Anyone who has eaten at Pasture knows that chef-owner Ed Verner is a rockstar of culinary innovation. Our Cuisine Good Food Awards assessors must certainly think so, having bestowed on him the Ōra King Salmon Innovation Award for 2019. What earned him the title? We asked head judge Kerry Tyack and Cuisine editor Kelli Brett. 

What makes an innovative chef?
“Bravery, an enquiring mind, patience.” Kerry

“Innovative chefs are curious, brave, persistent risk-takers, always with a generous dollop of genius in the mix.” Kelli 

What is Ed doing at Pasture that qualifies him for this?
There are many innovative chefs in New Zealand but too many have not yet reached the point where they are ready to commit their ideas to a menu. Too many are experimenting on diners and the result is a lack of cohesion and consistency. Great menus take time to fully evolve. Over the last year Verner has morphed from being one seeking a unique direction, into a cook with a confident, distinctive style that is way beyond experimentation and is now offering food with distinction and definition.” Kerry

Ed took a huge risk last year throwing aside the conventional approach to a restaurant, limiting his service to six seats per sitting and eliminating front of house staff to take a distinctly modern approach to old techniques. The result is an incredible dining experience that is delivered personally to you by a chef with great skill and passion. It is intense but also great fun. There is nothing else like it in New Zealand. The food will blow you away.” Kelli

Is there one dish you’ve eaten at Pasture that you think exemplifies his innovation?
“Pāua/abalone in pig fat with chrysanthemum, or the crayfish with wasabi.” Kerry

“Too hard. But Ed has the confidence that allows him to not hide behind the all too common overuse of elements on the plate. The complex simplicity of a piece of aged albacore tuna, left to gently warm by the wood-fired oven and served on a pristine block of ice. His legendary sourdough ‘pig crumpet’ quickly blasted in pork fat over the fire and topped with a fine lacy frill of the house-made pancetta. The inspired pairing of a delicate cucumber and white asparagus juice with raw diamond shell clams. The treatment of a piece of beef, brought in whole, butchered and aged for 5 months in-house, served crackling from the char brought on by Ed’s studious fanning of the flames, so tender it evaporates on your tongue. O-M-G that 12-month-aged butter on the best bread you will ever eat. I’m still thinking about this meal…” Kelli 

What are your thoughts on the journey Ed/Pasture have been on over the last two years?
“We liked Verner a lot when he first opened and we saw plenty of potential.  He was Cuisine‘s Chef of the Year in 2017.  It has become clear that he has settled on a wonderfully innovative path and is succeeding where others are still struggling, taking his diners on a rare and bespoke culinary journey.” Kerry

Ed has definitely done the hard yards. From a flying start in 2016 that saw Pasture claim Best Chef and Best Drinks List at the 2017 Cuisine Good Food Awards, to the changes in direction for Pasture in 2018 that came at a time when we were unable to get back in to reassess the restaurant for our Cuisine Good Food Guide. Through it all, Ed has driven his vision and stayed true to his concept. He took a huge risk and backed himself. The late-great Jonathan Gold (food critic for the LA Times) told me that he felt Ed’s approach to food at Pasture was something that he would take away from New Zealand and think about for a long time. We should be very proud of that.” Kelli