August 2nd, 2017 Chris

Spotlight on Laurent Loudeac

France: the land of champagne, butter as a food group, and a steadfast devotion to protecting centuries-old culinary traditions. French cuisine is seen by many to be the benchmark for fine dining, and in 2010 French gastronomy was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. Sacré bleu! The French embrace food with such fervour that when Pixar makes a film that suggests even its rodents can dazzle the harshest of critics with their culinary prowess you think, “yeah – that probably could happen.” It's no wonder that it has produced a veritable who’s who of highly regarded and game-changing chefs who have influenced the way the world cooks and eats.

Wellington is fortunate to have one of France’s very own call this city home. Hippopotamus’ Executive Chef Laurent Loudeac has made a major contribution to our local culinary scene with a combination of his classical training and a willingness to explore and embrace local ingredients and flavours. He describes his culinary philosophy as “fresh, balanced, simplicity and good combinations of flavours” and takes his greatest inspiration from the ingredients he uses. This October, he'll celebrate ten years with Hippopotamus.

Laurent says that he and the team at Hippopotamus start brainstorming and planning for VWOAP as soon as each festival ends. As per previous festivals, Hippopotamus has much to offer this year, from a five-course degustation celebrating the restaurant's diverse staff to a chocolate high tea and Monet-inspired meal.

Once again, Hippopotamus will hold a special one-off Winemaker Dinner to shine the spotlight on a local winery. This year, Martinborough winery The Elder will supply the inspiration and wine for a sumptuous five-course feast. The Elder's philosophy of producing premium single-vineyard wine is a perfect fit for Hippopotamus' equally high standards when it comes to food. With a focus on just two varieties – Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris – winemaker Nigel Elder ensures that quality comes first. Nigel says that The Elder's wines are "made in a very elegant, food friendly style. Not for quaffing but sharing on memorable occasions." The Winemaker Dinner promises to be such a memorable occasion, and Nigel can't wait to share it with Hippopotamus and a room full of appreciative diners.

For anyone unfamiliar with The Elder, Laurent recommends their 2012 Pinot Noir, which he describes as “just beautiful”. He has planned a special menu that will not only showcase The Elder, but will educate and open up diners' palettes to the daring possibilities of pairing wine with food. Some of the dishes you'll enjoy at this exclusive dinner include a pumpkin risotto (paired with The Elder’s 2011 Pinot Gris), salmon, scallops and scampi in red wine butter sauce, and braised beef cheek bourguignon with celeriac puree.

After making it to last year’s Burger Wellington cook-off final with an immensely popular (and surprising) dessert burger, Laurent and his team are putting their chances on not one, not two, but three seafood sliders. As with last year’s sweet effort, they wanted to not only tackle the festival theme but to also come up with a high-end offering that wouldn’t be out of place at Hippopotamus. The seafood sliders are also symbolic of what Laurent consider a quintessential part of Kiwi food culture: our close relationship with the land and the sea, and our national penchant for hunting and gathering.

Hippopotamus' Kai Moana Mini Burgers bring together three Kiwi seafood favourites: pāua fritters, whitebait fritters and oysters. Although Laurent thinks that seafood can be a risk, he’s hoping that these three sliders will give him a chance to show off a wide range of techniques and tempting flavours. These three delicacies are an excellent representation of seafood unique to New Zealand, and being uncommon burger ingredients they are an opportunity for diners (and Laurent) to challenge themselves with something fun and different.

And in keeping with the festival theme of food as a part of New Zealand's culture, Hippopotamus’ Dine Wellington menu bridges the gap between French classics and Kiwi favourites. Case in point: the entree of French onion soup is given a decidedly Kiwi update with the inclusion of Marmite, which really enhances the savoury notes of the soup. For Hippopotamus' festival dish, Laurent is taking on The Humble Kiwi Pie featuring Black Dog beer-braised venison leg, Parkvale mushrooms and cherries. It's served in a cast iron pan and topped with fluffy mashed potato and delicate flaky pastry – I'm never one to say no to a little carb-on-carb action! And for dessert, your Sophie's choice is between a hokey pokey and Anzac biscuit extravaganza or the jaffa-inspired dark chocolate mousse with orange curd. This is an occasion where dining with a friend or two could work in your favour – if they're the sharing kind!