COVID-19 travel alert: New Zealand is currently at Alert Level 1. Learn more.
When your work can finish as late as 2am, you need to start the day well. Paul Froggatt, head chef at Taupō’s luxurious Huka Lodge, sets himself up for the demands of a busy fine-dining kitchen by making time to meditate each morning. He doesn’t have to look far to find a dedicated space – a serene meditation garden shaded by 100-year-old Californian redwoods is one of many recreation facilities set in the lodge’s lush 17-acre private estate.
With the lodge’s menu changing daily, Paul is always looking for new ingredients. On one visit to Taupō’s saffron-grower, he spotted unusual white alpine strawberries growing wild. “The grower said she was planning to dig them up and throw them away. ‘No, no,’ I said. ‘Don’t do that. I’ll buy them.’ Now she picks them in the morning, delivers them at 2pm, and they’re on the plate by seven. I don’t think you can find that anywhere else.”
Huka Honey Hive, just a few minutes down the road from the lodge, is another spot where he’s found artisan produce. “They have a whole range of different honey products. I had a real fascination with that place when I first got here.”
Hunting, fishing and foraging wild also contribute to the lodge’s menu, often led by expert local guides. “We don’t get out a lot in summer because it’s so busy at the lodge, but winter I would go fishing at least once a week, out on the Hinemaiaia rivers,” says Paul. “We team-fish four or five times over winter.” At the lodge, Paul likes to confit trout, but at home, he makes tapas. “I’ll put it in my hot smoker and make a rillette with it, with capers, gherkins, shallots and dressing, to have on toast or crackers."
Otherwise, he often heads off to cycle one of the riverside tracks. “Cycling clears the mind,” he says. Once, during a ride through the geothermal Craters Mountain Bike Park, Paul’s son pointed out a cluster of mushrooms growing through a pile of coloured leaves on the ground. “Later, when I was thinking about new dishes, I came up with the idea of making root vegetable tuiles shaped like leaves. That became Autumn Walk, a dish of pickled and marinated mushrooms, fallen apples, candied walnuts and vegetable ‘leaves’ in autumn colours.”