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Alan Brown’s final blog – reporting in on his US West Coast gastronomic tour

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Senior chef tutor at AUT University, Alan Brown at large – enjoying a local glass of chardonnay recently at The Grill, St Helena, Napa Valley.

It was a tough task, eating at some of the best restaurants and cafes on the US West Coast, and Alan Brown achieved it, superbly. Senior chef tutor at AUT University, Brown was under strict instruction to spend the proceeds of his AUT University Vice-Chancellors Award for Excellence in Teaching by the end of this year. So, recently he and partner Trish Miles embarked on their 20 day, whirlwind food and wine road trip. A tough task indeed Brown says, “Involving months of research and planning, not to mention the hardship of trying to ignore the anticipation in the meantime.” Brown blogged exclusively for Hospitality Business throughout his trip and back home now, he reflects on his experiences.

What was the biggest joy of the trip?
The immense hospitality and generosity of our Canadian and American industry peers – wait staff (servers), bar staff, chefs, owners, and our Airbnb hosts. We had not even one average service experience. And it’s all done with such natural ease, professionalism and what one feels is genuine pleasure. It’s not in your face, it just ‘is’. Can we import some of that here?

Biggest surprise?
That strawberries can taste like that.

Best inspiration?
Aside from the people, the kitchen gardens and direct farmer/fisherman to chef relationships. Let’s get more of that happening here.

Biggest revelation?
Beet thinnings…oh and white Fraise de bois (white wild strawberries).

Are there things you’re going to do differently in the kitchen based on discoveries you made on the trip?
Not so much do things differently as incorporate ideas into my menus and using ingredients across growing cycles rather than just ‘in season.’

Final thoughts on your West Coast Tour?
There wasn’t one highlight or favourite meal – it was all a highlight and they were all favourites. If I were judging, they all ranked first or second place based on what they were and what they were setting out to achieve. They were pretty much on a par with each other, just in different ways. If there was one highlight, it was nothing to do with food but to do with outstanding service.

It all started as soon as we landed in Vancouver – fabulous food experiences. But even more so, the hospitality extended to us. It so exceeded any expectations we might have had. So thank you to all those who ‘served’ us, cooked for us, hosted us and just made and gave time for us. We were just plain blown away.

Where next?
Where? I don’t even want to think about it, but there is a two week trip to Kenya in seven weeks’ time for a family 70th birthday celebration. I think I’m cooking….zebra, giraffe, croc, snake? Could bring a whole new perspective to the concept of garden to fork? In the meantime, I’m putting some thought to sieving through all the wonderful dishes we tasted and the ideas of more we didn’t, to come up with a nine course West Coast Tour inspired degustation meal with a presentation to be hosted at AUT Four Seasons restaurant. Watch this space for details.

Tell us about your book that’s coming out?
It’s due for general release early November. The working title is The Complete Kiwi Guide to Pizza Ovens: Wood, Fire, Food and Friends. The concept is the everyday man’s user’s manual for building from scratch or kitset or installing a premade oven, and how to fire it up, keep it going, plan a meal (not just pizza), overnight cooking, baking, breakfast the next day, smoking, dehydrating, how to make dough…i.e. using it for a full 24-hour cooking cycle. Plus info on oven equipment, where you can buy stuff, other useful books, and 13 or so features on folk who own ovens around NZ, their stories and experiences. Oh, and about 70 or so easy to use recipes, from pizza to overnight lamb to the best mushrooms you ever ate, to French toast, fried eggs, meringues and smoked salmon. All dishes can be made by conventional cooking methods too. Bon appétit.

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  • John Kelleher

    Can’t wait for the photo presentation.