Chef’s pantry

24 Jun 2015
3 min read
Executive chef at Clooney in Auckland, Des Harris approaches seasonal and local produce with a modern touch. He reveals some of his favourite ingredients…
Rooting Through New Zealand

Black garlic is a relatively new product in New Zealand. Produced by the Black Garlic Man, Wayne Harris, the garlic is the result of a four-year long development of trialing the secretive and patented technique of enzymatic fermentation or naturally fermenting garlic, turning it into a fruit-like sweet with a deep unctuous umami quality.

Based out of Whangarei in our country’s northern region, the garlic is grown in naturally fertile volcanic soil. Wayne discovered the garlic at his local farmers market and formed the idea from there. His black garlic shows full mid palette and strong complexity, and has developed into a truly special world-class product.

At Clooney I like to turn the garlic into a purée, which we lengthen with white soy, mirin and a touch of aged balsamic vinegar. This deepens the umami characteristic and makes it savoury. As a condiment, black garlic works well with many strong cheeses, but we favour the aged Comté because of its crystallization, which offers an almost salty pop when eaten. We serve the pairing with a black garlic sponge cake.

Horopito (Pseudowintera colorata) is an amazing New Zealand native rainforest shrub and a member of the Winteraceae family. It is one of the oldest surviving flowering plants and it has survived 65 million years because of the superb natural chemical defence system in its leaves. Its antioxidants have enabled it to survive the millennia of climate changes that wiped out most early plant species. These actives have also enabled it to successfully withstand predators since the dinosaur age.

Horopito has a lovely bergamot scent and a strong pepper flavour, but really interestingly, it is not immediate and takes time to come to life on the palate. When it does, it’s powerful, delicious and absolutely stunning.

Playing on the bergamot feature of Horopito, I incorporate it into the garnish of cabbage, beet and fig with our duck dish. I really like the peppery spiciness of morcilla with game and duck, so horopito was a natural seasoning to incorporate for our house made morcilla.

Founded by a hilariously affable mix of down to earth country folk and savvy, commercial vegetable growers, Curious Croppers are our go-to people for tomatoes. They are known for their progression for trialing new tomato varietals, but best of all they provide us consistently perfect fruit.

Characteristics I look for in a pre-dessert are freshness and acid, which is going to re awaken the palette. We look for menu items and combinations that are out of the normal but not over thought.

As a fruit, the Curious Cropper Spanish green tomato is one item that ticks that box. We simply macerate the green tomato heart with Riesling verjus, which sits in a glass with lemon peel curd. Out of the trimmings we make an espuma from the distilled juice of green tomato and flavour it with elderflower. The dish is finished with fennel pollen marshmallow, sorrel ice cream and crumbled freeze-dried lychee.

We consider Fresh As, to be the home of the world’s most innovative, premium freeze-dried products. Based in Auckland, the company Fresh As sources and experiments with most ingredients we give them, then freeze-dries them, producing intensely flavoured, coloured and textured ingredients. Ingredients we have used range from Valrhona Guanaja Chocolate and Dark Balsamic Vinegar to gooseberries and lychees, reinventing textures and flavours that we add.

Our Belle Époque private dining room is the most important ingredient in my repertoire. It is a room of luxury and fine food that gives the guest a private dining experience like no other in New Zealand. It takes the concept of the chef’s table to a luxurious new level, with my custom designed open-plan Gaggenau kitchen taking pride of place. It is my escapism, a place where I can go to think, experiment and create. It represents a very special relationship for us at Clooney, one made more precious with Perrier-JouëtBelle Epoque as our third partner. It’s a three way collaboration that makes for some amazing dinners.