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NZ's best cuisine on display to the world at Expo's Tiaki Restaurant – Stuff

International gongs are rolling in for one small island nation that feeds millions of people around the world. A nod for New Zealand’s World Expo restaurant Tiaki at the What’s On Awards in Dubai – the region’s top hospitality honours – follows two Kiwi nominations in this year’s 100 Best Chef Awards*.
Punching far above its weight as the world’s top exporter of grass-fed lamb and venison, New Zealand is also renowned as a producer of premium dairy, fruit, egg, honey and seafood products for more than 140 countries. The iconic gumboot-throwing Kiwi farmer endures as this nation’s economic powerhouse.
The world’s largest gathering of commerce, culture and industry, held five-yearly, Expo 2020 Dubai presented New Zealand with an unequalled opportunity to showcase this exceptional produce and cuisine to 192 participating countries and 24 million visitors to the event from October 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022.
And what better culinary showcase than a full-service 100-seater New Zealand restaurant?
Constructed inside the New Zealand pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, Tiaki, meaning to preserve and protect in Te Reo Māori, was central to New Zealand’s theme of kaitiakitanga or ‘Care for People and Place’. From sustainably sourced hoki fish, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken to an exceptional selection of cheeses and honey, Tiaki’s menu was enjoyed by more than 40,000 diners over the six months of Expo, who experienced the delicious hua or fruits of the land and sea, with the ethos ‘if nature thrives, we thrive.’
Another key focus for New Zealand at Expo was empowering young talent, and three apprentice Kiwi chefs were selected to work at Tiaki alongside the Emirates Flight Catering management team. This experience paved the way for twenty-three-year-old Auckland chef Michael Lopesi to secure a dream job.
"As a food-producing nation, I don’t believe there is a better way to showcase our cuisine than through a restaurant where people can experience New Zealand’s quality produce offering first-hand," Lopesi says. "I was cooking for tourists, politicians, diplomats and celebrities as well as expat Kiwis. I was also a spokesperson for New Zealand ingredients, speaking to the media and doing live cooking demos."
Lopesi worked on two signature dishes for the menu at Tiaki. His Kāpiti Cheese scones were a hit with Kiwi expats in the desert as was his venison, steak and Pakari smoked cheddar pie. Lopesi says working with a large team of chefs at Expo helped him to develop strong interpersonal and leadership skills. The young chef has since been offered a full-time role to work as a sous chef with Emirates Flight Catering in Dubai.
The invitation to represent New Zealand at Expo 2020 marked Laura Muller’s first trip overseas.
"I learned a lot about myself at Expo," says the 22-year-old chef from Rotorua. "It made me very proud to showcase Kiwi produce to the world. It has also made me think about what I want from my career."
New Zealand’s grass-fed animals shine through in its world-class farm to plate cuisine, says Muller, whose classic pavlova recipe, inspired by her mother, became a popular fixture on the menu at Tiaki.
"Seeing what other countries were doing with food [at Expo] was a highlight…and seeing how different it was to what we do in New Zealand made me realise how fortunate we are to grow most of our produce."
The highlight for 24-year-old Auckland chef Esther Olatunbosun was cooking alongside culinary Kiwi stars Sid Sahrawat and Kasey and Kārena Bird who travelled to Dubai for Taste New Zealand in January.
A three-week culinary festival to celebrate Kiwi cuisine at Expo 2020, the line-up of Taste New Zealand events included a Comvita honey augmented reality tasting pop-up, a Matariki degustation dinner and a live demonstration kitchen hosted by the executive Kiwi chef behind homegrown Dubai food concept LOWE, Jesse Blake.
Blake created an exclusive dish for Expo with New Zealand scampi as the hero. "Having the opportunity to cook with top New Zealand produce within the setting of the Kiwi pavilion at Expo 2020 was special," Blake said. "I hope diners connected with the culinary essence of Aotearoa through my ingredients."
Winning the ‘highly commended’ award for favourite Expo restaurant at this year’s What’s On Awards in Dubai, Tiaki was one of only a few fully licensed restaurants open throughout the six months of Expo 2020.
Designed to bring people together, Tiaki’s menu included a ‘Best of Aotearoa’ platter offering a sampling of the country’s seafood, meat and shareable cheese selections from Fonterra, alongside a choice of starters such as horopito marinated salmon, greenshell mussels and a Kāpiti Akatea traditional baked brie.
Main courses include seared Canterbury lamb cutlets, crumbed sustainably caught hoki fillet, slow-cooked pasture-raised venison, and a succulent Kiwiburger made with beef or a mushroom vegetarian option that earned the reputation as the ‘best burger at Expo’.
Desserts included honey cake and an Anzac biscuit ice cream sandwich – both made with Comvita Mānuka honey – as well as New Zealand’s signature Pavlova and a fresh fruit carpaccio made with Zespri Kiwifruit.
The relaxed, welcoming space of Tiaki featured bespoke furniture, tableware and lighting designed by prominent New Zealand brands Abodo, Citta, David Trubridge, Noho, Resident, and Tim Webber Design.
New Zealand’s Commissioner-General to Expo 2020 Clayton Kimpton said Tiaki was also a showcase for manaakitanga – New Zealand’s warm and generous hospitality.
Tiaki was operated by Emirates Flight Catering, part of The Emirates Group, and one of the world’s largest caterers.
Find out more about New Zealand’s participation at Expo 2020 Dubai here New Zealand at Expo 2020 Dubai – Care for People and Place or view the NZ Pavilion virtually here nzpavilionvirtualtour.co.nz.
*Amisfield’s Vaughan Mabee and Ed Verner of Pasture are nominees in this year’s 100 Best Chef Awards.
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