"The Hospitality industry is a world-wide family, it is not just about paying clientele but rather the mutual respect, sharing and exchange of skills and knowledge, friendship and comradery amongst fellow professionals internationally."
A few weeks ago my partner and I decided we were overdue a break away from our nine-acre plot and the long list of jobs that seems to keep regenerating itself….an observation not to be confused as a complaint for this is our chosen lifestyle and we, like our vegetable gardens, are thriving. Rather, it is an effort to leave, yet, it is good to break away now and again to refresh, revitalise, and to arrive home even more inspired than when we left.
Leaving the care of the gardens and the retired Greyhound in the cable hands of cousins we embarked on our nine-day adventure, flying to the bottom end of the country to pick up a hire car and make our way back to the top end, staying along the way in country resorts, vineyards and boutique hotels, with a fellow chef and ‘foodie’ friends, and as always checking out new and noteworthy restaurants, cafes, local products and produce.
We did indeed encounter some wonderful food and accompanying wine but what struck and endeared us most was the hospitality aspect.
It began on the first day. A well-known chef friend of mine who runs several restaurants in Auckland (North Island) has recently opened another in Arrowtown in the South Island so flits between the two ends of the country keeping everything running smoothly to his trademark high standards. As it happened he was in town (Arrowtown) the day we arrived, so we booked in for a meal. Unfortunately, we had only just made our first reconnaissance of the menu and were narrowing down our choices when my partner went into migraine avoidance mode (result of ‘sitting on the tarmac’ flight delays) and made for an escape out the door. Chef approached instantly with concern and without a pause enquired where we were staying, our room number and what we would like. Half an hour later he appeared having driven the 5km to our hotel with a car boot laden with plated dishes, including extra menu tastings, cutlery, glasses and a fine bottle of Sicilian red wine. Personal delivery! What more hospitable a way to begin our culinary adventure?
Next was a day’s drive through some of New Zealand’s most beautiful countryside, frequently stopping to savour local culinary delights in small country towns including joining the ‘out the door and round the corner’ queue at the must stop bakery for its renown pies, and a cheese shop for a selection of local cheeses including venison gouda as offerings to our next hosts. The venison gouda seemed appropriate as our host for that night was a chef friend and colleague who prior to COVID spent a good portion of his time travelling the globe giving culinary demonstrations promoting New Zealand Cervena (farmed venison). Needless to say dinner included delectably seared venison rump accompanied by an appropriate red wine from his impressive wine cellar (a converted concrete water tank!). Yet the highlight of the meal was the mushroom sauce made from a limited supply of porcini mushrooms foraged from a secret location on his property. Porcini (or Cepes) are normally only available in New Zealand in the dried form imported from Italy and France, so to eat them fresh was an extraordinary treat and extraordinarily generous.
The next day on the journey through wine country we stopped in at a vineyard where biodynamic agriculture is practiced. The vineyard is not normally open to the public but introductions had been made via friends. As serendipity had it we arrived to find the cow horn filling process in full swing. Full explanations and a comprehensive tour of the property ensued. We were humbled by the generosity of folk taking time out of their busy schedule to share their knowledge with people they had never met.
The next day after crossing to the North Island we made our way to Martinborough, another wine region, and old by New Zealand standards. The historic town of Martinborough has become a weekend wine, food and shopping retreat for folk from Wellington (New Zealand’s capital city, an hour’s drive away). We arrived on a Sunday, to stay a couple of nights at the delightfully boutique Martinborough Hotel. The Hotel’s Bistro had been recommended by several chef and food connoisseuring friends. It was Sunday Roast night at the Bistro, with out of towners and locals galore. The place was heaving. We noticed a delightfully quiet and comfy looking library nook complete with leather couch and warming fire. Seeing us eyeing this secluded spot the hotel manager suggested we might like to take our evening meal there. We did, and the next night too. Yet again we were gratified by the grace, ease and friendliness at which our needs and comforts were anticipated and satisfied. We are returning for a longer stay in a few months’ time!
A colleague’s son happens to be a winemaker at one of the foremost vineyards in Martinborough. We were offered a vineyard tour and barrel tasting, something not available to the general public, another example of hospitality, time and knowledge generously shared.
The penultimate stop on our road trip was a night in yet another wine region, the Hawkes Bay, staying in a cottage nestled amongst the vines. The vineyard has a restaurant renowned for its use of local and own grown produce to provide specifically regional and seasonal dishes. Yet again with the restaurant being extremely busy we were offered the option of ‘takeaways’. Déjà vu to our first night as the food was presented as for restaurant service, with the mains plated just as I arrived to caddy it away to the cottage in the boot of the car.
These nine days reminded me of a road trip we had made a few years back down the West Coast of North America. Similarly, aside from the experience of great food, wine and local produce it was the wonderful hospitality we encountered from our industry peers that struck most both at the time and as enduring memories. Some places visited had been booked ahead and knew I was a visiting chef, others found out while talking to me. Throughout our tour extra dishes and tastings would appear, offers of guided tours of kitchens and chef’s gardens extended and forward bookings and recommendations further down the road organised or proffered. Thereafter I always hoped that chefs visiting New Zealand would be offered the same level of hospitality. I have been reassured.
The Hospitality industry is a world-wide family, it is not just about paying clientele but rather the mutual respect, sharing and exchange of skills and knowledge, friendship and comradery amongst fellow professionals internationally.
Craggy Range Winery, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.