When food gets hyper-local: Local cooking competition licks MasterChef

Some people just have brilliant ideas and you really want to support them. And that’s how I found myself sitting inside on the first fine day after a week of deluge, wind and bitter cold. And what an incredibly warm and cheery place to be. The event was the  judging of the Local Table competition where Paekakariki locals were to create a dish out of ingredients only sourced locally, and I mean hyper-locally.

Sam plates at local table competition

Sam plates his Warm Smoked Mussels with Paneer & Potato Salad

As far as setting a challenge goes, this was huge. The small town of around 1600 residents, locked between high hills and the sea could only forage from the township, the hills, the beach and adjoining QEII park. The exceptions – milk could be sourced from Kapiti or Horowhenua but had to be processed and not just added into the recipe, and oil had to come from within Kapiti. All other spices, salt, flours, vinegar, and sweeteners had to come from the township. And what a way to build community through talking to neighbours about what they had growing in the backyard. Trading and bartering were heavily encouraged.

Stories of secreted away stashes of deliciousness, mapping out flavourful bushes around the town, death-defying acts of shellfish harvesting, and months of arduous preparation culminated in this one day of culinary creativity.

The food was amazing; the inventiveness of entrants unbelievable. These weren’t experienced chefs, just passionate, creative people who like good food. Smoked sheep, roasted pheasant with wild mushrooms, mussels marinated in honey mead served with rosemary infused paneer and potatoes, a selugia bean and squash dish with roasted yams and aioli …

The winner of the kids section was a honey yoghurt with almonds, lemongrass & passionfruit by a very passionate 11-year-old entrant who earnestly conveyed to the judges how she had prepared the whole delicious dish.

Killer Karaka Kernels captivate

karaka kernal pesto salad

Karaka Kernel Pesto Potato Salad

The most impressive dish in my possibly slightly-biased eyes was a Karaka Kernel Pesto Potato Salad by my Seedy partner-in-crime, Hannah Zwartz. She described the dish as conceptual. Karaka kernels are poisonous, like Maori used to bury the person up to their neck and gag them to keep them from convulsing so much and mangling their limbs kinda poisonous. But somehow, Maori learnt to work with the karaka kernel and it became a nutritious and important food that stored well and could be ground to make bread.

Well, someone had taught Hannah how to  process the kernels and she worked on the labour-intensive process for weeks  and the dish was incredible. And if anyone else had turned up with the dish I wouldn’t have eaten it. But I know Hannah well enough and respect her knowledge on such things  to try it. Wow. The kernels are a bit bitter but makes the flavour interesting. Combined with the native watercress, native celery, samphire seaweed, beach celery, pink fir apple and peruperu spuds the dish was amazing.

So what was I doing there?

I prepare land cress seeds for bagging

I prepare land cress seeds for bagging

Hannah and I set up a seed swap table, talked about the work we are doing establishing a Kapiti seedbank and generally just had a grand time talking to people, processing and bagging some seeds. It’s always nice to do that sort of thing with company. We had a nice little production line going there at one point.

It was really lovely being involved in a community event in a community I’m not really a part of. But I’m lucky enough to know such great people doing these wonderful things that I really enjoyed the day.

So thanks Paekakariki for welcoming me and the seeds. Flo McNeill and Mike Gibson are freakin rock stars for putting together such an incredible event.

Read more about the Local Table competition at their website, or Facebook page. And listen out on Country Life on Radio NZ in the coming month and you may just get to hear me talk up local seeds.

Photos by Hannah Zwartz.