Hawke’s Bay’s northernmost town and service centre is tucked within the crook of the ‘long, bubbling, swirling, uneven waters’ of…
Chef, Little Black Bird Cafe, Hastings
Little Black Bird Cafe is unique. Almost everything is created on site, including the bread. Simple dishes made from fresh, seasonal and local produce (where possible organic), are standard. Gluten free and dairy free also feature on the menu. Which probably should not be a surprise given the couple behind it.
Ben and Sarah Cruse are advocates of animal welfare. Ben is the chef; Sarah runs the ship.
Some 20 years ago Ben started as a pot washer in a big Yorkshire hotel and even then realised that “kitchens were interesting places to hang out”. He did a course in hospitality and management and although he did well, “I’m a cook, not an academic,” he comments, he got a job in a local restaurant and “went from there”.
He had baked from an early age, nine or 10 years old. “I entered a local village fair. Mum was a good cook and my grandmother’s baking ‘mmmmmmm’. So I had an introduction to the sweet side of pastries which developed into a true culinary passion.”
His CV reads a bit like a Who’s Who of the English restaurant business. A move from Ilkley in the Yorkshire Moors to work with the Roux Brothers in London was his making. “The pastry chef went on holidays; I took over in the evenings and that was that. It’s a very precise and focused area, and teaches discipline … you have to follow recipes.” Four years later he went to Somerset House where he did the entrees. “I was the only English-speaking chef of the 13 who were there.”
But having worked hard since the age of 18 doing incredibly long hours, travel was a lure. So he went to Australia – Perth, Freemantle to be exact – where he worked in a pizzeria and developed a love of dough. “I was working for a fourth generation pizza chef whose delicate touch was so subtle it was like watching a ballet. We had two woodside ovens and produced 220 pizzas a night. And pizza dough can be wayward.”
But family called in the way of his mother’s 50th, so he went back to England with the intention of staying. “Then I got another call and seemed to keep returning to the other side of the world, doing summers in the wineries here apart from other things.”
Meantime Sarah – also English – had come to Hawke’s Bay with her sister. Ben by this time was head chef at Diva in Havelock North. “She came in one day and I plucked up the courage to invite her out. She said ok.” The rest as they say is history. They now have four children under seven. But in between they went back to England, where he worked in the Lake Districts concentrating on his bakery skills – breads, cakes, slices – before going to Alaska and Canada and ultimately returning to New Zealand.
“I went to Boldersons – now the Village Green – and worked part-time for Epicurean, the veggie growers, learning where and how food actually grows. It was intensive; I found out how amazing food tasted when grown locally. And the cook in me decided to get back into the kitchen.”
Old Church was next “as a pastry chef and back into the world of weddings and more weddings. During that time we had two daughters and we had to work out whether we should stay or go back to our family in the UK.”
England won and proved to be the answer to one of Ben’s dreams … “to work for a restaurant with a Michelin star.” He went to the Yorke Arms in the Yorkshire Dales with renowned chef Frances Atkins. She and her husband Bill bought in 1996 and in 2003 gained their first star, which they’ve held ever since. “Frances and her head chef Roger are an amazing pair who every day with every service produce the best. The zest, commitment and passion were out of this world and taught me such a lot. I’ve worked with many but Frances was outstanding; only one of six women in the UK to hold a star. It changed everything, reinvigorated me; I wanted to be better and understand the way they treated food.”
With a third child on the way, “the ‘what now’ question came up again,” he admits. “We were both working there. Sarah was on the desk; she’s really good at everything she does and they thought the world of her, but living in the UK is expensive and hard. And really the only way to give the kids a good life was to come back here. I went to Craggy Range as pastry chef – Leyton was great to work with and showed me a passion for produce playfulness. I found my own niche with the cakes and sweets.”
The Little Black Bird was the next step. Sarah came on board 18 months ago. “She’d been at home looking after the little people,” Ben explains. “We now have four under seven. But we make it work, with two at school, one at kindy and one at day care. I do the early morning shift and finish around 3 to pick them up and cook dinner. It’s busy,” he rather dryly remarks. “But now I feel we are drawing on all the experience we had. And we have an amazing staff. I feel so lucky to work with people who share my vision and give great service.”
Naturally they have a list of producers with whom they work closely. “We try to use local produce where ever possible so we love Bostock Organic Chicken and Firstlight Wagyu Beef. We also use Epicurean, Holly Bacon and Humminghill Farm Organic Free Range Eggs. We get our organic fruit from Chantals and Norton Road Organics. Everything is fresh daily. Our ethos is fresh, seasonal and homemade. I don’t buy in rubbish; all the pastries and wraps are made in the kitchen.”
“We also supply Red Bridge and Hawthorn Coffee daily and we look after Black Barn Retreats where I am a private chef. I enjoy it; it’s nice to go back to fine dining and keep my hand in the elegant and sophisticated side. But I also love poaching eggs.”
Therein speaks a chef who savours simply good food. So who better to prepare a Family BBQ?
– Lemon and herb chicken
– Handmade Broccoli Falafel
– Farro, roast courgette, cherry tomato and bocconcini salad
– Jersey benne potato, asparagus, feta and mint salad
– Pickled Garden Vegetables
– BBQ’d Flatbreads
– Steamed Bao Buns
Head Chef, Te Awa Winery, Hastings
Leyton Ashley likes a long lunch. It’s a Te Awa specialty. His skills need little introduction. He’s built up a reputation as one of the finest chefs in the Bay’s very competitive field.
From the age of 14 it was his dream. “It’s the classic chef’s story,” he laughs. “I left school early (couldn’t wait) and a friend was doing a chef’s course at Polytech in Porirua, so I tagged along – under the illusion that it was a good idea cos I’d make loads of cash and learn about fine wines. These days – thanks to shows like Master Chef, that tell it like it is – the reality, as we know, is anything but.”
A few serendipitous moments have helped his climb. “My first job placement was with Paris in Wellington, which at the time was The Place. It was my induction into French classic cookery. That was the moment I fell in love with the kitchen. I put a lot down to that first job post; it set a benchmark. I was there close to two years – started as a kitchen hand, got the job in the cold larder and worked my butt off. But they gave me my position … wearing the jacket.”
That was 22 years ago. A job with brewery Copperhead came next, as a chef de partie – “and I missed Paris as soon as I left. It was the classic NZ menu of the time. Made no sense – fish and chips, pasta, stir-fry, Thai, French, English. It doesn’t exactly provide a trust in the menu. But the good part was I met my partner Fleur and wooed her by sneaking her chocolate dipped strawberries.” Fleur came from Tauranga so ultimately they went to Mt Maunganui and “I took a supposedly cruisey job at Gusto Cafe run by a stern German chef with a lot of Spanish influence. But it was busy.”
Boredom drove him to the mines in Western Australia where he temped for an agency. “I’d be flown to Pillsbury from Perth – the middle of nowhere – and would cater for 100 people breakfast, lunch and dinner for six or seven days a week. What an eye-opener!” A job with Vultures in Northbridge, Perth followed. “It was American style, grilled steak, seafood platters. And it was a very social scene – packed, sometimes 200 plates a night. I became the junior sous chef and it was a huge step. My reliability put me ahead.”
But after four years they moved to Bora Bora, Tahiti to the 5-star Aman resort. “Now THAT was a shock. If something broke it could take three months to fix it. But nothing could beat the fishermen dragging a yellow fin up the beach ready to be cooked that night,” marvels Leyton. It was where his appreciation of fresh local produce had its birth. “A new level. Handing a fish through the window of the kitchen on the beach with the boat at the door. No wonder the classic poisson cru is so good. It’s just meant to be.” He took on a one year contract. “But Fleur became pregnant after six or eight months so we went home. To Hawke’s Bay.”
He had family here, his mother and grandmother, “and it gave us a connection. I grew up in Wellington but always came here for holidays to the farm. It was new for Fleur but we found a little house in Havelock and I worked at Craggy Range, where Stephen Tindall, who was head chef (and now executive chef of Te Awa) took me on as joint sous-chef.” Ultimately when Stephen left for Australian shores, Leyton became head chef; where he shone.
Suppliers took an interest in his style and “I came back to my roots of the French Classic style. I harnessed the terroir. I loved it. It really gave me a sense of what I was doing. Why being a chef was a career, not a job. And I found the passion for gardening and growing produce.”
The inevitable happened when Stephen returned from Australia to Te Awa and gave him a call. “Once the seed was planted I knew we would be a good team. Ultimately Stephen took on the role as executive chef and I’m more focused on the kitchen.” The lunches at Te Awa, created for sharing, are a taste sensation of local produce and famous for their originality and ingenuity. Set in the heart of the Gimblett Gravels wine region, it is a must on the Bay’s list of dining destinations.
“We of course do a lot of weddings and catering” Leyton adds, “but the ethos is similar to what I have always wanted. I feel I know what will please the palate – and like to keep the food casual as well as the atmosphere. But we are very adventurous with our recipes. Why shouldn’t we make special dishes? Just because its casual doesn’t mean it has to be quick and easy. We love to challenge ourselves with food that is exciting and relevant.
“There is so much great cuisine in the Bay and a load of talented chefs; so I rely a lot on my favourite suppliers like True Earth Organics (they are neighbours) where we get carrots, red onions, fantastic blueberries and they let us forage for chickweed, carrot tops and what we want. Such produce can inspire a whole dish, such as Hangi Carrot.
“We go to Yellow Brick Road for sustainable, super fresh, line caught fish and shellfish; Bostock organic chicken is on our menu as a staple; Sentry Hill organic sheep’s milk cheese from Waipukurau; Hillcroft Mushrooms from Bruce the organic mushroom grower in Bay View. We use the local (Ovation) lamb shoulder from Gourmeats in the village and also our Wakanui blue beef & marrow comes from here. We have quite a strong focus on vegetables and salad dishes; what we call our garden plates. We like to harness everything available and to show off what we have locally. It might look simple but it’s pretty complex.”
Just like the summer picnic he has prepared.
– Live oysters, puha & shallot vinegar
– Rewena, potato, rosemary, harakeke & honey bread
– Charcoal Wakanui beef, pickled walnuts
– Sentry Hill sheep quark, watermelon, rocket & black olive salad
– Cracked freekeh, smoked sweetcorn, basil
+Wine of course!
Cook, Catering, Havelock North
“Catering with the personal touch. Specialising in smaller events. Intimate weddings, engagements, the day after, canapés, corporate entertaining and dinner parties. Beautiful season produce cooked with a sprinkle of love.”
This is Kate Lester’s Facebook introduction to her business. Its simplicity summarises her philosophy around food; it omits the vision and attention to detail that is the secret of her success.
Kate was born and bred in the Bay in Maraekakaho. The daughter of sheep and beef farmers (with some angora goats and deer as well) she loved the life. The feeding and nurturing part of it was imbued in her from an early age. “We had an amazing veggie garden and lots of lamb chops from the paddock,” she laughs. “My mother and grandmother were an example. There was always food on the table – never bought, all home-made with quality ingredients shining through.” A natural cook who has taken to catering like a duck to water.
It wasn’t the intention. “I studied at Uni for a degree in Consumer Applied Science with Clothing and Textiles as my major, intending to have a fashion business.” She began a shirt shop in Wellington, bravely. “But the rag trade had huge competition from China and had just been infiltrated by the internet.” The business fell over. She moved back to Hawke’s Bay, working as a waitress at Sileni and became enamoured with hospitality. “I then became the barista at Bay Espresso where I ended up meeting most of Hawke’s Bay.”
Obviously artistic, it was her embroidery guild that tapped into her culinary skills. “They were having a retreat in Havelock North and needed someone to cook dinner.” Kate, whose elfin looks belie a somewhat deceptive steely spirit, put her hand up. And found it wasn’t so hard. A wedding followed. And by then her boss Chris Jarvis “virtually pushed me out. He said ‘just do it’ and gave me part-time work as security.” After a month she didn’t need the part-time role. “I suppose it was quite ballsy, but I didn’t think about it at the time.”
Some four years later she is busy. “I don’t advertise, most of it is word of mouth and my Facebook page. And every event I do is marketing. I did launch with a cocktail party of 30 selected guests who I knew would spread the word.” They did. So much so that her books are constantly full. “I like to keep the events small. I don’t have full-time staff and Mum and Dad help a lot. My maximum is a buffet for 100, but I prefer small and special – that includes a lot for Black Barn Retreats.
Many canapés come out of my mobile kitchen (something she regards as one of her best investments), salads figure largely, and I have a fondness for pork belly. Mainly fiddly things. But ones that have a lot of flavour because everything I make is fresh, free range, seasonal and comes from the earth. I’m not complicated. I let the flavours speak for themselves. And lemon juice, salt and extra virgin oil are my standbys.”
She’s also enterprising. Her list of suppliers is something she nurtures. John and Greta at Raupare Gardens, Hohepa cheeses, Origin Earth, Epicurean, Orcona, Telegraph Hill, ‘Danny’s Pasta’ made at The Old Church and of course The Village Butcher.
Paul Greaney, who owns it, is her partner in another facet of her ever expanding CV – On Your Plate. “I’ve been buying my meat from him since I started and we were discussing the food business generally. There’s often a lull in winter so after I had experienced Nadia Lim’s My Food Bag, we thought ‘why not?’”
They’ve been going a year now. With weekly menus (she does the recipes every Thursday – five a week) and regular customers, it’s thriving. “We have four people doing deliveries of up to 150 boxes a week and three most gorgeous Down Syndrome girls – Paul’s sister, her cousin and a friend – who help. They love it.” Another of Paul’s sisters helps with recycling and back up.
On Your Plate operates on the principle of “you choose how many nights worth of meals you would like and for how many. Either two or four people,” explains Kate “and from three, four of five nights.”
Kate’s catering business is pretty much a Friday/Saturday/Sunday routine. On Your Plate is the Monday weekly job in which Paul plays a prominent role.
Her other partner is Barnaby Howard; they are a couple. But they also dovetail their businesses, as he runs Empire Events – a company that hires out equipment for occasions such as weddings, parties, conferences, celebrations. Also Hawke’s Bay born and bred Barnaby initially wet his feet in the tourism trade with Contiki Tours. He and Kate were childhood sweethearts and though he enjoyed his chosen field, neither of them enjoyed the time spent apart. Which was a lot. “It’s very transient and it is tiring,” says Barnaby.
So he searched around the Bay for ‘a gap in the market’ and with Kate’s help found one. Eventing was it. “There was competition – but mostly in the easy to get white plastic chair side,” he comments. “We wanted equipment which would work on beaches, forests and vineyards.”
His point of difference is the beautiful native timber tables and benches in which he specialises. “I’ve always lived in old villas, so I have a love of natural woods. Dad made tables in the past – ours are all recycled wood and they are gorgeous. I sourced some of the wood from 110 year old cottages. I love the fact they are not perfect; after all some of the trees grow to be hundreds of years old. They are pure.” His stock can host up to 150 people and includes all the necessaries such as china, cutlery and glassware. “But I am not a stylist. I let the party givers do their own thing there. I’m the one who does the picking up and putting down.”
He and Kate now operate together and apart … a perfect synergy. And he has built up relationships with other suppliers who help with such things as music, lighting, flowers and decor. With Kate’s menus ranging from the exotic to the traditional, and Barnaby’s ability to create an instant place to put the spread, they make a pretty formidable ‘go-to’ pair for anyone with the urge to throw a party.
Even a casual twilight dinner on the sand dunes of Ocean Beach is a breeze.
– Chicken and maple glazed bacon – Summer salad
– Watermelon and feta salad
– Charred corn, avocado and chorizo salad
– Chocolate and raspberry brownie with strawberries and cream
A Summer Spread Recipes
Little Black Bird Recipes
Lemon & Herb Chicken
1 x Bostock Organic Chicken
Spatchcock the chicken by using some scissors, cut down the backbone and pull open.
2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
Pinch of Salt
2 big pinches of Smoked Paprika
Rub the season into the chicken
With the skin side down place on a hot BBQ for 5-6 minutes or until golden brown.
Flip it over and cook for a further 5 – 6 minutes.
Put chicken into an oven tray and put on the top shelf of the BBQ at 190 – 200 degrees or into a hot oven. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until fully cooked.
In the last 5 minutes of cooking add chopped Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary and Lemon Thyme (2 Tablespoons of each) onto the chicken and base with its own juices.
Serve with BBQ’d Lemon Wedges.
4 Cups of Chopped Broccoli (can use the stems, too)
½ cup of all-purpose flour
2 cloves of garlic
½ onion, roughly chopped
Pinch of red chili flakes
½ teaspoon ground Coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ cup of fresh coriander
2 teaspoons of salt
Vegetable oil, for frying
Combine the broccoli, flour, garlic, onion, chili flakes, coriander, cumin, ground coriander, and salt in a food processer. Process until smooth and then refrigerate for about an hour. This will help the mixture bind together and not be crumbly.
Cook on a medium to high heat on the hotplate of the BBQ or in a frying pan with a splash of oil. Form the mixture into patties and cook for around 3 – 4 minutes, turning occasionally. They should be quite dark on the outside. Then remove and place on paper towels.
These can be served hot or cold and are great in sandwiches and wraps.
To make the pickling juice:
250 mls White wine vinegar
250 mls Apple cider vinegar
500g Caster sugar
Large pinch of salt
Heat the sugar and vinegars together until the sugar is fully dissolved.
Split the juice into four separate containers.
2 Medium Carrots
1 Fennel Bulb
3 x Medium Courgette
Once the pickling juice is at room temperature you can then add each vegetable into each container. Make sure the pickling juice covers the vegetables.
Add a pinch of carroway seeds with the pickled carrots
Add a pinch of fennel seeds with the pickled fennel
Add 4 – 5 threads of saffron to the pickled courgettes
Keep refrigerated; this is best done the day before you need to serve it.
Kate Lester Catering – On Your Plate
Beef Rump Steak with Watermelon and Feta Salad
One of my favourite dishes, so much so, I had to bring it back before watermelon is gone again. I hope we have one more really hot night, as it’s so refreshing straight out of the fridge. The sweet, salty and fragrant combination with the feta and herbs is incredible. I had forgotten how good a simple baked potato is. All fluffy on the inside with melted butter, salt and pepper.
Prep Time: 10-20min Cook Time 30 min
For 2 For 4
400g 800g Rump Steak
500g 1kg Watermelon
¼ ½ Red onion, finely sliced
80g 160g Feta
50g 100g Rocket
5g 10g Basil
5g 10g Coriander
5g 10g Mint
½ 1 Lemon
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 8 Gourmet Potatoes
1. Turn the oven on to 190°c.
2. The potatoes… Give them a good scrub and lightly coat in olive oil and salt. With a skewer or knife stab a few holes in them. Pop them in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes until tender. You could speed this up by first cooking in the microwave then baking at 210°c for 15 min.
3. The steak… Take the steaks out of the fridge and lightly coat with extra virgin olive oil and generous sprinkle of salt (this helps create a delicious crust). Leave out of the fridge until you are ready to cook.
4. The salad… In a little bowl squeeze some lemon juice over the finely sliced red onion. Remove the skin for the watermelon and chop up into bit sized chunks. On a platter layer the rocket, watermelon, torn herbs, crumbled feta and onion. Pop into the fridge until you are ready eat. Just before serving drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze lemon juice and some freshly cracked pepper.
5. The steak… Heat up the BBQ (or heavy based frying pan) to a high heat and cook the steak for 3-4 minutes each side. This should give you beautifully medium rare steak. This can vary depending on how long they have been at room temperature and the thickness of the steaks. For medium rare they should just start to feel firm when pushed with your finger. Let them rest for while you serve the salad and potatoes.
6. Serve, eat, enjoy!
Chicken and Maple Glazed Bacon Summer Salad
This a great all in one meal, so much more than just a salad. The addition of smoked paprika to the marinade and dressing brings a lovely smokiness to the whole thing. The maple syrup on the bacon is a little over the top, but it tastes incredible. Like the best part of a glazed ham. The time here is in the preparation so the faster you are with a knife and peeler the quicker it will be to put together.
Prep Time 25-35 min Cook Time 15 min
For 2 For 4
2 4 Chicken Breasts
1T 2T Italian Parsley – chopped
1T 2T Basil – chopped
1 2 Garlic Cloves – crushed
1 2 Lemon – zested
1t 2t Smoked Paprika
1T 2T Olive Oil
1 2 Gem Lettuce/Cos or Iceburg
10g 20g Basil – leaves
1 2 Courgette – in ribbons using peeler
½ 1 Avocado – sliced
¼ ½ Red Onion – finely sliced
2 4 Tomatoes – quartered
2 4 New Potatoes
2 4 Bacon Rashers
1T 2T Maple Syrup
Juice of the Lemon
1 2 Garlic Cloves – crushed
½ t 1t Smoked Paprika
Salt and Pepper
2T 4T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1t 2t Dijon Mustard
1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°c
2. The chicken… Lay a piece of baking paper onto a sturdy bench then a chicken breast and cover with another piece of baking paper. Grab a heavy based pot/frying pan or rolling pin and give it a really good bash to flatten out to 1cm thick. This helps the breast cook evenly and quickly. Mix up all the marinade ingredients and smother over the chicken. Let it sit for 15-30 minutes.
3. The potatoes…. Put the potatoes in a pot of cold water and bring them to the boil. From the time they start to boil, they should take 8 – 10 minutes, until they are tender, but not falling apart. Drain and keep warm. Then slice in half or quarters depending on their size.
4. The bacon… on a lined baking tray spread out the bacon and smother in the maple syrup. Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the bacon is crispy and the maple syrup is gorgeously caramelised.
5. The dressing… Mix together all of the dressing ingredients. Give it a taste to check for seasoning.
6. The salad… Finely slice the onion and spoon a little of the dressing over the top and set aside. Thinly slice the courgettes into ribbons using a peeler and do the same, tossing in a spoonful of the dressing. The lemon in the dressing will slightly cook both vegetables and give them a lovely flavour.
7. Time to cook the chicken… Heat up the BBQ or heavy based frying pan to medium high. Take the chicken breasts out of the marinade and fry for 3-4 minutes each side, or until just cooked and still juicy, then set aside on a plate and cover to keep warm. When are you ready to bring the salad together, slice the chicken into 1-2cm strips and toss back through the resting juices. This will be full of flavour.
8. To assemble… On a large platter arrange the lettuce leaves first, then layer up the vegetables, chicken, the bacon (cut into bite sized pieces), finishing with the red onion and torn basil. Drizzle the dressing generously over the top.
9. Serve, eat, enjoy!
• Heavy based frying pan or bbq
Recipes from Leyton Ashley – Te Awa Winery
Puha & shallot vinegar
(for around 2 dozen oysters) ( make recipe last minute for best result)
(Live Oysters are a choice options to add to your chilly bin on a picnic, just shuck them when your ready!. Take the vinegar and herbs and mix together once ready to eat at your picnic spot.)
1 x small bunch young Puha leaves
2 x medium shallots (finely diced)
1 x chives small bunch
Fine black pepper (to taste)
180ml good white wine vinegar (I use Forum Chardonnay vinegar available from Vetro.)
Wash Puha & chives -dry them, chop up finely. Add to vinegar & shallots. Add pepper, stir together.
Spoon over oysters just before eating.
Cracked Freekeh, smoked sweetcorn, basil
1 cup of smoked sweetcorn kernels (take 2 x sweetcorn, peel & cook sweetcorn on the cob over charcoal or wood fire BBQ. Until pops & blackens lightly!)
1 cup of boiled cracked freekeh
¼ cup of roughly chopped sweet basil
½ tsp Espelette powder
1 x lemon zest
A few baby opal & lemon basil for garnish
30ml chardonnay vinegar
40ml extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt & black pepper
(mix all together, add salt & pepper)
Popcorn (cook the popcorn and season with Espelette pepper & sea salt.)
To serve- Mix all Freekeh ingredients together add dressing generously. Add sea salt to taste.
Place in a serving bowl & garnish with the peppered popcorn & opal basil.