New Zealand

Cultivate Christchurch

Photo by Jade Cavalcante

Interview with Fi Stewart

First published on Stone Soup Syndicate

I first met Fiona Stewart when she and her business partner Bailey Perryman approached me with their idea for an inner city farm situated on a lot left vacant by earthquake demolition. Since then, their successes in the central city have led to a second suburban site in Halswell, where I met Fi at the end of her work day. She offered me a carrot, then pretended to use it as a microphone. She took a bite, ‘we might need a new microphone halfway through this interview.’

New Zealand

Open Source Bar

Having successfully avoided management roles in hospitality after more than twenty years in the industry, last month I accidentally opened a bar.  This time it just seemed right. Exchange Christchurch (XCHC) is a community arts space that supports people in the experimental stages of their creative development, what better place to trial out my ideas of what a wine bar might look like if I decide to open one of my own someday.

Photo by Jade Cavalcante.

Mexico

Lionfish Safari

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.

Three mermaids on the hunt. Me, Michelle, and Huesitos.
New Zealand

Forage North Canterbury

“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.

Flax plants at the Boneline vineyard.
New Zealand

On indulging the imagination and the senses

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.

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Mid-summer. Black Estate vineyard in Waipara Valley, New Zealand. Where I fell in love with wine.
Mexico

Mérida you’re so charming!

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. 

Mexico

If you feed your body properly, youll be dancing until youre older…

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.

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Restaurare, vegan heaven at Tulum playa. Photo by Najva Sol.
USA

Los Angeles, the northernmost city in Latin America

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.

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View from the roof at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
New Zealand

Veggie Dumplings (Pot Sticker Dumpling Bar)

In this three part series I travel Christchurch in search of the best vegetarian dumplings, assisted by guest expert (and real vegetarian) Netta Egoz.

It’s nearing the end of our investigation into veggie dumplings and the competition is fierce.  The service at Pot Sticker is questionable – they’ve got my order wrong most times I’ve been here, including serving us pork dumplings while doing vegetarian dumpling research – but once the dumps make it to the table it’s worth it.  

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Pot Sticker dumps.