Michael Easton and Sarah Neale discovered the wonders of Japanese barbecue in an unlikely spot. While on holiday in Tahiti in 2015, the couple found themselves eating off small Japanese charcoal grills called shichirin. They joined French and Japanese families tucking into freshly cooked meats that had been cooked on the small barbecues, wrapped in fresh iceberg lettuce and served with various salads.

“We were completely swept away by this barbecue experience… we couldn’t stop talking about it,” Michael recalls.

They figured Kiwis would be keen adopters of this way of eating and that shichirin gave them a great opportunity to leave their jobs and pursue their passion for food. They set up a business, Little BBQ, to bring shichirin to New Zealand, and now through their website sell Japanese-made tabletop grills of various shapes and sizes, including the original style, made from diatomaceous earth, which is well-known for its insulation properties.

Often called hibachi, the barbecues require minimal time to get started because of their efficient design. They also retain heat for longer, hike up to 500℃ and are cool to touch, so ideal for using on tabletops.

Michael says the shichirin is just another tool in the barbecue arsenal. “We don’t see ourselves as an alternative to big barbecuing, we see ourselves as a part of it.

“It’s important to us that it’s seen as an inclusive form of barbecue, as a genuinely interactive way to barbecue.”

Michael, who used to run a marketing agency, and Sarah, who had a long career in hospitality, started Little BBQ in 2016, at the same time as they launched their dumpling business, Very Good Dumplings.

“All these things came together at a bit of a confluence point, where we just thought hey, let’s import these barbecues and make dumplings for Farro and Moore Wilson’s.

“Being empty nesters helps. Now the kids are gone, we’ve got another couple of big babies to talk about all the time.”