A cheese-chasing competition, truffle tasting, dégustations and a modern-day Māori hāngī are headlining New Zealand’s newest food festival. In fact, Flavours of Plenty is expected to flip what you thought you knew about the Bay of Plenty food scene. The four-day event from 7-10 April – which is expected to attract at least 10,000 people to the Bay – will feature a series of culinary events and experiences around the region, ranging from quirky to classic, to give foodies the chance to taste, create, meet the makers and learn new skills. Chairperson Stacey Jones says all great food destinations have a hero food festival, so it was an opportunity to generate innovation and a sense of pride.

“We’re known for avocado and kiwifruit, but if you scratch just below the surface, you have an explosion of small food producers and artisans who are passionate about what they do,” says Stacey. “When you look at other regions that are known as culinary destinations, our produce is just as good if not better, so the job now is to work together to showcase our locals and our plentiful produce.” The festival will feature a wide range of edible options including the popular annual events Vegan Vibes and the Ōhope Local Wild Food Festival, alongside newcomers such as a hāngī with Maketū chefs Kasey and Kārena Bird.

 

“Some of my earliest memories are of my aunties and uncles coming together to prep the food, dig a huge hole then light the fire to cook a hāngī in time for lunch,” says Kārena. “In this climate, we’re fortunate that we’re allowed to gather together to eat, so we’ll be making sharing platters to celebrate that.”

The meat and vegetables will be wrapped in banana or cabbage leaves then slow cooked in the ground on volcanic rocks for three hours. Guests arrive in time to watch the ingredients being removed from the hāngī.

“We love that distinctive smoky flavour from a hāngī and we’ll take it to the next level with garnishes,” says Kārena. “There’s nothing quite like a hāngī that’s done well. It’s something every New Zealander should experience.”

Tourism Bay of Plenty general manager, Oscar Nathan, says the festival is an opportunity for manuhiri (visitors) and locals to celebrate the region’s horticultural provenance and manaakitanga. “It doesn’t matter how adventurous your palate is or where you are in the coastal Bay of Plenty, there will be something to savour and delight your taste buds.”

 

The Flavours of Plenty Festival will be held the week before the April school holidays and the Tauranga Jazz Festival, providing an opportunity for visitors to enjoy two major festivals if they opt for a longer stay. Oscar hopes the festival will be a much-needed boost for tourism, event and hospitality businesses in the region.

“We’re genuinely excited at the momentum of support and enthusiasm that’s building around Flavours of Plenty, as a celebration of our horticultural richness and the community connectivity,” says Oscar.

The programme includes Sunday lunch menus by two of Tauranga’s three finalists in the Cuisine Good Food Awards 2021/2022: Sugo and Clarence Bistro. It also has hands-on experiences such as sourdough-making workshops, a masterclass with Lumberjack Brewing and a cheese-rolling competition at Katikati’s Mount Eliza Cheese.

“Our raw-milk cheese is ‘out of the box’ so we wanted to do something a bit different for the festival,” says owner Jill Whalley. “Competitors will chase an eight-kilogram truckle of cheese about 50 metres down a hill. The first to grab it and get back to the top of the course wins.”

The event was inspired by a race in May 2016, when the Mount Eliza cheese makers challenged their dairy-milking team to a cheese chase to celebrate the first season of raw-milk cheese. “The farm team was much better at running down the paddock in gumboots,” says Jill. “One of the young apprentices rugby tackled the cheese. It was great fun.”

 

Also on offer from Mount Eliza Cheese is a rare factory tour and wine-and- cheese tasting with the boutique company’s flagship Red Leicester, Farmhouse Cheddar and its Blue Monkey stilton.

“It’s been a long process to get official approval to use traditional raw milk methods, but the result taste-wise is ‘like chalk and cheese’. We don’t offer tours very often as we’re focussed on our main mission of making New Zealand’s best cheese, so we’re looking forward to showing a small group around the factory.”

The great cheese chase is up there as a festival highlight for Stacey Jones. “I think that’s the joy of collaboration and creativity by people who are passionate. They come up with some crazy things but that’s what makes it awesome.”

One of the headline events, the popular Ōhope Local Wild Food Festival, is into its sixth year of celebrating dishes created from ingredients that are hunted, fished, foraged and gathered. “It’s not extreme food,” says organiser Nicola Burgess. “It’s more about creating things locally that show off the abundance of our district – from the ocean, river and estuaries to the fields and the bush-clad mountains – we reflect the dishes created from what we can forage, grow or gather.”

 

Visitors can get involved by entering the cooking challenge. “The best entries have a great story attached, recounting how the ingredients were found and prepared. The rest of the crowd get to try the dishes as well,” says Nicola.

Stacey Jones says the relaxed, welcoming nature of the Bay is part of its charm.

“We may push the boundaries in terms of flavour combinations and presentation, but we are not white tablecloths and pretentious wait staff. We love our beachy, laid-back vibe so while we’re plating up world-class dishes, we’re also having a laugh and a wink with those we’re serving.”

There’s a lot of hard work to be done before the first festival in autumn 2022, but Stacey is excited by the drive of those in the industry to create a culinary identity.

“We have a region of innovators and creators and a deep, rich history of plentiful produce. Now we want to start sharing, celebrating and showcasing it. We can’t wait to host New Zealand at our place.” ■

flavoursofplentyfestival.com See Cuisine issue 205, May 2021, for more things to do in the Bay of Plenty.

 

Ian Harrison, owner/chef at Sugo, Tauranga

 

YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS

WHAT: Hāngī with Kasey and Kārena Bird
WHERE: Persimmon Lane, Te Puna Road, Tauranga
WHEN: Friday 8, Saturday 9 & Sunday 10 April, 3pm-6pm

WHAT: Plant-based Kings Feast luncheon
WHERE: Sugo, Wharf Street, Tauranga
WHEN: Sunday 10 April, 11.30am-3.30pm

WHAT: Raw-milk cheese tasting, factory tour and cheese rolling
WHERE: Mount Eliza Cheese, Hot Springs Road, Katikati
WHEN: Sunday 10 April, 2pm-5pm

WHAT: Bay to Plate 5-course menu
WHERE: Clarence Bistro, Willow Street, Tauranga
WHEN: Sunday 10 April, midday-4pm

WHAT: Brewbus NZ craft beer tour, meet the maker and lunch
WHERE: Mata Brewery in Whakatāne and Lumberjack Brewing in Pukehina
WHEN: Saturday 9 April, 10am-4.30pm

WHAT: The Good Fusion – an afternoon of food, fashion and music
WHERE: Port Ōhope Wharf, Whakatāne
WHEN: Sunday 10 April, midday-2.30pm

WHAT: Truffle farm tour and dégustation
WHERE: Te Puke Truffles then The Trading Post, Paengaroa
WHEN: Thursday 7, Friday 8 & Saturday 9 April, 4pm-8.30pm

WHAT: Come Dine with Pepper and Me
WHERE: Elizabeth Street Café, Tauranga
WHEN: Thursday 7 April, 7pm-10.30pm