Quintin Quider, founder and owner of Central Otago’s Wild Earth Wines, came up with the idea of cooking dinner in a wine barrel in 2008 with his friend Stormalong Stanley, who was visiting from Stewart Island. They simply lopped the top off an old pinot noir barrel to create an experimental, makeshift smoker. “We cooked mussels, which I’m not a big fan of, and salmon. It was the best salmon I’ve had in my life and the mussels were really good,” Quintin says.

Fast forward 10 years and the winery’s kitchen almost exclusively cooks out of the barrels, as well as catering to events around the country with them. Dubbed “The Stoaker”, the design has evolved slightly from the original, which used methylated spirits and an old Weber barbecue’s grill, but is now powered by a gas bottle, has multiple levels for cooking and shut-off systems for extra security.

“[Originally] we put water in the bottom because we thought the barrel was going to burn up, but the water has become an integral part of the whole cooking system,” Quintin explains.

The water essentially steams whatever is placed in the barrel, and keeps the interior moist, while adding extra wood chips smokes the ingredients. It is unlike anything else done in New Zealand, Quintin says, but the closest comparable methods would be hāngī or fire cookers similar to those used in American-style low ’n’ slow barbecue. Then again, it can’t really be compared to either because you’re “cooking with wood, in wood”, he says.

Quintin, who’s originally from Los Angeles, calls it “barrel cuisine”. “It’s in a class of its own, because it is cooked in the barrel and the textures and flavours are different to other cuisine styles.”

The Stoaker can also be used as a conventional oven, a pizza oven or as a traditional barbecue, and Wild Earth has even baked cheesecakes in the barrel. Quintin says tougher cuts of meat, such as ribs or shoulders, cook relatively quickly but with the same effect as low ’n’ slow-style offset cookers. “You can try to overcook beef, fish or lamb and it’s still really forgiving.”

Since rolling the barrels out, Quintin has trademarked his design and is looking at ways to sell it to the international market.

He currently sells the Stoaker to New Zealand buyers through the website for $1195. wildearthwines.co.nz/stoaker

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