First, by supporting our local growers and producers we develop a personal relationship with our community and in turn they support us. With smaller growers there’s diversity in what I’m bringing into my kitchen because it’s coming from a range of producers, rather than everything coming from one big supplier. And because they are small they will grow products especially for me and for the dishes I want to serve.
The second reason I buy local is that it’s bound to be fresher than product coming from further afield, and that’s the case for fish, produce, meat and fruit.
Finally, buying local keeps food miles down and saves us money because it cuts out hidden costs – both financial and environmental – associated with freight and packaging. We choose local really consciously and we follow it up by visiting the farms, orchards and gardens that supply us.
Hawke’s Bay is such a good place forthis ‘buy local’ buzz. We have our own unique terroir that allows our vintners to produce great wine, and our growers and farmers to produce great meats, vegetables and fruits.
To give a full picture of where some of our real gems are, here’s a list of some of my favourite local producers. Being in the restaurant trade means I am lucky enough to get special cuts or products from them when I need to, but most of these also supply the home cook.
Tangaroa Seafoods has had some tough times recently, but Sue and Chris still supply the freshest fish available in Hawke’s Bay and they go out of their way to make sure we get what we need.
Ti Kouka Meats specialises in lamb and beef. For them traceability is really important; they are the real deal when it comes to ‘gate to plate’ eating, as they raise the animals themselves and also butcher them. Based at Waimarama they’re really accessible and I’ve always been able to discuss what’s in season or particular cuts I need.
Kahikatea Farms raises mostly seedlings, but they supply me with wild leaves and herbs, micro greens, peashoots, wheatgrass and edible flowers. It’s beautiful product grown by a family who are absolutely committed to living in a sustainable way. Their products give my dishes accents of flavour, terroir, colour, and they bring a super freshness that really showcases the Bay. I used their penny royal in a pea consomme recently and it had such an effect on the food that we were scrambling in the kitchen to provide cuttings for each guest.
New Zealand Game Birds has supplied me with pheasant for a long time now. They’re in Sherendon where they have a stunning spot by the river. When I have pheasant I use every part of it. I confit legs, poach or roast the breast, make broth and sauce, and liver parfait. As well as growing their beautiful birds, Bridgette and Jeff arrange shoots throughout the season, which I cater, and a yearly game dinner where any number of wild animals are provided and lovingly turned into a degustation.
Te Koha is the place for apples. At one stage they had over 30 varieties. With the recession, organics has struggled as cooks are working with tighter budgets and people don’t want to spend money on food, but Te Koha is still a favourite to work with. Hawke’s Bay is the apple capital of the world, and Te Koha supply the best of the best.
Lawsons True Earth is another family owned and operated outfit. They’ve supplied me with blueberries, carrots, potatoes and onions over the years. They are a good solid grower of those staples. It’s another relationship built on reciprocity. They supply me and I cook for them.
Epicurean grows a whole heap of vegetables. It is hard to do such a wide range, but they manage to do it all really well. We support them as a grower because they will do things especially for us, they go the extra mile and that counts for a lot.
Hohepa makes organic cheese in Clive. I was a Woofer (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) there and I worked in their cheese room, so I have a personal relationship with the place and with their cheese maker. It’s a nice product and not expensive for what it is. A good example of how we make a local product work in the place of something more traditional is how we use Hohepa’s vintage tasty cheese instead of parmesan in dishes like risotto. I suppose in doing that we are giving the dish a Hawke’s Bay twist!
Holly Bacon is a family company that have been making great bacon and other pork products for over 100 years. Their happy pigs may not come from the Bay but that special ‘holly flavour’ sure does.
Te Mata Figs produce an amazing variety. They do make their own products, but I am much more interested in getting their fresh fruit and seeing what I can do with it. I particularly like using figs in savoury and meat dishes.
Aunty’s Garden is an awesome space on Karamu Road where locals can harvest whatever is growing in season for minimal money. I turn up, see what’s there, harvest it, respect it, do something delicious with it, and I give them a koha in exchange. I especially like using what would otherwise go to waste.
All in all we are well catered for when it comes to buying good produce locally, but there are a few gaps. We used to have a place to buy really nice smoked eel, another place that grew paua, and I’d like to be able to harvest seaweed locally.
But there’s plenty of new ventures on the go. Every week people drop me clues about their own favourite local suppliers of great ingredients. Not long ago a woman came into my kitchen with a truffle. She told me she had the right trees, the right spores and the right dog to hunt them out, she gave it to me and said, “There’s more to come”. I sure hope so.