This winter, the inaugural Rotorua Matariki Dish Challenge saw 11 local eateries create delicious dishes that highlighted the region’s food while celebrating Matariki.
The challenge, which ran for five weeks allowed the public, locals and visitors alike, to taste their way around some of the town’s best eateries. And they were spoilt for choice!
The region’s newest eateries made their mark on Rotorua’s culinary scene including ANI’s Gin Bar & Tapas with their Puha Pasta, and Poco with a beetroot cured warehou kumara brandade. Peppers on the Point impressed with a fine dining entry while the Pullman Rotorua’s Barrel & Co Bar & Grill reinvented the classic boil up. Casual eateries also shone with dishes like Fat Dog’s Matariki Eggs Bene, and Eastwood’s manuka-infused lamb pizza.
The judges’ job was a tough one, which Vanessa Wallace, RotoruaNZ business events manager, said is testament to the high quality of the Rotorua food scene.
“It was a fiercely fought competition and we were delighted with the innovative concepts that our local chefs brought to life to celebrate local produce and our indigenous Te Arawa culture."
There can only be one winner though and claiming the title of 2022 Champion is Ambrosia Restaurant & Bar with their dish of Mamaku venison, Kākano harekeke and foraged Mamaku kawakawa pesto, celeriac puree, hāngi purple potato with Lux micro greens (pictured at top).
Ambrosia owner Kris Beehre (pictured above with L-R chef Bruce Thomason, judge Pete Peeti, and general manager Tom Lindley on the far right) said he was stoked with the results and proud of his team's efforts, including the front-of-house staff who presented the Matariki dishes to their guest in both English and te reo.
Te Arawa chef and competition ambassador, Pete Peeti said, “This was a stunning entry. It had all the elements the judges were seeking. It was technically very strong with every ingredient treated respectfully and carefully curated to ensure it contributed something essential and positive.
“Visually, it ticked all the boxes with a standard of presentation as good as you will see anywhere in the country. But it was the provenance of the dish and the expertly and sensitively told story that linked it to Matariki that raised the entry to the top. The judges really appreciated the attention paid to the detail including the menu presented in te reo and the unapologetic use of locally sourced ingredients. Ka pai!”
The judges weren’t the only ones to have their say, with the public casting their votes too. Taking out the 2022 People’s Choice Award was River’s Catch with their dish of in-house pickled New Zealand mussels, Treetops Lodge manuka honey, eggplant hummus, and Lux Organics purple potatoes on rewana flat bread (pictured above).
Chef-owner Isabel Talabis-Ronquillo (pictured below with Pete Peeti) said she was delighted and honoured to be seen by the community as the best, and she looks forward to next year's competition.
Celebrating local and discovering something new is at the heart of the challenge says event organiser Vicki Ravlich-Horan, founder and editor of Nourish Magazine.
“As New Zealand develops our own unique food, storytelling and provenance are key. The Matariki Dish Challenge is a wonderful chance for local eateries to start doing this and we were thrilled by the entries in this year’s challenge which spanned luxury resorts to a fish and chip shop, all of which have helped highlight the depth and breadth of cuisine on offer in Rotorua.”
Mr Peeti said he looks forward to an even bigger and better event for 2023.