateurs, do we orientate food trends to be more sustainable?

“From our perspective, we lean towards wild food. We’re a very small restaurant with a very small footprint and a very responsive clientele who we have spent a long time educating. If you can serve beef tongue, you should . . . "

Dariush: " . . . Or blood. It’s a protein that is literally poured down drains. We use it to make a venison black pudding and to thicken sauces. It’s a wonderful source of protein and an incredible ingredient, but it’s just not looked at, and it’s hard to get.”

Rebecca: “It’s not economical to harvest the whole animal in every context. But if we are going to keep dining in the way we are accustomed to, we’ll need to reconsider how much of the animal we consider disposable.”

Dariush: “In lockdown, a group of us got together about a situation that was occurring with the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation. They have a contract with the Department of Conservation to manage a large and difficult part of the Fiords. It didn’t sit nicely with them that they had to leave carcasses on the hills — they’re very expensive to remove. They’re all conservationists, they want to use the meat. It’s a seven-day hike in and out, and it’s one of the most pure places in New Zealand — in the world, actually — so you can imagine the meat from that area.

“A bunch of us got together to come up with a solution — Tom Hisham from Orphan’s Kitchen, Nick Loosely from Everybody Eats, Scott McNeil from my venison supplier Awatoru and Sarah Shepherd from the beer upcycling programme Citizen Collective — and the idea is that we feed back into the system. Any meat that we sell, we donate at least $3.30 back to the Wapiti Foundation to continue its work. We see ourselves as the final link in the system that will make land and animal management financially sustainable. In 35 years, it’s the best venison we’ve ever cooked here.”

Rebecca: “People are freaking out when we serve it. It’s such a delicious, clean protein and it’s just horrific to think it wouldn’t have otherwise been used. When you think about the bigger food system we live in, it’s really encouraging to have a little beacon of light in amongst this really bad news. That’s what gives me hope — there is a different way of doing things, and we’ve got to manage our expectations. Keep putting the pressure on to do things differently, but take the time to bring people along with us. It’s amazing to see around town now how much offal is served in restaurants, and we were definitely alone in that for a long time, outside of top 50 restaurants.

“We eat meat, because we can get it on our terms — for now. We are incredibly privileged to go and source meat ourselves, or be acquainted with people who can get it with the specific environmental impact that we expect — which is not none, but it is vastly reduced when it’s stalked meat.

“It’s not fair to put that burden onto consumers to make these choices. You can’t stand in Farro wondering which thing to buy to save the planet - the job has got to be done before I get there. It is my job here, in the restaurant, but in the checkout line? I’ve just got a family to feed at that point. I don’t know that you can ever replace that feeling that meat gives you and I don’t know that we necessarily want to. But we’ll have to be more choosy about when we get that sense of satisfaction.”

Dariush: “You don’t need much of it. Now, when we buy steaks, it’s one for the four of us. The first time I was like, ‘oh come on, we’ve got to have one each’. But if you’re buying quality and there’s enough marbling in the meat and it’s rich and satisfying and you’re slicing it carefully with a nice knife . . .”

Danbri Farm's Deborah Pead says it's not the cow — it's the "how". Photo / Jason Oxenham
Danbri Farm's Deborah Pead says it's not the cow — it's the "how". Photo / Jason Oxenham

DEBORAH PEAD is the founder and executive chair of communications agency Pead PR. With her husband Carl, she owns Danbri Farm, where they breed Angus Pure beef following regenerative agriculture practices.

“We’re very fortunate in that we can eat our own meat — and we know that our meat is not being farmed on an industrial scale. We’ve always invested in excellent bulls and we have a wonderful breeding herd of between 80-90 cows. Grannies and mums and daughters and aunties. It’s a very slow form of farming. Nothing is chased, nothing is hurried . . . they’re not in feedlots standing up to their knees in mud or finished off in stalls.

“About five years ago, we realised that we didn’t buy into this ‘anti-meat’ groupthink. We realised it’s not the cow — it’s the how. We had a very good look at how we were farming and worked with a soil ecologist who helped us on a journey of regenerative farming.

“If the goal is to farm in a way that mimics nature then animals have to be part of the ecosystem. We had this big debate in our family and decided yes, we can still farm the beef well, but we have to introduce more diversity onto the farm because a monoculture, whether it’s meat or plants, is not good. It compromises the soil and it destroys the natural ecology. There’s your insects gone, your earthworms, your butterflies . . . We needed to plant different grasses and pasture for our cattle, introduce more trees, and bring in different types of food for a diversified way of farming that mimicked nature.

“In the Kaipara district, a lot of trees were removed in the 1930s. They cleared native bush for pasture and consequently you often see cattle on marginalised land and that has caused erosion and soil damage. Our goal has been to only farm the beef on the land that is best suitable for it and to make sure that what they eat in those paddocks is the best food. So instead of just one variety of grass, we’ve sown oats, sunflowers, daikon radishes, vetch, cocksfoot, prairie grass, fescue, rye grass, plantain, chicory, white clover, red clover — they are literally walking through a salad bowl of grasses and nutrition! Next year, the first ‘crop’ of beef grown on pure, regenerative agriculture, will be ready to be harvested.

“When climate change activists pick on meat, they do have a point to an extent, but it’s a very easy target. Reducing livestock emissions will certainly contribute to reducing carbon emissions but so will reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, reducing the use of private jets and air travel, traffic congestion, our love affair with manufactured goods — the way society has got into replacing rather than repairing, the way we flock to fast fashion, our household waste . . . But these are the harder things to tackle. People don’t like ‘complex’. They like to find a simple solution and it’s easy to target the farmer. That is a very narrow view on climate change. Climate change is way bigger than the farmer and the cow.

“I eat meat in good conscience because I know where it’s come from, I know how it’s been grown. But I also eat it because I love the flavour, the smell - to me, it makes the meal. I love the ritual of carving a roast, I love handling the meat and rubbing the spices into it and knowing that it’s going to feed my family with great nutrition. But I also like making salads. We grew up on a diet of meat and vegetables, but now you can experience a wide variety of flavours, senses and tastes without meat. Of course I’ve introduced other things into our dining repertoire. Everyone has introduced more variety in their diet . . . look, all I would say is I respect a vegetarian’s choice to avoid meat and I would ask them to respect mine to eat it!”

Hannah Miller Childs - charcuterie afficiando and owner of A Lady Butcher. Photo / Greg Bowker
Hannah Miller Childs - charcuterie afficiando and owner of A Lady Butcher. Photo / Greg Bowker

HANNAH MILLER CHILDS is a chef and butcher who operates A Lady Butcher and organised New Zealand’s first charcuterie festival.

“When I tell people I’m a butcher, people find it really intriguing. A lot of people get confused between slaughter and butchery. People ask where do I kill the animals — in the carpark? No, they come to us dead. We definitely get trolled every once in a while. Keyboard warriors. I got called a murderess recently.

“Eating meat is a little bit unfashionable. Some of my family don’t eat meat. I was at their house recently and we were all sharing meals. I made sure I made a meal that was fit for them to eat and then they made me a fake meat meal. I told them: ‘This is not equal . . . I refuse to eat fake meat, just as you refuse to eat meat.’ They were horrified. No one had said that to them before. They’d never even thought of the fact that it could work both ways.

“I do eat a fair amount of meat! I just really don’t find anything else as satisfying. When you have a nice piece of meat, you feel like you’ve had dinner. I definitely try to eat more of a vegetarian or pescetarian lunch . . . for dinner, I’m going to have a pork chop or a nicely cooked chicken breast and when it comes to beef, the fattier the better. A really well-marbled Scotch fillet is a treat for me. And I love cured meats, so maybe we’re having fish, or vegetarian, but oftentimes we’ll have a bit of charcuterie beforehand. I know a lot of people who eat more meat than me and I know even more people who eat way less meat than me. It’s definitely something that, to me, would be really sad not to have.

“The main thing I’ve seen is a shift to less is more. You don’t need to have bacon for breakfast every morning, but it’s really nice to have it on a Saturday. I’m American, and when I first arrived here and worked in a retail butcher shop, I was almost never asked where the meat came from. There’s been a huge amount of education around things like grass-fed versus grain-fed/grain-finished and ageing beef. People are just now starting to realise that most of the pork in New Zealand is actually imported. There’s been recent legislation around truth in labelling, which is really great. People deserve to know and to make informed shopping decisions.

“If you’re buying a higher quality meat, it makes sense you’re probably going to eat less, but that’s also to do with the fact that we’re sedentary people now. We’re not all out on the farm every day and needing a 500g steak at night. We’re sitting at desks. Probably 150 grams is enough!

“A huge shift I’ve seen in the last five years is towards American barbecue. That’s been amazing for the meat and butchery industry because you had all these cuts like brisket and short ribs, that were always seen as winter cuts. In summer, they’d end up in the bin. And now these are premium cuts and you get a great dollar price on them. We have a harder time keeping brisket in stock than we do Scotch fillet.

“New Zealand has, arguably some of the best — if not the best — meat in the world. Our animal welfare practices are to a really, really high standard, there’s an environmental focus, there’s a lot of focus on the processing of meat . . . regulations are really strict compared to other countries, so I don’t see any reason for meat to be ‘evil’.

“I’m hosting the first charcuterie festival to help the public understand more about what charcuterie is . . . it’s meant to be an accent. It is high fat, high salt — that’s literally how it’s preserved — and so it should be a treat. It’s not meant to be eaten the same way as you’d have, say, an eye fillet.”

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