My Local Kitchen: Iconic Kiwi Fish & Chips with Clarke Gayford

Clarke Gayford popped in to the the My Food Bag Development Kitchen recently to chat all things fish & chips, an iconic Kiwi dish he can’t get enough of!

We discuss kaimoana memories from growing up near Gisborne, the best way to eat fish & chips and fave NZ produce.

Clarke Gayford

What do Kiwi fish and chips mean to you and tell us about your favourite part of fish and chips – the batter, the chippies, the fresh market fish?

I think it says a lot us about as a laid back easy going country when a dish we fondly consider a national standard is one that is eaten with your fingers. The dish itself and our relaxed style of eating technique helps define what being ‘kiwi’ means. My favourite part is good oil in the deep fryer! – this gets the chips crispier and the batter lighter and fluffier, two important factors in a great plate of Fish and Chips

What’s your favourite fish and kaimoana in Aotearoa to tuck into?

If you keep driving forever down the West Coast of the South Island you come to a dead end on a beach that has a bright orange railway carriage, dubbed ‘The Cray Pot’ run by two character sisters who have a batter recipe so secret it was sold to them by the previous owners under strict conditions it never ever be shared. Go there and order Blue Cod. Worth the effort.

This series is about celebrating local food stories and iconic Kiwi dishes from our childhoods. Do you have a good yarn for us about growing up on fish and chips/your first memory of it?

I was a rural kid living inland from Gisborne/Tairawhiti and for a treat we would drive into the ‘big smoke’ on a Friday evening to get Fish and Chips to have on the beach. Sometimes though we’d eat them at home, it was a bit of a drive and I have vivid memories of the precious hot newspaper wrapped parcel burning my legs while I secretly ripped a hole in the side away from the parent driver to sneak a few chips in before we got back.

What’s your favourite flavour combination with fish and chips? Are you going tomato sauce, lemon, tartare sauce, malt vinegar etc

I still remember my mate Stephen Allwood introducing me to malt vinegar on chips when I was 12, I’d come from a classic tomato sauce background and this ‘gourmet’ addition blew my mind. These days I’m all about a good fresh made tartare and a wedge of thick skinned lemon squeezed over the top. 

What are some of your fav eateries/restaurants in Aotearoa?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with chefs all over the pacific for my tv series and can confidently say we are absolutely spoilt for choice in this country. When it comes to my love of the sea and utilizing not only all of the fish caught, by introducing people to types and parts of fish they may not have thought about before, then Tom Hishon at Kingi in Auckland’s Britomart and Peter Gordon at Homeland are doing some amazing things.

Can you tell us some of your fav local produce here in Aotearoa?

There is a food evolution currently taking place in New Zealand, where we are starting to discover ‘our flavour’. Think of where restaurants/palettes were just 10-15 years ago to what is now on offer. What we are prepared to eat without hesitation, compared to where we’ve come from, it’s a remarkable transformation. Chefs everywhere are growing in confidence and technique in finding the best ways to unlock the potential we have always had. Secrets like Kawa Kawa leaves, fern shoots, wild mushrooms and Urenika Potatoes are revealing themselves in brand new ways.

Finally we are moving past snapper and terakihi fillets to discover the incredible array of Kaimoana we have and how to eat it. A chef friend who moved to NZ once told me ‘there is no such thing as bad seafood, you just haven’t found a proper way to cook it yet’ – a saying that has always stuck with me. I recently had the most incredible Kina Chawanmushi dish, baked Butterfish head and Crayfish cerviche amongst others. People are eating our seaweeds now, crazy eccentrics like Peter Langlands are taking people on popular wild food foraging trips into our wilderness. There is a land and sea of discoveries out there and we really do have the best produce in the world, all on our doorstep.

For more from our My Local Kitchen series, read about Stacey Morrison’s traditional hāngī recipe and her memories and inspiration here.

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