A little lump is lodged permanently in my throat, even more so after Level-3 (round three) in Auckland. Some of us are having to swallow hard and push any fear and anxiety deep down inside so that we can remain optimistic and get on with running our businesses and our lives. It’s a similar feeling that many in our hospitality industry grapple with as they bear the weight of business closures, drastic resource and budget cuts, job losses or, for the luckier in a no-win situation, forced redundancies. Marisa Bidois, Restaurant Association NZ CEO, tells me that the association had seen 78 closures by mid-September and that the period post-COVID-19 is going to be a rollercoaster. Lockdown and the inability to open for business forced our hospitality industry to take a much-needed break. Some have returned with a new or perhaps more thoughtful approach, some have returned to business as usual and some have not returned at all. New kids on the block have opened at a most extraordinary time where all of the old rules can (and should) be challenged. Back at the end of April as New Zealand moved from complete lockdown to Level 3, some hospitality teams began returning to work with an approach to their menus that was not just about food that travelled well in takeaway containers. Was this a seminal moment?

THE FISH SUPPER…

Alex Davies launched his takeaway option at Gatherings in Christchurch with a totally pared-back concept. Alex turned to artisanal fisher Nate Smith at Gravity fishing to offer his customers the ‘fish supper’ – a whole line-caught fish, roasted or grilled, served with a selection of salads, sides and sauces. When Gatherings re-opened on 20 May, Alex announced that it would not return to its original menu. “Over lockdown we rediscovered the joys of cooking big, family-style meals, using food as a means to comfort and come together in a beautiful ritual and celebration at a time of such uncertainty. This is something we want to share with you.” Alex told me the lockdown experience at home with his family had given him the opportunity to re-evaluate what and how he likes to eat. Sharing his takeaway fish suppers brought it home that the social element is key, and this is what builds an all-important community presence and connection.

THE APPLE CRUMBLE…

In the lead up to the pandemic, Lucas Parkinson and his team at Ode Wanaka had fought unthinkable odds having survived a restaurant fire, insurance battles, huge legal costs and the immense pressure that rebuilding and re-opening threw at them, only to have COVID-19 close their doors just as they were glimpsing a light at the end of the tunnel. Team Ode entered Level-3 (round two) with one item only on offer – an apple crumble. It was $10, it fed 2-3 adults and it came with free delivery. It was hoped that this heat-and-eat crumble made with local organic ingredients would raise some much-needed finance to get them back into the game. In week 1 their rendition of New Zealand’s favourite dessert sold out. The next week Ode paid it forward by donating 100 crumbles to frontline workers and locals in need. For Lucas, his humble crumble became an exercise in community spirit. “It was our pack of bandits hustling to save their jobs with almost 3000kg of donated backyard fruit. It was every local media outlet pushing the crumble message, being stopped every 30 seconds on the street to hear kind words of support and hundreds of online messages urging us to keep going. It was Toyotas rolling by with young hooligans yelling out ‘go the crumble!’”

Elsewhere, chef Vaughan Mabee began rolling out some of the best pies on the planet from his fine-dining kitchen at Amisfield in Arrowtown, and while Laura Greenfield and Raechal Ferguson of Field & Green fired up their Kedgeree Tuk Tuk to deliver their much-loved comfort dish to Wellingtonians, renowned Auckland restaurateur Micheal Dearth hit the road in his Baduzzi meatball truck, and Cibo’s Jeremy Turner and Kate Faye sold out of their takeaway pavs for breakfast. Food from the heart was becoming a familiar story around the country. One thing is very clear: enforced takeaways have made us crave the real experience even more. Experiential dining will not go away; my money is on places that are driven by a love of food, prepare it well and serve it honestly with very few layers between the diner and the chef. Will they survive? Well, that will depend on how much we are willing to spend. And for those of you who laughed at Ed Verner’s six-seater concept at Pasture, I bet you are not laughing now…

Editor’s note.
Since publishing this article we have been advised that Ode Wanaka will deliver their last service on Sunday 8 November unless additional support from an investor or a buyer can be obtained.

“With incredible support from the community and 2 tonnes of apple crumble later, we reopened and things were going well. When the second lockdown hit we lost a majority of our bookings and since then we’ve been trying to claw our way back, but shoulder season in Wanaka has proven too much to withstand. Our last service will be 8 November but in true Ode fashion, we are not going down without a fight. If we can find adequate investors or a buyer then Ode can live on.”
Lucas Parkinson Chef/Owner Ode Wanaka.

Contact eat@odewanaka.com

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