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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

It was only 5 years ago when I first read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and began my love affair/borderline unhealthy obsession with food. Prior to that, I was an extremely picky eater and wouldn’t even touch most of the food that I now adore. I’ve come a long way since then and food and travel now dominate my life. Bourdain’s two television shows, No Reservations and The Layover, combine my two passions in a very attractive manner. Everyone who’s seen either show wants to do it like Tony. For one day, I did.

Through the magic of a farmer/friend/helluva guy, Gary, I ended up linking up with chef Craig “Burt” McBreatty. With the help of his lovely wife, Hilary, he runs the Front Room in Waikanae and has been transforming the food scene of the tiny beach community for over a decade. I had an amazing meal at the Front Room and Burt and Hilary even put me up for the night. It just so happened that Burt was attending a chefs’ luncheon in Wellington the next day and invited me to tag along. I jumped on the opportunity and ended up having a day that looked like something out of a foodie’s wet dream.

We arrived in Wellington a couple hours before lunch and Burt showed me around the city. He took me to a really nice wine shop, a gourmet grocery store, and to have coffee at one of the five roasters in Wellington. While we’re doing all of this, we were of course talking food. Burt told me about the food scene in Wellington, pointed out different restaurants and gave their histories etc. He was explaining the story behind a sushi place as we were walking down the street when it hit me: I was pretty much in the middle of my own episode of No Reservations. The show had only just started.

Lunch was at Capitol, a nice restaurant run by one of Burt’s buddies in the city center. The weather was highly unusual for Wellington in July; it was sunny and warm with no wind. To take advantage of the unseasonably superb weather, lunch began with drinks and oysters outside of the restaurant. In all, about 30-40 chefs/industry people showed up. They were all very nice and made me feel at home. After about an hour, we moved inside for lunch.

Everyone was told to bring a bottle of pinot. As you might expect for a gathering of chefs/restauranteurs, there were some really nice wines, most coming from New Zealand. Pinot happens to by my favorite varietal and I took full advantage of the opportunity to taste some great ones. Taste may be an understatement.

The food was outstanding. The meal began with mixed antipasti platters that contained cheeses, olives, charcuterie, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, and artichoke hearts. The first dish was cured salmon topped with a white bean salad. For the main, we had beef tenderloin with a spicy pepper sauce. Personally, I prefer offal over a filet, but this was a damn good steak. My judgement may have been clouded by the ridiculous amount of wine I consumed and the great company, but I found the execution of the food to be flawless.

I couldn’t have asked for a better day or a more perfect welcome to Wellington. All of the wine led to a rather rough second day in the city, but it was totally worth it. Through the kindness of friends and friends of friends – as well as some great timing – I got to live out the food traveller’s fantasy and I will never forget it.

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