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Defending the culinary capital

Last week we launched a shiny new editorial column in which contributing troublemaker Felix Foodcritic questioned the veracity of Wellington’s claim on the title of culinary capital.

“Is there any title Wellington won’t claim as its own, besides not a single Super Rugby championship?” he asked. “Must it really take the title of New Zealand’s culinary capital, too? I’m not absolutely positively sure it deserves it.”

When readers weren’t venting their frustration (or agreement) on the Menus Facebook page and Twitter account they were leaving messages on the column itself, the best of which pointed out the Beef Wellington was named after New Zealand's true culinary capital.

So, in the interest of fair play, we asked a number of Wellington food bloggers to defend their city. This is what they had to say.

Mika Reilly of Gusty Gourmet…

Auckland is a bigger city than Wellington; of course there are more restaurants, we all know that. But does that mean Auckland is the real culinary capital? I disagree.

Wellington may be small, but the concentration of quality restaurants here is hard to beat. Felix pointed out that at this year’s Cuisine Restaurant of the Year awards, only one Wellington restaurant  won an award category, which, Felix says, puts Wellington on par with Hamilton or Whangarei. But that doesn’t take into account the nine other Wellington restaurants that placed in Cuisine’s Top 50.

But more significant is the collaborative spirit of those involved in the food, beverage and tourism industries here. Key players in the food scene here work together instead of trying to outdo one another. It’s fun, creative, and Wellingtonians reap the benefits .Where else would you find top chefs vying for a turn at cooking up cheap eats at a market like we have at the City Market?

During Wellington on a Plate I ate a fantastically innovative eight-course dinner at the Garage Project brewery, a collaboration between Garage Project and chef Jacob Brown of the Larder, where the lines between beer-to-food and food-to-beer matching were blurred. I ate oysters every day at the Oyster Saloon, an oyster cart dreamed up by Rachel Taulelei of seafood supplier Yellow Brick Road and staffed by not only Rachel but various chefs from top restaurants like Martin Bosley’s and Logan Brown.   

And what about the decision of world-renowned culinary school Le Cordon Bleu to open its New Zealand campus in Wellington, not Auckland? 

Bigger might equal more, Felix, but it certainly doesn’t equal better.

Mika Reilly is a writer who blogs about food in Wellington at Gusty Gourmet and the food she cooks at home on Milliemirepoix. You can find Mika on Twitter at @milliemirepoix.

Joanna McLeod of The Wellingtonista…

If Auckland wants to be the “Capital of Cuisine” then that’s fine. ‘Capital’ is a good title for a city where if you want to go to its best restaurants, you’re giving your money to a casino.

Besides, ‘cuisine’ is such a lofty word that suggests it’s not accessible to the common diner. Down here in Wellington, at the Portlander you can pay $46 for the long bone OP rib steak, possibly the best steak you’ll ever eat in your life, but you can also get their delicious burgers (lamb slow-cooked in duck fat, anyone?) for $10 at lunchtime.

You can dine at Martin Bosley’s by the water and pay a small fortune, but you can also grab a bacon buttie from him personally at the markets while you do your vegetable shopping. Chances are you’ve already bumped into him over a coffee somewhere else anyway. Because that’s how Wellington operates. Our food is delicious, creative and exciting – but it’s also accessible.

Auckland can give itself whatever titles it likes – we’ll be down here eating while they’re talking.

Joanna McLeod is the editor of The Wellingtonista. Since 2005, we’ve been promoting and writing about its many interesting aspects: places to get drunk, things to go and see, events to participate in, bands to listen to, places to get drunk, plays to watch, comments on local news, restaurants to eat in, and (sometimes) places to get drunk.

Laura Vincent of Hungry and Frozen…

My first thought was "well, what does it matter where is supposedly better?"

I guess it goes to show how much I love this city I live in because my follow-up thought was "but Wellington just is, okay? Case closed!" So there's my argument. Kidding. I’ll try elaborating.

I'm the first to acknowledge Auckland is exciting. But what might be seen as a drawback is really something to celebrate about Wellington city: it’s comparatively tiny. You can throw a dart anywhere (please don't literally do this) and undoubtedly hit somewhere serving up incredible quality food.

On Cuba Street alone exists the kind of variety and quality that you might have to drive miles to locate in sprawling Auckland. We do boutique cafes, countless international cuisines, fancypants dining – and don't even get me started on our amazing coffee. Oh wait: it's better than anywhere.

Auckland is great, but Wellington is the best. Save that money you would've spent on petrol while idling in traffic to get from one side of Auckland to the other and use it on amazing food in Wellington, after the merest of strolls from A (where you are) to B (many incredible cafes, just minutes away).

And if there's anything I learned from watching the Olympics, it's that winning per capita is totally valid.

Laura Vincent has been blogging recipes at Hungry and Frozen since 2007. When it comes to food she adores butter, Nigella Lawson, brunch, having dinner parties and inventing recipes. Calories don't scare her but margarine does. She is currently writing her first cookbook which will be out in 2013.

Don't forget to check out the column that started it all – Auckland is the capital of cuisine – and stay tuned for more editions of Food for thought with Felix Foodcritic coming soon.

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Comments (2 comments)

  • mitsiladd

    As I said last week. Who really cares. If Auckland wants the title let it have it. Lets just enjoy the food.

    1:42PM, 6th Dec 2012

  • patrickisready

    Interesting...I guest I would have to try both Auckland & Wellington.

    3:42PM, 6th Dec 2012

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