The New Zealand Restaurant of the Year for 2008 is Vinnies of Herne Bay in Auckland.
Ever since he took over the reigns of Auckland’s long established fine dining restaurant, Vinnies in Herne Bay, owner and chef Geoff Scott has forged a reputation for refashioning traditional food.
Here he talks about the challenges of creating and executing a traditional winning menu in a kitchen outside of his own, with sous chef Andrew Hanson and restaurant manager Ben Blair on hand to help.
What was the biggest challenge in competing for a culinary fare in a different kitchen to your own?
Working in unfamiliar surroundings with equipment you are not used to is just a nightmare. Not knowing exactly how hot the oven is when you are cooking confit of pigeon really keeps you on your toes.
What was your inspiration behind the menu you devised for the competition?
The starter began as a trial dish for our new menu, we wanted to use Ross Sea toothfish and Prawnkillers, both of which I had never cooked with. The main dish had to be on the current menu and we thought our Vinnies pigeon would be something the judges and the guests may not have tried before.
Our main theme was to focus on showcasing the primary ingredients, keeping it straightforward and representative of our food at Vinnies.
What was your favourite dish?
The pigeon. This dish provides great texture with the crisp water pastry, a rich perfumed cauliflower puree, sharp peppery rocket with the fine textured meat and unique flavour of the pigeon, muscatels and a Madeira jus.
How important is it to have a coherent theme running through a menu?
A theme is crucial but I believe each dish needs to stand on its own merits too.
Have you entered this competition before? If so, what success have you had?
In 1997 when I was cooking at the Carlton Hotel we won the title and in 2004 I was fortunate to coach the winning team at White restaurant at the Hillton Hotel Auckland.
Where to now? How does it help Vinnies having a win like this?
For me this has been a marvelous team building experience. The challenge for us now is working on some great ideas for 2009.
VINNIES WINNING MENU AT THE 2008 AUCKLAND CULINARY FARE
Ross Sea toothfish and squid ink tortelloni, red capsicum compot caramelised prawn killers and their own sauce.
“Our starter was inspired by two new and interesting seafoods we discovered down at the fish market just a few months ago. The ‘Sanford sustainable’ toothfish is caught in the Ross Sea in the Antarctica. We love the flavour of it lightly poached then flaked and mixed with some fresh herbs and a little mayonnaise, then wrapped in a black mineral squid ink pasta.
“The prawn killers – a by-catch of the scampi industry are our native version of a Moreton bay bug, these are caramelised in fresh butter and although very small are packed with a beautiful meaty, nutty flavour,” says Geoff Scott.
THE MAIN COURSE
Farm raised pigeon tart, cauliflower and horseradish puree wild rocket and pistachio salad, muscatels and Madeira jus.
“This was chosen from our winter menu, this dish has been surprisingly popular. Grown by a superb grower in South Auckland the pigeon breasts are poached in duck fat initially then finished by basting in butter, garlic and thyme.
“We serve them sliced on a thin crisp ‘water pastry’ tart shell, this is filled with an aromatic puree of cauliflower enriched with a hint of pungent horseradish, topped with a sharp, fresh salad of wild rocket and crushed pistachios,” says Scott.
Vinnies vanilla and orange bombe Alaska, chocolate gelato and tamarillo sorbet star anise and tamarillo reduction, fresh orange vanilla salad.
“This was hardest part of the day, trying to come up with an idea that we could pull of in the time provided and that showcased three compulsory ingredients, the orange, tamarillo and star anise. We decided to go with a retro dessert which looks impressive and if the flavours work well together can be a stunning taste sensation,” says Scott.
The winning menu will be served until Christmas.