This is the time of year when I would normally throw away all clothing items except sarongs and bikinis, and head off to the tropics. But this year I had to go and open a bar. Instead of packing my dive gear, I’m spending my days tasting through wines and beers, and looking at quesadilla analytics in my till system. Tough life, I know, but still I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for my dive life in Mexico! So here’s a piece I wrote about lionfish safaris, spear-fishing with my huntress friends to rid the reefs of this invasive species.
“I’d never seen them before,” Chef Analiese Gregory said of the flax seeds that garnished her dish of crayfish, butterfish, kombu and wild plums. “You see flax plants everywhere, but it never occurred to me to open them up and take something out.” In a world that too often puts convenience over authenticity, it was beautiful to have a reminder that food is all around us.
I’ve always had a tenuous grasp on reality, I trust my imagination more than my senses. Before I started my sommelier training I used to think that they were mutually exclusive. In the past I’d go to wine tastings and wait for the host to tell me what I was experiencing. I was too afraid of getting it wrong to contribute to the conversation. Forest floor? Oyster shells? Wet rock minerality? I’ve been to enough forests, oceans, and rivers to let my imagination fill the gaps for my senses. I’m familiar with the taste of raspberries, mushrooms and plums; and the smell of violets, leather and tobacco smoke. I just never trusted those sensory notes in the wine unless someone told me they were there.
The best city for tourists is the one that puts locals first. Any good holiday should be part escape and part experience, but too many places in the tourism-dependent Yucatan peninsula focus so much on the former that there’s no chance of the latter. Mérida’s charm is that it caters to the locals, and as a tourist you feel welcomed into the city.
Restaurare (Tulum’s vegan restaurant serving traditional Mexican dishes) was a food highlight for me during my time in Mexico, but owner Robbie Terrazas stopped me as I talked about the local restaurant scene. ‘You know, maybe it’s just a language thing between Spanish and English, but here we always talk about the food, not the restaurants.” And that is one of the reasons that his restaurant is so great. Wooden tables are tucked away in a jungle of chit palms. Hanging lanterns provide the lighting and the air is filled with the smoke from copal, a tree resin long used by the Maya for its cleansing properties. Restaurare’s setting feels mysterious, other-worldy, but the food is entirely grounded in Tulum — plant-based, organic and local produce. In this interview I talk to Robbie about creating a traditional Mexican menu without meat, and Tulum, the town where people live from love.
Milk Fight was Gaby Montejo’s artistic expression of a political debate. Apart from being the most fun that I’d had in a long time, the event brought attention to the dairy industry’s role in New Zealand. It took place on 25th October 2014 as part of FESTA, and went on to be nominated for a national art award. In this (part two) of the interview I talk to Gaby about the dairy industry, the experience on the day, the critical response, and the sublime.
Gaby Montejo’s ‘Milk Fight’ was part performance art, part Fonterra protest, and part simulated war. It was also one of the best experiences of my life. Armed with a bucket as a weapon and ski goggles as protection I spent an afternoon hurling hundreds of litres of milk at my opponents and getting drenched by them in retaliation. The event took place on 25th October 2014 as part of FESTA, and went on to be nominated for a national art award. In the approach to this year’s FESTA and my upcoming return to New Zealand, it seems like a good time to revisit it. In part one of this two part interview I talk to Gaby about the dairy industry, the set-up – conversations with farmers, Ngai Tahu, and FESTA organisers, and the significance of the event.
“There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends.” – Sylvia Plath
In this case the somebody was my sister, so we were destined to be old friends regardless of whether we puked together or not. But it’s moments like these that strengthen sisterly bonds. So here is a piece I wrote about the time that some friends and I decided to have vodka and candy for dinner, in true teenage girl fashion. It’s a week late for NZ national poetry day, and heavily influenced by ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn.’
I’ve been doing a lot of research on mezcal lately. I’m not enrolled in any course, it’s just self-study. You can laugh, it’s ok, you wouldn’t be the only one.
My sister Lauren picks me up at Los Angeles Union Station and makes fun of me when I stress about where to pay for the airport shuttle. “People here just don’t care,” she says. “This is the frontier. We’re the easternmost city in Asia and the northernmost city in Latin America. This is your soft entry to Mexico.”
Having just come from New Zealand winter, it’s not just the warmth of the temperature that’s shocking but also the overt warmth of the people. Complete strangers will give you advice about which juice to get while you’re in line at Jugo Azteca, or discuss which model has the nicest butt at the Mapplethorpe exhibit at LACMA. In NZ you’re seen as slightly crazy if you talk to strangers, in LA you’re seen as crazy if you don’t.