As a young child, Teresa Pert watched and absorbed the good-housekeeping tricks that her mother employed to feed a family of five for two nights on just one fish. What seems like mathematical magicking was the norm in this household where the catch of the day (and the day after) was hauled out of the waters around the Mahia Peninsula, an area of the  country known to Māori as ‘the fish hook of Maui’.

Now, as the head chef at Wellington’s Ortega Fish Shack, Teresa brings those commonsense ideas to play, finding tasty ways to transform less-lovely fish bits into moreish morsels. “Once we’ve used the beautiful fillets on the menu, we make fish sammies – teeny sandwiches – from the flappy belly offcuts,” says restaurant manager Kim van Rijn. Reimagining fish dishes with a focus on sustainability, Ortega enjoy a close working relationship with providore Scott McNeil of Awatoru Enterprises. “He’s a local, a catcher and hunter himself and supplies us with all things ‘wild food’,” says Kim. “He has shaped the way a lot of businesses around here source their product.”

That includes introducing Ortega to Better Fishing in Hawke’s Bay, a husband-and-wife commercial fishing concern that has developed an innovative process for catching fish that allows juveniles to escape. This dramatically minimises byproduct waste.

Another approach is to gently steer customers towards more sustainable alternatives. Or, like Mamma might say, to ‘get what you’re given’. The restaurant serves what is plentiful and available, so the menu morphs every day. “We don’t endeavour to source snapper just because that is what people are used to,” says Kim.

For the most part, diners are happy to be led, taking a leap of faith to try things that may be unusual – options such as kahawai sashimi where the fish is left to “sing in its natural state” or those now-famous, delicious fish sammies: an offering for the times with a very personal provenance.

Serves: 4
Preparation: 20 mins plus 2 hrs purge time
Cook: 15 mins
CLOUDY BAY TUATUA
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