One of the things I enjoy most about eating out is the chance to sample really creative food made by other cooks and chefs. I love it when someone puts together an idea that works that I had never imagined or tasted before. The quest for innovation in cooking drives most chefs, and that’s what makes foodie events like the upcoming Taste of New Zealand festival so interesting. Here, in a single venue at Auckland's Victoria Park, you get the chance to taste dishes from some of the top restaurants in Auckland and from further afield - without having to fork out a main-course price tag.
I remember the first such event I attended in Seattle more than 20 years ago for the opening night of the International Culinary Professionals conference. It was set in the aquarium, with about 30 different restaurants and a dozen or more wineries each offering a taste of one or two of their signature dishes. I still have the little recipe book that came from that night. Afterwards, I found myself coming home to try exciting new dishes like pea guacamole and fresh oyster bloody marys. Inspirational exchanges like this promote a better way of cooking to all of us, for our eyes are opened to new flavours and combinations.
That's why I'm really excited to be the 'face' of this year's Taste of New Zealand festival, and join with thousands of foodies and our most talented chefs and produce suppliers in this celebration of our country’s best food and beverages. It's my first experience of being on the inside of such an event and while I'm still getting used to the idea of seeing my face on the back of buses around town, so far it's shaping up to be a blast. For me, the highlight will be launching my new book, Free Range in the City (New Zealanders can click here to download some free sample recipes), at the VIP opening night of Taste of New Zealand on Wednesday 19 October. I'm also really looking forward to being a guest at the Ladies Who Lunch event on Thursday 20 October, and I'll be doing a live cooking demonstration in the Fisher & Paykel Chefs Kitchen at 12.30pm on Friday 21 October.
I'll be at the Waiwera Chefs Table from 3pm-3.45pm that Friday afternoon, and from 2pm-2.45pm on Saturday 22 October, and around these times I'll be at the Fisher & Paykel Ironside stand doing book signings. Food is a brilliant conduit for drawing people together to enjoy each other's company. I'm guessing Taste of New Zealand is going to be like one great big foodie party. There's even a fun Urban Grilla competition where you can send in a photo of yourself dining streetside and win a $3500 Taste package. And if you can't wait until October to experience the real Taste of New Zealand at Victoria Park, you can get a sneak preview right now at Taste at the Cloud. Open from 10am until 6pm every day between now and 23 October, this mini-festival offers a snapshot of New Zealand's best food and wine in the rather cool Cloud down on Queens Wharf on the Auckland waterfront. It's great to show the world there's more to New Zealand than rugby!