Wednesday, February 21, 2024 | Sha'ban 10, 1445 H
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Glorious food with a cultural twist


I enjoy food, and always have. After all, what’s not to like about it? And... as John Safran Soer put it so immaculately, “Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving, and identity.”

Certainly, as far as identity goes, ‘shuwa’ is synonymous with Oman, ‘pizza’ with Italy, ‘cheese’ with Switzerland, ‘tortillas’ with Mexico, to name just a few. What? America has its ‘hamburgers?’ Oh well... most cuisine reflects culture. Even how we cook reflects its culture, with South Africans enjoying their ‘brai,’ Australians a ‘barbie, the English their ‘Sunday roasts,’ New Zealand their ‘hangi,’ and many other exotic preparations.

In culture, food, and certainly tradition, young New Zealand chef Hayley-Chanel Simeon brings something new to the table, with food that passionately reflects her indigenous Maori heritage, and identity. I’m personally proud of the way Simeon has shaken up the culinary landscape, as she has, from the unsung environment of my hometown. Who knew a town of only 1830 residents, mostly fishermen, would become a magnet for gastronomes, and afficionados of fine food, drawn by this culinary star.

Bluff has always been something of an ‘afterthought’ for New Zealanders, and tourists, but that’s changing. Not because of Bluff oysters, blue cod, or crayfish, but how Simeon creates magical dishes from them, earning herself burgeoning celebrity status... doing what mum taught her, what her family, her whanau catch, taking nature’s bounty, giving it ‘the treatment,’ to create some Maori magic... some kai (food)... worth living for.

Simeon studied food technology before opening her own eatery on Bluff’s main street, her ‘Hayz at The Anchorage’ soon becoming a haven for those who appreciate locally sourced foods like Southland lamb, venison, and sweetbreads, muttonbirds (titi), and stunning seafood, or kaimoana, such as the established favourites like cod, grouper, oysters, and crayfish, but doing much more with the lesser known mussels, paua (abalone), kina (sea urchins), and local herbage, like the peppery horopito, edible thistles, and seaweed (karengo).

Her current menu features mouth-watering ‘Open Crayfish (koura) Won Tons’ with a Pepper drizzle and micro herbs; ‘Fresh Mutton Bird’ stuffed and roasted, on Potato Mash with Puha; ‘Creamy Paua (abalone) Won Tons;’ the ‘Paua burger;’ or ‘Paua and Horopito sausages;’ ‘Blue Cod Bao Buns,’ or the au naturel ‘Sea Urchin (kina),’ ‘Mussels,’ or ‘Oysters,’ all of them spiritual and culinary characters in a visual, palate-busting extravaganza.

Think of what you know of Heston Blumenthal, Curtis Stone, Shannon Bennet, and Rick Stein to get an idea of the wizardry that would make Harry Potter blush, all leading to new, vibrant creations, taste sensations, that are today making Bluff a ‘bucket list’ destination, making Simeon a new age celebrity, and her kai... well, let’s just say you would need to book ahead!

Simeon places significant emphasis on developing youth culinary initiatives and opportunities with her now familiar enthusiasm. Most of the time, your food will most likely be prepared, cooked, and served by Simeon herself, a real Kiwi proud to be offering a menu “featuring the freshest ingredients, bring bold, inspirational flavours to your plate, to your life, through our food.” A chef truly believing our natural food resources are, if we manage them with respect, renewable, and when dishes are prepared with compassion and deference to the land and sea they come from, and complete respect, the hallmark of her culinary and cultural adventures.

It is certainly a long way from the sun-drenched Sultanate of Oman, the Jewel of the Gulf, to the much more temperate Southern Pacific jewel of New Zealand, yet sense a common respect for their cultures, traditions, and love and appreciation of good fare.

Hayley-Chanel Simeon, a culinary star on the rise. Muttonbird (Titi), or Sea Duck, crispy wrapped, served with local potato and mixed greens, with a red wine jus. Creamy Paua (abalone) Won Tons. This stunning ‘burger,’ featuring Paua and Calamari. Open Crayfish Won-tons with a Pepper drizzle and micro herbs

Paua Tacos, Cockles, Titi, and Paua Won tons, with locally foraged greens.

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