Described as the “Jamie Oliver of Malaysian cooking”, Chef Wan was the undoubted star of the inaugural Wellington Malaysia Kitchen Night Market. A household name in Asia , crowds clamoured to hear him speak about and cook traditional Malaysian food. The packed audience included a very excited Lauren King, who was one of the lucky recipients of Chef Wan’s demonstration dish Vermicelli Kerabu.
Held in one half of the cramped Opera House Lane, the market was the finale of this years Wellington On A Plate. Wan’s excited commentary (see him in action here), broadcast at full volume, contrasted with the slow moving crowds waiting for their fix of Malaysian cuisine.
Working under intense pressure the chefs from Kayu Manis, Rasa, The Long Bar and other Wellington Malaysian restaurants still managed to serve up delicious char grilled satay sticks, curry puffs, rendangs and gorengs …
…the menus however lacked the real diversity I expected of Malaysian street food. This was a probably a reflection on having only a small number of stands to feed the heaving crowds quickly (the event ran for 3 hrs), with easily identified food.
The fundamental aim of Wellington On A Plate is to attract foodie tourists. Air Asia X ‘s arrival to NZ has seen a dramatic increase in Malaysian visitors to NZ (1300 to 5000 monthly in Christchurch) – no doubt coming for the clean green scenery. Likewise, tourism from NZ to Malaysia has increased markedly. I applaud the organisers of the Kitchen Night Market for getting involved with WOAP for the first time, but there is room to put Malaysian street food on a larger stage, with more variety and enthusiastic crowds in the future.
Raw meat, furry tails and live insects were on the menu at a recent Ruth Pretty Catering event. In weather more appropriate for emperor penguins, Wellington Zoo was host to the Ruth Pretty Zoo Safari, part of Wellington on a Plate.
Perhaps reluctantly swapping the heated floor of Kamala’s, the swish new zoo venue (named after the zoo’s last elephant), the visitors were soon being educated about animal diets in the zoo kitchen.
Slabs of horse meat, goat legs – fur and all, and live locusts were all sighted, but most interest centered on chimpanzee food. Paul Horton, the carnivore keeper said “chimps are pretty much like us, they will happily kill a monkey and share it around”, dispelling any thoughts about vegetarian diets. As well as fruit and veges, the chimps are occasionally fed whole chickens, cooked, to avoid salmonella. Bread used to be part of the chimp diet until Jess, a female, took such a liking to it she upsized to become the largest chimp in the tribe – not the normal way of things in the ape world.
Climatic extremes continued on a short tour of the zoo, taking in Happy Feet the emperor penguin, and Sasa and Sean the sun bears. Happy Feet tentatively looked like coming out and diving into the pool (a zoo first), but after dipping a ‘toe’ into the water, turned around, and waddled back inside.
In a similar manner the guests made their way back to the warmth of Kamala’s where a South African high tea awaited.
The safari themes were continued with the menu including biltong, hertzoggies, and snoek pate and wait, was that…Dr Livingston I presume?
“The world’s first vegan pavlova!” claimed Professor Kent Kirshenbaum, while giving a presentation at Ruth Pretty’s unscheduled WOAP event. He thought he may have also produced New Zealand’s first vegan meringues, but was surprised to find Angel foods (an Auckland-based vegan supplier) had beat him to it with this product. Kirshenbaum, a New Yorker, was in New Zealand to help celebrate the 2011 Year of Chemistry.
Luxuriating in the space the commercial kitchen provided, Kirshenbaum and his assistant Anne McBride took us on a world tour of mysterious ingredients. First was the Chilean Quillaja saponaria – its soapy properties can be used to make extra head on low alcohol beer, fire fighting foam and of course the vegan meringues. The inner bark of this tree has also been linked to methane reduction in dairy cows and lowering of cholesterol in humans.
After being served an unusual warm syrupy drink by Ruth Pretty, the Professor introduced us to Salepli dondurma the Anatolian stretchy ice cream. The stretch ingredient in the ice cream is called salep and is derived from rare Turkish orchids – so rare the Turkish authorities have banned the export of this plant extract. I found out my syrupy drink was made with salep – apparently sourced in Wellington!
Not deterred by the unavailability of salep Kirshenbaum and McBride zapped us up a topping for the meringues using Versawhip, xanthan gum, sugar and raspberry sauce. Xanthan gum also has links with our dairy industry as it can be derived from whey, the by-product of cheese making. We got to eat the raspberry-topped meringues (recipe is below) – the dessert had good texture but the herbaceous taste of the meringue had me thinking I’ll stick to egg whites.
The Professor had clearly done his research on New Zealand, with his next topic being the barbecue. Obsessed with the smoky flavours of the BBQ, but unable to use one at his apartment (“I’d be arrested in New York if I started one”), Kirshenbaum was drawn to analyse liquid smoke. He deduced it is probably safer to use than untreated-wood smoke due to the carcinogens being removed. Could this be the end of this bastion of New Zealand culture?
The perfect steak? The exact time for a fillet of salmon? Precise times for cooking an egg? Try out sous vide cooking (precise temperature control). How about reductions without heat, centrifuges and rotovaps – it all sounds like science fiction but science in the kitchen is already nearby – think Martin Bosely, Ferren Adria, and Heston Blumenthal… read this for a good overview. For more about molecular gastronomy bookmark the Experimental Cuisine Collective headed up by the very engaging Professor Kent Kirshenbaum.
Recipe for vegan meringues
- Mix 60ml water with 3ml quillaja saponaria
- Add 5ml lemon juice and 15ml Campari
- Beat to form soft peaks, then add 65g granulated sugar one spoonful at a time until stiff peaks form. Sift in 40g confectioners’ sugar and quickly beat to disperse.
- Spoon meringue on to baking sheet lined with parchment paper
- Bake at 225F for 1 hour, then turn oven off and let meringues cool for 1.5hrs.
Gumboots and spades replaced surgical tools at Wellington on a Plate’s first environmentaly themed event.
Baby Rata trees (and other native varieties) were dispensed to participants for planting on the site of Newtown’s former Fever Hospital. The assembled crowd who braved the conditions (sunny but cool) were warmed up by french onion soup, part of a Ruth Pretty hamper.
Ata Rangi wines including Crimson Pinot Noir further fortified the visitors. Ruud Kleinpaste provided a humorous commentary with his view on ecological leadership in our community before releasing his giant weta among the crowd.
The planting of the young rata trees (supplied by Ata Rangi) continues the six year partnership with Project Crimson. The trees were planted, guests were packed off with gifts, leaving behind the promise of a blush of crimson colour unrelated to the medical history of this Wellington site.