Fine dining with a focus on fresh, local ingredients has been a winning formula for a Palmerston North couple.
When Scott and Yvette Kennedy, then aged 21 and 18 respectively, opened their first cottage restaurant, Vavasseur, almost 25 years ago, they offered Palmerston North its first glimpse of fine dining. The customers, from one of the country’s key farming communities, ate conservatively, so the Kennedys delivered the plain food they demanded. The couple well remember the day they encountered pesto and sundried tomatoes at Peter Gordon’s original Sugar Club while eating out in Wellington. On returning home, they had to sneak this exotic fare onto diners’ plates without mentioning it on the menu.
Things are different these days. The Manawatu is waking up to the region’s riches and changes in our food supply. There’s a great farmers’ market in nearby Feilding and a plethora of ethnic city eateries.
The Kennedys sold Vavasseur, and for the past 15 years have run Nero Restaurant, a stone’s throw from Broadway and 100m from the city’s central square. Here, on a property with a handsome rambling character house built in 1918, they’ve established a reputation for excellent dining, special occasions in the two private first-floor dining rooms and al fresco eating in the garden.
Their lives are centred on their business and they live upstairs with their two sons. Yvette manages front of house, attending to most of the business details and the wine and cocktail list, and Scott runs the large kitchen, sourcing fresh local produce and seasonal food whenever possible. The farming community are supportive, recognising the consistency that has seen him recently nominated as a NZ Beef and Lamb ambassador for the third time.
At this time of year, more than 30% of customers order spring lamb for their main course. Scott says, “Our rural community love to see local beef and lamb on the menu and appreciate dishes I create with the secondary cuts and offal that I source from locals. I’m also excited about introducing them to new ideas I gleaned while Yvette and I stayed on a rural agriturismo property when we visited Italy recently. I made pasta, dug for truffles and had a go at making balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese.”
NERO SPICED LAMB CUTLETS WITH SPICY TOMATO AND YOGHURT SAUCE
8 lamb cutlets or chops
1 tbsp ground cumin
6cm fresh ginger, grated
3 tbsp olive oil
150g blanched, toasted almonds
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp cloves
½ stick cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom
salt to taste
1 tsp butter
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 red onion, finely sliced
200g can of chopped tomatoes
250ml Greek yoghurt
salt to taste
Lay out the chops, then rub in the cumin, ginger and oil. Marinate for at least an hour or preferably overnight in the refrigerator.
Chop the almonds or crush in a food processor only until they are a little chunky. Set aside.
Heat a heavy saucepan or frying pan, then toast the pepper, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom until they start to darken and release their fragrance. Remove and grind using a pestle and mortar or a spice mill.
To make the sauce, melt the butter in a hot pan and once it’s sizzling, add the garlic, turmeric and onion. Cook over a gentle heat until the onion is soft, then add the tomatoes and ground spices. Let the tomatoes cook until reduced and almost dry, then add the yoghurt. Cook very gently for about 20 minutes until the sauce thickens. It may curdle, but vigorous stirring will sort that out. Season to taste with salt, then put aside. The sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated. Gently reheat before serving.
Preheat a ridged grill pan or barbecue grill. Season the lamb with salt and pepper and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side or until medium rare. Rest the meat before serving with the sauce, almonds, rice and a leafy salad.
Wine match: syrah
NERO TWICE-BAKED CHEESE SOUFFLÉ IN FILO WITH BEETROOT SALAD
1 clove garlic
90g gruyere cheese, grated
90g feta cheese, grated
90g port wine cheese, grated
salt and pepper to season
6 sheets filo pastry
3 tbsp butter
3 cooked beetroot
1 cup salad leaves
To make the cheese soufflé, preheat the oven to 170°C.
Blend the garlic, cheeses, eggs and cream together in a blender or food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Pour into small greased soufflé dishes, muffin tins or 6cm mould tins. Set them in a roasting pan and add enough hot water to come three-quarters of the way up the sides of the dishes or tins. Bake for 15 minutes or until set. Cool and remove from their tins.
To prepare the soufflés for their second baking, preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Work with one sheet of filo at a time, keeping the others under a clean, damp cloth until ready to use.
Melt the butter. Cut the sheet in half lengthwise, then brush well with butter, using a pastry brush. Place one half on top of the other, then fold them in half again lengthwise.
Take one of the soufflés and place on the filo about 2cm from the folded edge. Tuck the 2cm up over the base of the soufflé, then fold the upper half down to almost meet the top of the soufflé. Loosely roll the filo along the length of the pastry to form a “snail”.
Place this on the baking tray so it sits on its base with folded edge uppermost.
Repeat this process until you have 6 or more parcels.
Bake in the oven until golden and puffy. Serve at once with a simple salad of beetroot wedges and leafy greens.
Wine match: chardonnay
Best beef and lamb restaurants
We’re big beef and lamb eaters in this country, but you still have to know how to cook it to get the best out of it. For the past two decades, NZ Beef and Lamb has had judges assess restaurants across NZ to select the tastiest, best-prepared dishes. The coveted NZ Beef and Lamb “Hallmark of Excellence” is awarded to dishes that score highly on tenderness, flavour, presentation and garnishing. Consistency is also vital: diners need to know they will get a great beef or lamb dish every time. In 2015, 174 restaurants received the excellence hallmark and five 2016 ambassador chefs, who displayed exceptional culinary skills in the assessment period, were named:
• Scott Kennedy, Nero, Palmerston North
• Andrew Clarke, Victoria St Bistro, Hamilton
• Shaun Clouston, Logan Brown, Wellington
• Reon Hobson, Pescatore at the George, Christchurch
• Andi Bozhiqi, the Millhouse at Millbrook Resort, Arrowtown
(Full list at nzexcellenceawards.co.nz.)
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