I can’t remember exactly when I became a foodie, just that I would rather be run over by a double decker bus with a memorable meal in my stomach, as opposed to a mere lettuce leaf or two. Growing up in New Zealand we were unknowingly lucky and healthy. None of that GM food nonsense or EU directives insisting that carrots should be a certain length with no bend in them. There was always fresh produce to be had from both land and sea and given that the sea can never be far from you in this island nation, the fish and seafood were a delight. As for the meat, cows and sheep roam all over the great New Zealand outdoors, munching on hillsides of grass of which there is plenty. Put simply, the animal sources of food for our tables were respected and this had a direct influence on the taste.
As a child, my mother had a strong influence on our consumption of food. Without going so far as to ban biscuits or treats, she would often bake them herself. Her afghan biscuits with chocolate icing were an after-school temptation and her date and apple cake remains a family favourite. Mum did, however, have a few house rules. She insisted we ate wholegrain bread, informing us regularly that “the whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead!” and avoided artificial colourings and e-numbers as much as possible. This must have been tricky in the days of jungle juice and other drink mixes, years before ‘added vitamins’, when each glassful contained dubious chemical contents and enough flavourings to make a child snap, crackle and pop for hours at a time.
New Zealand in the seventies was very much a meat and two veg dinner culture, following the influence of England on her colonies. My parents told the tale of returning from many years living in the UK to find that in the Big Smoke called Auckland, there were only a couple of restaurants, neither of which was licensed to sell alcohol. They were BYOs, that is, bring your own bottle of wine, for which the restaurant would then charge corkage. By the mid-eighties, this had changed dramatically. A chain of restaurants called Tony’s became popular for its steak menu and a personal favourite, cordon bleu croquettes - deep fried balls of potato, ham and cheese, served in small steel plates with crunchy salad. Not exactly what you would choose on a cholesterol-busting diet, but worth every pang of culinary guilt.
A quick look on the internet shows that Tony’s is still around in three locations: Lorne Street, Lord Nelson and the original in Wellesley Street, although The Duke of Marlborough and Tony’s Trambarn seem to have disappeared. Thankfully, the menus still show some of the trademark recipes and influence, such as deep-fried camembert served with an apricot sauce, Caesar salad, fish ‘n’ chips and a selection of sirloin or scotch eye fillet steaks with various sauces. I’ve always been intrigued by the sound of the carpet bag steak, described as ‘choice cut steak stuffed with oysters’. As for the Tony’s T Bones, they always looked big enough to beat even the heartiest meat eater.
Next on Kiwi Cuisine: 2. The holiday munchies.