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Grand event is a lunch of luxury

Wharekauhau’s ‘Billecart-Salmon champagne heli-lunch’ is tipped to be the most premium Wellington On A Plate event this year. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

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The grandest event of New Zealand’s largest food festival will be held in rural Featherston on Saturday.

Wharekauhau Country Estate’s ‘Billecart-Salmon champagne heli-lunch’ will give attendees a chance to enjoy one of the world’s great luxury hideaways as part of this year’s Wellington On A Plate [WOAP] festival.

Departing Wellington by helicopter and tracking east over Palliser Bay and the Remutaka Ranges, the group will land at the relais and chateaux luxury lodge to enjoy a five-course, long-table, degustation lunch, before being flown back over the dramatic mountain divide.

However, general manager Richard Rooney says the event is not just for those from the big city.

“If you live in Wairarapa, you might head over the night before,” he said, encouraging the opportunity for a mini-holiday.

“It’s great rhyme and reason to engage not just with Wairarapa but also Wellington.”

Although the menu is intended to surprise, Rooney assures it will feature some non-typical dishes, paired exclusively with drinks from France’s great champagne house, and Wharekauhau champagne of choice, Billecart-Salmon.

“It is a rare opportunity to go through all those wines,” he said.

“It’s not your Veuve and Moets that you find at the supermarket.”

The event will be hosted by Billecart-Salmon’s New Zealand ambassador.

“It’s a bit of a different one,” Rooney said of the event.

“We looked at ourselves, and it’s not a negative, but we were not going to do a burger.

“We’ve created one of the most premium, if not the most premium, event.”

Prepared by Wharekauhau’s executive chef Rob Cullen, the secret menu aimed to “surprise and delight”.

“Imagine a big long table and everything comes out, and there’s a collective ‘ahhhh’, and then once they’ve tasted it, a collective ‘ah!’,” Rooney says.

Cullen has returned to New Zealand and Wharekauhau after years of working in international kitchens, including as the executive chef at the Jordanian royal palace of King Abdullah.

He previously worked at Wharekauhau from about 2007-2009. Speaking at the time of his appointment, Cullen enthused about his return to the region.

“I always loved Wairarapa, and am thrilled to have the chance to come back and be a part of it again, this area has just gone from strength to strength from a culinary side, and to have this opportunity to work for the Foleys who have a clear passion for the people and place of Wairarapa.”

Although helicopter-lunches are nothing new for the luxury lodge, Rooney said the WOAP menu will be inspired by the theme of this year’s culinary festival: Out of place.

“We really are taking things out of place, because we’re putting you in a helicopter and literally taking you somewhere else,” he says.

“We’ve kind of been pioneers of destination dining.

“The idea was, let’s push the boat out.”

This will be Wharekauhau’s third time taking part in the month-long festival, he said.

“Anything that promotes great food, great wine, and great storytelling is fantastic.

“We have such strong stories in Wellington and Wairarapa that it’s great to be able to share them.”

  • Wellington On A Plate runs from August 1-31. For more information, visit www.visawoap.com

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