Hiakai - the aftermath!

4 Jun 2018

Grant and Arno have just headed back to Auckland after a breakfast out and  lenghty recap of the proceeding day and a general mulling over about the hospitality industry in New Zealand. Rick is clearing away the unused wood from the hangi site, and I am quite happy to just sit and do not very much for the next little while. Think we're in for a bit of a Netflix day, maybe after some exercise... because we're going to need a bit of down time. A chance to refresh and recharge.

The build up to the Hiakai dinner has been significant, organisationally.  And then the day itself was massive, and made all the more so by the atrocious weather that meant cooking a hangi outside, in the ground, was a truly ridiculous idea. But we had 50 people coming for dinner so the show had to go on...and it did. What was looking well nigh impossible as the weather conditions continued to deteriorate, became somewhat less so after the arrival of a friend to erect a canapy awning, and yet more friends to help with the erection. Suddenly keeping the fire alight long enough to create the sort of heat we needed seemed maybe doable. Monique tended that fire in appalling conditions, her determination to make it all happen regardless of the storm conditions apparent to everyone.  Once the hangi itself went down, universal stress levels came down just a notch, and the focus returned to the rest of the prep, after a refueling of blood sugar levels with a late lunch.

Messages from clients and friends later in the day saying they'd lost power, meant we  went fossicking in the attic for candles, just in case, and I tried very hard not to focus too much on what Plan B was going to be if the worse case scenario did unfold and the power went off.  Fortunetly we have a daughter who engages in ridiculous extreme sport endeavours, so she brought over head lamps and other lighting paraphenalia that is used in the bush and doesn't require electricity, just in case. As it was we didn't end up needing it,thank god, and as people arrived and the first couple of courses were served, the fury in the storm abated, and by the time the hangi was due to be lifted it was dry enough outside that most of the customers headed out to watch the process. And so the night unfolded...

Monique Fiso is Michelin star trained - she has trained with chefs practised in the molecular style of cuisine - so her ideas in terms of technique and ingredients are quite different to what we use day to day at Somerset. We were very aware that this was her show - Somerset is merely the venue and the means to make her dinner happen. And I don't intend that in a necessarily self deprecating way - we feel that we gain alot from having chefs trained in different ways coming and sharing their knowledge and their philosphies.It's not only what you pick up from working with their recipes and plating style, but also simply all the chat that happens along the way as a byproduct of working alongside someone for a few hours - amazing what you learn and discover and where those conversations can go. And that always leads to further discussions, maybe at a later point, which  we never see that as a bad thing.

Rick is happy to stand aside and let someone else dictate what they want to happen and how. He had made a very large, rich chicken and pork bone stock - something that ticks away over a number of days - and therefore needed to be made well in advance of Moniques arrival for the weekend, but beyond that we waited for the chef to arrive and make her recipes in the way she wanted them executed rather than in our interpretration of them. I have no idea how much Monique was paid by the Arts Festival, but she earned every penny and more. Her food is multi faceted and requires many stages of prep to bring it all together. And overseeing all of that, together with  creating the fire pit, shoveling dirt in and then  later out, when it was lifted, and overseeing the plating of 5 courses meant she looked utterly exhausted at the end of the day when we all collapsed in the bar for a needed drink. We think she is amazing!

Rick's old boss from Pierres day, Grant Allen who had coincidentally been in for dinner during the week and who knows Monique, decided that coming to help would be a good idea, and he brought a delightful French chef, Arno, with him. Extra hands and assistance, and humour that was mightily appreciated!

Alot of people make assumptions around restaurant food that is very removed from the reality of being at the coalface of a professional kitchen day in and day out. In our experience we find that disconnect has, if anything being intensified by the interest generated with TV programmes like Masterchef, which are in no way an accurate reflection of what happens in a restaurant. The time involved in first sourcing, then prepping the food is significant. It requires alot of grunt,  and of repetitive, unglamourous toil, bringing everything together to a point that it is ready to be served to people paying for the opportunity to eat it. And then everything has to be cleaned up afterwards!! It doesn't just magically appear.

So - once Rick and Monique were finally able to have a run thru of the prep lists, she decided that she would come out on Saturday once her other committments with the Festival were finished, and start some of the prep. That happened in the background as we went about a normal busy Saturday nights service. As you do.

And then Sunday morning she and Rick started early, joined later by Hayley and Kaybe, and then a few hours later by Grant and Arno. That collective effort meant that all prep was finished comfortably in advance of customers arrival time at 7pm, and we were able to have some practise runs of presentation without the pressure of actual customers waiting for their food. 

So the Hiakai dinner in photos, from behind the scenes...:

Monique out the back during service on Saturday evening, getting sorbets, and bread bases good to go..

Sunday morning - the day of the dinner - Rick and Monique starting prep...

It is hard to describe the sense of relief once the awning had gone up over the pit, thanks to the efforts of Tony, and then Neil and Ben. Without them, the worsening rain conditions would have made keeping the fire going virtually impossible. Thanks to them we went from this at the start:

To this, 3 hours later:

And then the hangi went in:

This basket of pork and moemoe potatoes and kumara, as well as cabbage, all ready to be placed in the pit...

Monique digging out some of the ash before the basket of food went in.

And then everything gets covered with a sheet and then wet sacks ... and then dirt...

I had hoped to capture just how inclement the conditions were with this photo, but the velocity of the rain falling just isn't apparent. Trust me - it was torrential!! This is just before customers arrive - the hangi pit illuminated by a light the Festival had lent us, ticking away and doing it's job, protected, thankgod by the awning.

And while the food slowly cooked in the pit, the kitchen team continued with prepping for the other dishes, and Rick worked alongside Grant for the first time in 33 years. Kind of cool!

And with Hayley and Kaybe, who were absolute troopers, all day and all evening...

The menu. Lots and lots of prep required...

Beautiful kete baskets were made for us by a local lady - Rick and I had tryed our hand at making them a couple of weeks ago after a bit of You Tube research, but decided very early on in the piece that maybe some hands on tutelage might be required to make baskets up to the presentation standards required for an event like this. So we were immensely grateful to have such skillfully weaved baskets delivered and to be able to use them for the Maori potatoes.

Monique's food is a fascinating juxtaposition of extremely elegantly and 'fussily' presented dishes, with multiple components - the Kawakawa sorbet, with feijoa foam and lime meringue was a particular standout for me - and then by contrast, platters of shared food from the hangi, served simply, albiet tasting utterly delicious. I found that back and forth intriguing - and the detail involved in some of the dishes is the sort of things that can  only really practically happen in a restaurant that has many stagaires in the kitchen. People who can spend hours destemming baby watercress for presentation. As you do!

The $10,000 piece of equipment that the Polytech very generously lent us for the occasion. Cool to use and experience but not something we'll be investing in I suspect!!

And then, when it's all over, you sit and chat and decompress and that's a nice way to relax. Maree took Monique back to her hotel when it looked like she wouldn't be able to keep her eyes open much longer, and Grant and Arno sat on with Rick and I into the wee hours of the morning, just chatting amicably as you do.

We had another companion, but he just watched us with barely feigned distain, as if as to say isn't it time you all went home and left me alone! Yes it was past our bedtime!! Well and truly.

Monique is opening a  restaurant in Mt Cook, Wellington  in Septemberish of this year and we have no doubt it will be unique and special and we look forward very much to one day getting the chance to experience what she has worked so hard to create in situ.



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