Globally acclaimed chef Ben Shewry returns to his Kiwi roots and creates a magical foraged feast with a bounty of product unearthed in Marlborough Cloudy Bay. By Tanya Buchanan.
One of the world’s best chefs, Ben Shewry of Melbourne’s Attica fame is waiting for us! We are foraging around Marlborough in New Zealand’s North Island and the epicurean bounty we return with is going to be the stock from which a degustation dinner for 30 people is prepared…
Ben grew up in New Zealand in North Taranaki and spent a happy and perfect foodie childhood, fishing and fossicking for food. Now foraging is having a moment and Ben is at the forefront with peers such as culinary superstar Rene Redzepi whose recent Sydney Noma pop-up created an incessant buzz Natural produce selection is their way of life, but for most of us high-speed, screen-attached mortals, the forage is not routine. Now like slow-drip coffee and real stationery the forage is seriously cool. At Cloudy Bay Vineyards it is in the DNA, in line with making beautiful wines from the area’s distinctive terrain – so naturally the invitation for Ben to visit to forage and feast was simpatico.
But who knew that foraging was a competitive sport? Finding dinner ingredients in a scenic food bowl is hardly arduous but this is a tough audience. The trip’s contingent is an interesting mix of international writers and food and wine experts including TATA from China who has many millions of followers on social media. I am not sure he has done much foraging and apart from a couple of seasoned foodies it looks like we are forage virgins.
We are divided into four groups by the Cloudy Bay Vineyard experts and instructed to meet early the next morning to begin our quest. On my eastbound team is Kyoko Shinoda, a writer from Japan, Ch’ng Poh Tiong, a Singaporean wine expert, Matthew Crabbe, an Australian-born, Tokyo-based chef and, luckily, one local — Cloudy Bay’s viticulturalist Jim White.
As the other teams head north, south and west, we set off in our little bus (and yes, traditional foragers would have been on foot) for a nondescript spot Jim has found in Blenheim where we retrieve a haul of river lettuce. Fresh honey is added to our stash after a meeting with the beekeepers of Putake Honey, then a search for clams reveals plenty. It is time-consuming but therapeutic — a rediscovery of discovery — like a trip back to childhood. And it is compulsive — finding clumps of clams is my sole obsession for about an hour.
Then we jump into a chopper for a spectacular flight over Marlborough’s limestoney landscape to meet Dennis Burkhart’s crayfish boat. After crayfish sandwiches and homemade neenish tarts eaten off the back of a ute and washed down with a fortifying drop of Cloudy Bay Chardonnay, we haul in some crays.
Later that day we hand over our goods to Ben and his somewhat bemused sous chefs. Our clams, honey, crayfish, river lettuce and one lone fish are bolstered by berries, river fish, figs, nuts and a venison from the other warns — some of the foragers even nonchalantly style their finds, much to my chagrin!
The following day we tour the vineyards and enjoy more local produce while Ben and the team convert our raw ingredients into a menu of original dishes to be accompanied by a selection of Cloudy Bay’s finest wines.
At last our feast is ready and Ben introduces the menu. “This is an amazing little environment. I’ve cooked all over the world in cities and countrysides and to be honest this is one of the very best places I have found ingredients in my whole life,” Ben says. “These are all new dishes so we are not really sure what is going on but we are trying our best,” he says introducing one of the standout courses with classic understatement It is named ‘A 20m Walk to Uncle Joe’s’ because everything in the dish was sourced within 20 metres of Uncle Joe’s our farm which makes some of the finest, most pure nut oils in the world, and served with an incredible 2003 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. “With this we were trying to make a respectful dish for these producers who are really passionate. Many of them don’t really understand what a high level they are operating at.”
After enjoying the outstanding 10-courses-plus triumph and heavenly wines, we decide that the same could be said for all of the players in this foraging finale.
This story originally appeared in Belle Magazine. If you would like to read more of Belle Magazine head to www.magshop.com.au/belle/h1607blm