Lunch with Kate
Tucked away in an old chocolate factory in Parnell is renowned Auckland restaurant, CIBO. A warm welcome from Jeremy, owner and front of house, beckons diners into a light airy space with a view out to the sheltered private courtyard.
Kate Fay is Executive Chef and has been here for 20 of CIBO’s 25 years. It was a pleasure to sit down with her for a chat about Provenance lamb and all sorts of other topics as the conversation moved about.
Kate is very much the working chef. She was up and down to the kitchen overseeing a lamb tartare entrée and, later on, a lamb rump and belly main that we thoroughly enjoyed, accompanied with wines matched by Brad, resident Captain Awesome wine matcher.
The strip loin lamb tartare was beautifully plated with peas, mint gel and fennel, accompanied by black garlic hummus, lamb fat emulsion, crumbed sweetbread bites and nasturtium leaves topped with potato paper and a cured egg yolk sprinkled on the top. It looked too good to disturb but we were glad we did, it was stunning. Brad matched it with a Waitaki Valley Q Estate pinot noir rose 2018 which was perfect for the dish.
Kate also produced a small plate of minced tartare lamb from another company to compare. She noted Provenance lamb was more flavoursome and silky on the tongue – she was right. To be fair, the texture was similar because for this dish she cuts the meat very finely, leaving less complex texture compared with a whole piece of meat. Even so, she was very pleased with the delicate flavour of Provenance in comparison with the blandness of the other lamb.
Kate disappeared to cook the main which she had previously prepped. After ten minutes or so we were served with a whole rump and a small piece of belly with the bone in. Again, a stunning presentation.
The meat had a subtle flavouring of cumin and was accompanied by sheep feta, smoked aubergine, courgette, spinach and nettle puree and burnt onion maltose garnished with a charred pickling onion. The meat jus was enriched with a hint of coffee for a smoky flavour.
It was a generous serving with all the flavours working together brilliantly for a delicious and filling lunch. Brad matched it with Te Mata Awatea Cabernet Merlot 2016, Hawkes Bay, a heavier wine more suited to the meatiness of the dish.
Conversation with Kate continued throughout our meal, interspersed with orders to staff, an appearance or two from Jeremy, Brad topping up the wine and the occasional appreciative “ahhh” as a particular flavour was experienced.
Kate said she really liked both the flavour and the texture of Provenance lamb, describing the flavour as “herbaceous”. She attributes this to the mixed forage the lambs are eating on the high country farm in Central Otago. She described the meat as “beautiful” and of all the rumps they have used, the most tender. She sees it as the best lamb on offer and good value.
Kate loves changing the menu depending on the season and availability of herbs and vegetables. CIBO has always had the traditional mint and pea flavours going as a balance to the fattiness, but she likes having the cap on the rump so they can saute it in its own fat and not add anything extra to the pan. She was happy with the menu and thinks they will go through the summer with this combination of flavours.
In terms of food trends, Kate says they make up their own as they go along. She doesn’t like the current trend of Instagram which encourages looking on rather than experiencing food.
Even though grains are currently much talked about Kate says they have been using alternative grains like buckwheat and quinoa for some time. Some of this has been driven by her sudden diagnosis of coeliac disease but she says the kitchen have enjoyed experimenting with grains, making flours (not content with what is supplied by the market) and creating desserts, in particular.
Her kitchen team are her inspiration for cooking as they bring ideas and enthusiasm into the kitchen with them. Kate says she loves being in the kitchen and is not quite ready to let it go. We hope she will keep cooking and loving it for many more years.
Kate enjoys cooking curries or lamb at home, describing herself as “big on curry”! She mused that perhaps it was time to try an Asian inspired lamb dish for the menu. She has thousands of cook books on her shelf, tending to buy more Asian inspired ones as she enjoys the South East Asian style and flavour. She says they use Asian flavours in their menu and have done for a long time – before it was even trendy, she laughs!