Conference Reflections

Nothing beats the expectation on day one of a conference: just as well the first half day of the conference was a smash hit, with superstar speakers capped off with an amazing, waste-free lunch.
At the beginning of three days of discussion and tasting about food it was timely to consider the ethics of food waste, conscious consumption and the power of consumers to collectively drive sustainability.

First up was Ben Gleisner, one of the founders of Conscious Consumers, who inspired us by sharing the story of the charity creating a market for sustainable products and services. Since the journey for Conscious Consumers began in 2010 they have been responsible for supporting 17 hospitality businesses to use eco packaging, saving 120,000 items a year out of landfill. They’ve also supported 42 businesses to start recycling or composting and have supported 18 hospitality businesses to start buying free-range certified products.

The Conscious Consumer app, launched in 2014, helped the charity reach growing numbers of consumers and hospitality venues. Now a revolutionary idea going live this later this year – made possible via crowd funding – will make it simple to track people’s spending, which means businesses and consumers will have the information at their fingertips about the potential dollar of positive change.

Matt Dagger of Wellington’s Kaibosh Food Rescue shared the story of phenomenal growth supported by business and individuals and necessitated by community demand. This seven-day operation relies on 80 volunteers and over the past 12 months has rescued 123,212kg of quality food from throughout the city, equating to 28,571 hot meals over the year! Growth in demand and the availability of quality rescue food prompted Kaibosh to recently open a Lower Hutt operation.

Finally our taste buds were sated, and even the most accomplished chefs among us learned a few new tricks when chef Shepherd Elliot recreated his Wellington on a Plate All Taste No Waste lunch.

Shepherd used by-catch and what would traditionally have been considered waste from his award-winning cafe Ti Kouka to create a diverse, flavour-filled lunch. Stale bread, cauliflower stalks, broccoli stems, dried onionskins and milk left from espresso making were deftly recreated to create a mouth-watering meal worthy of the finest restaurant. Nicola McConnell

Friday afternoon’s conference sessions continued the themes of innovation and inspiration. Representatives from NZ King Salmon shared the latest industry innovations in salmon farming, and Lauraine Jacobs gave us good reasons (including a tasting) to seek out locally farmed salmon over imported Atlantic.

A panel of artisan producers discussed how they maintain the artisan ethos while scaling up to larger volume production. Vicky Ha of Dumplings Ha!, Nick Brown of Huffman’s Crafty Sauces and Miles King of Kingsmeade Cheese all share an absolute commitment to keeping the quality and essence of their products as they grow, even if that means – as in Nick’s case – enlisting relatives to stir pots and spending days scrubbing chilli and vinegar out of his hands.

This theme was continued when Nalini Baruch of Lot Eight and Richard Shirtcliffe of Tuatara Brewing discussed taking their products into overseas markets. If you’ve never thought about the shape of your beer bottle, take a closer look the next time you see a bottle of Tuatara. And if you’re lucky enough to travel to the USA or UK and dine at expat Kiwi chefs’ establishments, you could well see Lot Eight oil in the kitchens.

Saturday’s sessions provided education and inspiration in equal measure. Annabelle Nichols, a young product designer, presented her fascinating research into snacking behaviour among young women, and the clever products she’s developed to solve the problems of the “on-call stress eater” and the “sustenance skipper”. Annabelle’s “balancing bowls”, which measure perfect portions of food, look like a winning product of the future. I don’t think this will be the last we’ll see of this clever young woman.

Saturday afternoon’s streamed sessions really got the brain firing. We upskilled on social media and learned how to hone and improve our writing (tip: everyone needs help to polish their work!). We learned about the latest nutrition trends and how to cut up a beast, which also made for many Instagram-able moments. It was more than enough to work up an appetite for the evening’s Culinary Quills dinner. Niki Bezzant

Beer, chocolate, extra virgin olive oil, nutrient-rich fruit bars, some sweet charity, guidance on labels and a new cafe to visit: it could be the weekend to-do list of any food writer. The inaugural GuildX session at this year’s conference wrapped these seven topics up into one tidy bundle, and each provided plenty of food for thought.

Beer writer Phil Cook kicked things off with a thought-provoking talk on all things beer. Phil disavowed any notions of the newness or hipster-ness of brewing, claiming modern brewers are just following in the footsteps of our early forebears.

Maxine Macaulay was left to keep the Wellington Chocolate Factory afloat while co-founders Rochelle Harrison and Gabe Davidson ran away to sea (or more accurately, Bougainville), to source Fairtrade cocoa beans. She explained the factory’s ethos and its plans for the Bougainville beans (Harrison and Davidson made it safely back to Wellington a couple of weeks later).

Matt Dolan of Horticulture New Zealand urged us to look behind the myriad of labels now decorating all food products and decipher what they really mean, while Gayle Sheridan of Olives New Zealand told us why we can trust that locally produced extra virgin olive oil really will be what it says on the tin.

New kid on the block Mike de Lange shared the story of his food start-up, Seize. The Lambton Quay eatery has had people queuing out the door since it opened a year ago, thanks to its innovative approach to food and service. We can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

Duncan Forbes of Wellington-based natural ingredient food company Go Native revealed the ups and downs of getting its nutrient-rich fruit products to market. Duncan also treated Guild members to a sneak preview of Go Native’s Movember fundraising project – cleverly packaged pairs of salted caramel balls that are a much tastier way to support men’s health awareness than growing a moustache.

Lastly, Nic Murray and Marie Fitzpatrick took to the stage to explain why their pet project, Good Bitches Baking, is about more than cake. The pair, who thought their pink fizz-fuelled idea might result in half a dozen of their friends baking for a few charities, are now masterminding the efforts of more than 430 volunteers across New Zealand. The GBB crew believe everyone deserves a little sweetness in their life – we couldn’t agree more.
Lucy Corry

Members ate – and drank – very well at the conference. All the wineries were family owned, and matched the food beautifully.

Ngatarawa Proprietors Reserve collection captures the strengths of Hawke’s Bay with three varieties – merlot cabernet, chardonnay and syrah – that have earned an international reputation for the region over many years, as well as noble riesling, a winemaking passion at Ngatarawa since 1986. The grapes range were handpicked from specially selected vineyards in the Bridge Pa Triangle, and the typical aromatic fruit and soft tannins of the district are evident. ngatarawa.co.nz

Jansz Tasmania Premium Cuvée Grown in cool climate vineyards across Tasmania, the wine comprises 55 per cent chardonnay, 44 per cent pinot noir and three per cent pinot meunier. Delicate fruits and creaminess, with a lingering finish of citrus and nougat. jansz.com.au

Julicher Estate Rose and Riesling. Like the river, Julicher has worn its own path to become a successful and award-winning Martinborough winery. It has won champion wine of the show at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards for its pinot noir. julicher.co.nz

Margrain Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. The Martinborough vineyard, planted in 1992, was born from the passion for fine wine, good food and the country lifestyle held by husband-and-wife owners Daryl and Graham Margrain. The four-hectare property combines perfect location with essential soil type – a fine layer of silty loam over deep river gravels which sits on the edge of a terrace overlooking the Huangarua riverbed. margrain.co.nz

Cambridge Road Pinot Gris. Cambridge Road is a small 2.2-hectare estate in the esteemed Martinborough Terrace appellation. They focus their time and energy on perfecting and beautifying their vineyards and cultivate their vines according to natural biodynamic principles. They are committed to making fine, handcrafted wines through meticulous viticulture and traditional winemaking techniques. cambridgeroad.co.nz

Schubert Pinot Noir and Syrah.
In spring of 1998 Kai Schubert and Marion Deimling acquired a small established vineyard in Martinborough and 40 hectares of bare land just north of Martinborough, at Dakins Road, which they planted in 1999 and 2000. Schubert’s philosophy is to craft wines of uncompromising quality that stand out alongside the finest in the world. Fourteen hectares of wines are closely planted in the traditional European style and the unique climate produces low yields. schubert.co.nz

Murdoch James Estate Rose. Murdoch James’s Blue Rock Vineyard sits on an elevated river terrace and has the prime soil conditions and temperate climate to produce superb quality grapes. The family-owned vineyard and winery has a dedicated team who combine skilful vineyard management, handpicking, gentle pressing of the grapes and careful winemaking. murdochjames.co.nz
Kathie Bartley

Photo credit Cushla Kirkland