A Kiwi Cookout with Erwan Heussaff
June 14, 2018
Heavy rains covered Makati City on a Wednesday night, but a small group of foodies were eager to make their way to Erwan Heussaff’s new cooking studio for a special dinner hosted by Tourism New Zealand. They promised a cookout, and having just come from New Zealand a few weeks back, the palette was already craving for food that is undoubtedly Kiwi. The venue was small, but inviting and homey. At the center of the room, adjacent to the kitchen, was a wooden table adorned with wild blooms. “That table was just put in for the event, but I think I’m gonna buy it,” shared Erwan to a select group of hungry guests as he continued to mix a large pot that was to be a creamed corn dish later.
The French-Filipino cook was in his comfort zone. This was his kitchen and he knew every inch of it (despite it being only three months old). He was not nervous nor intimated to be cooking for a group of scrutinizing journalists. As he prepared the evening’s dishes, Erwan explained his new found love for New Zealand’s South Island. He had recently married actress Anne Curtis at Queenstown, in one of the most anticipated Filipino weddings in recent history. Although it was an unexpected location, he said that he and Anne knew they would wed there one day as soon as they got off the plane and smelled the fresh air. The smell of nature had taken them and the rolling green hills had made them fall in love with the location. But most importantly, Kiwi food bewitched Erwan. It was the kind of food he loves. “It’s not pretensions,” he said about the gastronomical offerings of New Zealand, which has a lot of protein and greens.
After the Heussaffs’ glamorous wedding put a spotlight on the country (more and more Filipinos have been traveling there, and the couple played a large role in getting tourists into planes), Tourism New Zealand reached out to Erwan for a possible partnership. The young cook and entrepreneur quickly said yes. He has a genuine love for Kiwi food, and thought the partnership would be ideal to help spread interest in it. Erwan spoke passionately about the evening’s menu. Inspired by his post-wedding tour around the country, he had come up with a selection of dishes for the night that reflected his travels. Although a plated dinner was originally discussed, Erwan decided it would be more “him” to serve everybody family style.
He started dinner off with a Salmon Mi-Cuit, served with horseradish cream, arugula/basil puree, pickled onion, and amaranth. The plating looked very rustic. Erwan wanted it to look like the dishes he had eaten there, saying that the look was just as important as the taste. New Zealanders are also very into supporting local farmers and producers, which explained why the plating looked very farm-to-table. When the first generous piece of the salmon entered our mouths, we all looked at each other with shock. It was literally melt-in-your-mouth, disappearing on our tongues as if we had just swallowed butter. “I like New Zealand salmon because it’s very fatty and soft,” he explained while watching everybody indulge. A playful salad soon followed suit. Kale, feta cheese, sprouts, pumpkin and beats were mixed together with a sweet, clear dressing that inventively uses orange juice. The combination of textures was a party in the mouth. Our host was even kind enough to give me a list of ingredients, after I mentioned I would attempt to re-create the salad at home.
The proteins were up next. Anybody who has been to New Zealand knows how much they value the quality of their meat. There are no natural predictors there, allowing their cattle to graze in peace for long periods of time. This makes them healthy and quite large (and ultimately delicious). Erwan’s meat dishes were tasty and well-cooked. The selection of wines from Allan Scott served that evening made it even better. It felt like we were eating in wine country, located in some remote vineyard in New Zealand. The roast beef was tender and juicy. My side of the table even resulted to a big foodie faux pas. We all selfishly cut out the fatty parts from the communal plate, just so we could enjoy it for ourselves. On the other hand, the lamb rack with garlic confit, tart cherry dew, and curry leaves was the ideal conclusion to the savory selection of Erwan’s menu. Each bite of the proteins was only enhanced with a side serving of cream corned, that he admitted, “has a bit too much butter!” We didn’t mind that at all.
Kiwi cookouts would not be complete without pavlova, which is often considered the country’s national dessert. Erwan decided his would be a passion fruit varietal. Although everybody was full and the rain outside made the idea of sleeping very attractive, we all found space in our stomachs to enjoy it. The different textures were interesting, with the wetness of the sauce and fruits, complementing the crunchiness of the meringue well. Although dinner was over, nobody was ready to leave. It wasn’t the rain outside, or the possibility of getting stuck in bad EDSA traffic that kept us there, but we were all full to move. We needed to digest, and our gracious host over Gin & Tonics to those who wanted one.
Erwan had created a memorable dinner that brought our palettes on an adventure. We were just in Makati City, but it was easy to imagine were in Queenstown instead. Because, everything tasted like #PureNewZealand. Meals like this make you want to travel, and when I was finally in bed, full and sleepy, I said a little prayer in hopes that I’d be in New Zealand soon again.