Any event offering what to an idiot might appear to be free food brings out the very worst our species. Take The Food Show for example – a fine distraction which I look forward to every year but it doesn’t half attract some pushy, grabby and ill-mannered sample-monkeys. I do wonder if these people realise that there are cheaper ways to fill up on tiny cubes of Kapiti cheese and Heller’s sausages. So last Friday, with a curmudgeonly disdain for human kind at the slop trough, I rode the Link bus down towards Victoria Park on my way to Taste of Auckland 2010. I had every intention of being unimpressed you know, but the best-laid plans of mice and men being what they are…
Victoria Park is a great, if rather underutilised, venue for large, summery events. It’s conveniently central, but well away from the soulless wind tunnel of Downtown Auckland, and because it’s on the Link bus route there’s no need to take your car. Gosh, you can even walk from Queen Street if you’re partial to a bit of exhaust fume inebriation.
Taste occupied the entire park, sort of like a shanty town for the well-healed, with huge marquees and ‘streets’ of temporary shops (the “producers market”), and mock-ups of some of the city’s finest eateries. Low-rent, canvas-tents-flapping-in-the-breeze kind of affair it was not. Everything looked very permanent, very expensive and seriously impressive. To some degree this might explain the steep entry fee ($30-$90) and the many additional costs inside – but more on that later.
What struck me most about Taste was the abundance of open space and the chilled demeanour of the crowd. There were no cheese-sampler bottlenecks, pushchair gridlocks (a serious problem at anything held at the showgrounds in Greenlane), or rotund women with startled perms standing on my feet. In other words, first-class layout, marquee design, crowd management and while I dare not say Taste attracted a better type of clientele (but I really do want to), certainly a calmer and less stompy type.
What I liked:
The Producers Market comprised almost exclusively of Auckland (region)-based producers; meaning most of the giant and overexposed Corporates didn’t get a look-in. I tasted my way around the market several times – just to be sure, you understand – and settled on the following favourites:
Outstanding Serbian-style cured meats made with free-range pork and a whole lot of class. Their five-day-old chilli-loaded salami is a thing of squishy, luscious beauty.
Waiheke Herb Spread
Made with 11 different ‘wild’ herbs, including calendula, plantain, dandelion, sage, parsley and lavender and finished with a decent measure of garlic, cider vinegar, sea salt and olive oil. Lovely, fresh herbaceous flavours and, mercifully, not just another pesto knock-off.
Bees Blessing Organic Strawberry Cordial
Made from the concentrated juice of sun-ripened organic Hawke’s Bay strawberries, and sweetened with honey. Gorgeous stuff which beggars the question, why aren’t there more real strawberry drinks around?
Purple Monkey Finger Kumara Vodka
Bizarre name and vaguely unpleasant logo (why is the monkey sniffing its finger?) aside, Purple Monkey finger is a genuinely interesting and innovative product. Yes it really is distilled from fermented kumara . Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? I’m no great vodka connoisseur, but I liked PMFKV, if not for its taste (what’s to like or dislike about vodka? It just is), then for its cute but clever provenance.
Saveur Duck cold-smoked duck breast
Although they are not exactly a boutique producer, Saveur have helped elevate or possibly lower duck to something approaching a mainstream meat. No bad thing in my books. The prototype cold smoked breasts previewed at Taste were quite superb, rather like a very, tender ducky ham. I bought a few of these for the freezer but doubt they’ll last long…
Colchis Fresh Georgian Cheese
How refreshing to find a new (to New Zealand) family of cheeses. Not that there’s anything wrong with the usual suspects from France, Italy or the Netherlands – on the contrary -but enough already. Colchis Cheeses are made in Auckland by expat Georgian mother-and-daughter team Marina and Nina Kandelaki. The Kandelakis arrived in New Zealand 14 years ago with no previous experience of cheese making. Last year they picked up a Gold Medal at The New Zealand Champions of Cheese awards for their Sulgani, a whey-soaked fresh cheese similar to mozzarella but with a more defined flavour and a faintly bitter finish. Fine cheese, nice people and more than enough to pique my interest in Georgian food.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Taste of Auckland. It was a superbly staged and perfectly pitched event. However, I found the constant pressure to purchase “crowns” (the festival currency) irritating and pointless, and I objected to the prices of some the restaurant dishes and bar drinks. With an entry charge of $30 this was all a bit on the nose. But these are pretty small quibbles. Taste, was fun, interesting and a perfect marriage of food & wine festival and expo. Will I go again? You better believe it.