WILD AT HEART

By Cuisine5 Minutes
July 19, 2021By Cuisine

Often, in search of a fresh adventure, you come full circle. When Dariush Lolaiy and Rebecca Smidt decided to open a deli to bring products they love and use at wild-game restaurant Cazador to their customers, they ended up back in the same place. “We looked for ages for a new location, but it was right there in front of us,” says Rebecca.

Well actually, alongside. The couple converted the private dining room into a tile-lined outlet with a cabinet crammed with cheese, pies, sandwiches and pastries, and floor-to- ceiling shelves laden with a curation of goodies. It feels European and personable, a welcoming space to settle in for a coffee and some culinary eye candy.

When the deli opened, it was the middle of lockdown, which turned out to be a blessing. The team packed hampers of delectable edibles to send off to locals lusting after a taste of pre-pandemic life. It meant they could retain all their staff and it was also a wonderful way to connect with clientele.

A glance at the inventory is like a snapshot of the couple’s lives. There are sherries, sherry vinegars and anchovies from the time, before children, when they travelled extensively in Spain. There are Italian truffles and rustic artisanal pasta shapes. Then there are the Kiwi entries: among others, eggs from Olliff Farm that are the real-deal free-range and, apparently, the secret to Cazador’s chocolate mousse; and a gluten-free loaf mix from The Midnight Baker to satisfy bread lovers.

Heat-and-eat ready meals are also part of the line-up, but not in the usual sense. “We draw inspiration from the rosticceria in Italy, which falls somewhere between a traditional deli and a roast meat place,” explains Dariush. So, the team at Cazador will do the hard or time-consuming work by, say, marinating or brining a cut of meat for three days, or pre-cooking an entire porchetta belly (with crackling) for customers to warm up at home. These offerings come and go with the seasons – and on a whim. They’re usually limited and advertised over social media. You snooze, you lose. “But if you have a special occasion, get in touch. We like the idea that we can build relationships with our customers,” says Dariush.

Here is a chef who brings his multi-streamed background to his repertoire, weaving in culinary memories from Mexico (his mother’s side) and Iran (his father’s) with peripatetic influences. Like his father, Dariush is a committed ethical hunter who believes that eating wild is “more free-range than free-range”. Not only is meat sourced this way an amazing source of protein, but hunting has its place in managing pest populations.

Principled deer hunters, says Dariush, also identify which animals to take to cause the least social disruption to the herd. Older deer, for example, can pull out the grass at the roots so there is no regeneration, thus damaging the very fauna they rely on. He thinks it is a shame hunters are not allowed to sell wild birds, saying this is why many end up buried rather than consumed. And while he has never tasted possum, he wishes that he could: “They eat the delicate part of the plant, so I’m sure they’d taste good.”

An advocate of nose-to-tail eating, Dariush treats the animals he receives from trusted sources – hares from MPI-approved brokers, pigs from Longbush or Farmgate – with respect. His hand-crafted charcuterie, perfect parfaits and game pies are testament to a holistic approach that comes from the heart. “It’s a very real thing, that sense of responsibility. I feel the circle of life and death.” CLAIRE McCALL