Unna Burchof The Forest Cantina. Picture / Supplied.

Food Blogger Unna Burch Houses 20 Chickens and 38 Hives

The Wellington home cook shares her food diary

Unna Burch of The Forest Cantina describes her food philosophy as “free range, fair trade and fresh”. Based on the outskirts of “a little suburban forest” in Wellington, she relies on her chickens, pigs, bees, and an organic vegetable garden to stock her kitchen.

The beautifully photographed recipes featured on her blog have led to her first cookbook, to be released in August. Pre-order My Garden Kitchen here.

Hi Unna, what did you eat for breakfast today?
Coffee and fruit.

And what is in your fridge at the moment?
I’ve just done the groceries so it’s full. But on the regs there is:
— Stuff to make a salad — I keep all the salad ingredients in a large container so it’s easy to grab (lettuce, cucumber, mung bean sprouts, capsicum, fennel, radish, red onions etc and a container of toasted seeds).
— Two massive jars of preserved lemons that I did in January for my cookbook, taking up too much space.
— Masa flour for tortillas.
— Mustards and Best Foods light mayo.
— Individual cans of ginger ale for whisky and drys (nothing worse than making a whisky with a flat mixer!)
— Active dry yeast for making bread and pizzas.

Sounds delicious ... what is your favourite food?
I could not live without chocolate. Seriously. I’d be cranky!

Me too! And what is your least favourite?
I’d never request corned beef. Or sticky toffee/date pudding.

Do you have a favourite drink?
Mojitos — love that mint/lime/boozy combo ... or a really good celebratory Champagne! But, let’s be honest. I’m an at-home mum so my drink of choice is coffee.

What are you enjoying cooking currently?
Now that I’ve finished writing my book, I’m really enjoying cooking other people’s recipes and not measuring things and writing notes with everything I cook. I can chill for a bit. Fave books at the moment are ChinChin and Karena and Kasey’s new book (so cool). I am also enjoying cooking Bill Granger’s recipes from the Delicious magazines I have.

What is the most popular recipe you have ever cooked?
Man! I don’t know… I do these buttery, almost flaky home-made brioche buns with slow-cooked pulled pork (from our own pigs), slaw and a whisky barbecue sauce. That recipe gets lots of thumbs up (it’s in my book).

I also made a beetroot-and-raspberry icecream to go with a chocolate mousse cake at my recent Kinfolk gathering and it got some pretty amazing feedback. One guest Instagrammed that it was life changing! That was pretty cool to read.

Unna Burch scraping off the honey from her hives. Picture / Benjamin and Elise Photography.

What would you say are your most frequently used ingredients?
Probably lemons, garlic and herbs.

Do you have a favourite weeknight meal?
Pasta puttanesca or fish tacos.

Yum. And when you head out, where is your favourite place to dine?
I’ve never ever eaten a bad meal at Fisherman’s Plate on Bond St in Wellington. Best Vietnamese ever!

And in New Zealand?
I really loved Dear Jervois when we were in Auckland. Pipi in Havelock North has always been a fave too.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
Hands down, wontons with hot chilli sauce from Hu Tong on Commercial Rd in Melbourne. Mind blowing! Also, we ate these amazing tostadas in a market in Mexico City — we had no idea what to order, our Spanish was limited, but the lady kept feeding us these delicious combos and bottles of Coke until we had no room left in our bellies. It cost us about $5.

Mmm I’m salivating ... do you ever get food envy?
Yes! I get majorly bummed if someone orders a better dish than me. But that’s happened less frequently now that I look at the menu online before we go out. I have time to really decide what to have! And I check out hashtags on Instagram for restaurants to see what the food looks like.

Sounds ultra food geeky, but we don’t eat out all that often, so when we do it’s a treat and I want to make the most of it. Also, if we go out with friends, and the wait staff pop over for the third time and we’re still talking and haven’t even looked at the menu properly, you end up making hasty decisions! That’s the prime cause of food envy, IMHO. Planning ahead is key to dining out. If you’re a weirdo like me!

Haha. Do you have any food no-nos?
I don’t like offal or strong game meat flavours. But if Heston Blumenthal was cooking ... I’d eat anything!

Tell us what we can expect from your first cookbook.
It’s a collection of all my favourite things I love to cook, recipes you can make during the week or even serve at a dinner party. The food has been written, cooked, styled and photographed by me. Every single recipe has a beautiful image to go with it.

Benjamin and Elise Photography captured the lifestyle images to show things like our family life, as well as chickens, bees and gardens and how I use these backyard ingredients in my cooking. And I want my book to be something people cook from often and a source of visual inspiration.

Unna Burch and one of her chickens. Picture / Supplied.

It sounds amazing. Can you tell me a bit more about your chickens and bees?
I have 20 chickens at the moment. I wanted to have every possible egg shell colour available here in New Zealand, so it took me two years to get all the breeds to do so. From pale blues, olive toned greens, white to speckles, I have them all. For no other reason other than they look pretty.

I’m obsessive like that, my husband calls me a creep, haha. And our bees, we have 38 hives, eight at home and 30 off-site. My husband used to be a beekeeper for Arataki honey and his parents are beekeepers also. So it’s just a little something we have on the side. There is more info on the breeds of chickens we keep and our bees on my website.

What is your greatest food dream?
To eat all the carbs I want and still be skinny (jokes)! I feel like I’m kind of living the dream, cooking and taking photos — I just want to make some money now haha. I commissioned Firetail Films to make a film with me when I made my cookbook, an insight into the book in moving image. It will get released with the book as a media tool and I’m also hoping the right person will see it and say “wanna make a TV show?”

• Try Unna’s feijoa chutney recipe

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