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Hospitality with a culinary history

The White Swan consultant chef Travis Clive-Griffin, left, and head chef Thomas Monk. PHOTO/SOUMYA BHAMIDIPATI

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In 1862, the SS White Swan was sailing from Auckland, full of politicians ready to open the first parliament in Wellington. Almost 160 years later, their journey, which included an unexpected stop in Wairarapa, will be remembered through a Wellington On A Plate dish.

Speaking to the inspiration behind The White Swan Country Hotel’s Dine entry into this year’s festival, experience director Nick Rogers said the team had decided to look into where the establishment’s name had come from.

On one stormy morning, its namesake had struck a reef. The crew had been forced to abandon ship and head for the nearest shore, landing at Uriti beach, east of Greytown, and four miles from the station of the John and Mary Moore.

The Moores offered the bedraggled travellers shelter and accommodation, feeding them on meals hunted and gathered from the land and sea.

The White Swan’s Dine Wellington entry: ‘Shipwrecked and Landed’. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

‘Shipwrecked and Landed’, The White Swan’s Wellington On A Plate [WOAP] Dine dish, sets out to recreate the meals provided to the politicians by the humble and generous Wairarapa farmers, before they made it to Wellington safely and claimed the new capital of New Zealand.

“That’s the story we’re telling about the woolshed,” Rogers says.

“For us, it’s just got so much richness … to have them staying in Wairarapa and staying on the Moore’s farm.”

The farm is still owned by the Moore’s descendants, and Rogers is loosely related to them.

“It’s pretty cool that the same family that were there 150 years ago are still there in the same barn.”

The story also appealed to festival organisers, with the dish listed as one of nine top Dine picks on the WOAP website.

The dish comprises a beef eye fillet with Parkvale mushroom, Wairarapa paua, Kingsmeade sheep cheese risotto, Urban Fresh Farms oyster mushrooms, and Wairarapa seaweed Cafe de Paris butter.

Consultant chef Travis Clive-Griffin says the locally sourced ingredients continue this concept of provenance.

The former owner of Salute, Clive-Griffin is well-versed in the region’s WOAP history.

While not initially included, Wairarapa restaurateurs pushed back and were allowed into the festival in its second or third year, he said.

“Initially, it was difficult to get buy-in from people, [but] people have started to adopt it more and support it more.”

The White Swan’s Burger Wellington entry: ‘Baa Baa Za’atar’.

The White Swan would also enter its ‘Baa Baa Za’atar’ into Burger Wellington this year.

Described by Clive-Griffin as a Wairarapa meets Greece concept, the burger is also comprised of locally sourced ingredients.

“It’s a Greek-themed burger using Wairarapa produce,” he says. “My grandfather was Lebanese, and I think lamb goes so well with Greek flavours.

“That’s what Wellington On A Plate does, it puts these concepts in place and it’s what it means to you.”

Slow-cooked lamb shoulder would be paired with Zany Zeus halloumi, eggplant, and Juno olive kasundi, tomato, lettuce, onion tempura and tzatziki. The combination would be assembled into a za’atar brioche bun made by The Old Bakehouse, and served with chunky fries and aioli.

Head chef Thomas Monk has worked in various Wellington kitchens during previous WOAP festivals.

“It’s always an exciting time, you really look forward to it during the year,” he says.

Moving from the city to the regions meant he could now fully pursue his interest in “going as locally as possible”.

“Which is the nice thing about being out here,” Monk says.

“You’ve got everything, you’ve got seafood down the coast, lambs, cheeses.

“To me, it’s celebrating the food producers here. It’s something I’ve always believed in and not had the opportunity to do.”

This ethos would drive The Swan’s new menu, which would also launch come August. The idea was to separate the Gastro Pub and fine dining side of things, offering visitors a choice of experience.

“I’m looking forward to having the restaurant opening and have this to go alongside it,” Monk says.

“Seeing how people react to what I’ve put together.

“It’s what you live for and train for.”

Clive-Griffin agreed with the younger chef, saying the festival was a great way to give back to the customer.

“It’s also about being great at what we do.

“As a chef, when you get to create something at a higher level, it’s really exciting.

“The care and the passion in the kitchen that Tom’s leading is so exciting.”

Rogers was also anticipating the festival, saying it would be the team’s first time participating since the establishment returned to local ownership about 18 months ago.

“If you’re in, you’ve got to make it work,” he said.

“Outlets have to be food led. The days of just serving booze are over.

“And you’ve got to support these things as well. If you don’t support them, they’ll fade away.”

He was proud to be a part of the food and hospitality industry in Wairarapa, noting the strong support within it.

“The food producers delivering the food themselves, that’s really quite special,” he said.

“They’re our neighbours, they’re our friends.

“You feel part of something greater.

“And we are spoilt for choice.”

Wellington On A Plate will take place from August 1-31. For more information, visit www.visawoap.com

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