The Food Diary: Ray McVinnie

Bite’s new consulting food director talks food memories, favourite dishes and international dining destinations


Ray McVinnie. Picture / Supplied.

What’s on your breakfast menu?

Not much — strong tea, maybe some porridge. I eat at about 11 and don’t go on about having to eat breakfast (tell that to the Italians, they’ll laugh). I work from home.

And for weeknights?

Fried fish and salad, roast chicken and potatoes, Asian dumplings with noodles, stir-fries.

Best meal you’ve had this week, and where did you have it?

At home. A vegetable tart and salad made by my genius partner. She is legendary for her knack with pastry.

What do you cook to relax?

Something with a process that takes time like making a curry paste, bread or pasta.

Tell us some of your most vivid food memories.

When I was little, listening to my grandparents discuss the merits of some tomatoes my grandfather had grown. I think it made me learn that food was to be taken seriously.

A seven-course seafood dinner in Puerto de la Santa Maria in the very south of Spain, where each course was matched with sherry.

Cheap and cheerful pizza dinners in Trastevere in Rome; anything our great friends and great cooks Daniela and Malcolm cook at their place near Siena; the streetfood in Penang.

Christmas dinners at home with the family; dinner at the Alain Ducasse restaurant in the Plaza Athenee hotel in Paris; dinners around the Formica table at the place up north where we go on holiday; cooking salt fish and ackee with my cousins in Jamaica.

It all sounds pretentious I know but I’m lucky to have had way too many opportunities for good food.

What’s your dinner party hosting style?

I try to make my style generously hospitable. First, a dinner party isn’t a cooking demo, the food is there to make people have a good time, so I don’t get too experimental. It’s about them not me. I usually do the Italian thing and serve a series of courses so it lasts longer. Or I will do the same with Asian food.

I serve everything family style on big platters for people to share, it breaks the ice if you have people who don’t know each other well.

I rarely plate the food; if I want restaurant food I go to a restaurant and let the professionals do it. I make sure there is plenty of food, no one likes a mean cook!

What are your favourite foods?

The choice is huge, I think food is like music, it depends how you feel, but some favourites are anything Japanese, New Zealand seafood cooked simply, especially our fish, Cloudy Bay clams and Bluff oysters, the best!

Having been brought up when chicken was a treat (my kids look at me with disbelief when I say this), I love roast chicken, preferably a Bostock organic free range one, because it tastes great and hasn’t been fiddled with. NZ apples, in fact most NZ ingredients because our stuff has great flavour. The list is endless.

And favourite drinks?

NZ chardonnay (not fashionable but I don’t care), NZ syrah, possibly the most interesting wine at the moment, NZ craft beers, a dry martini, Laphroaig whisky, sake, sherry, pure NZ milk (yep, I never lost the habit), tea in any form (Dilmah is my default variety).

Is there anything you won’t eat?

Brains. It’s psychological (love sweetbreads and liver), and anything badly cooked.

What’s in your fridge at the moment?

I have a 500 cubic litre commercial fridge which is pretty full at the moment, and apart from milk, eggs, butter and cat food, the picks are some butafara and chorizo sausages from Chorizo Garcia, Aoraki salmon, snapper and trevally caught and filleted by my son yesterday, lots of leftovers and plenty of vegetables.

Favourite places to dine?

The Engine Room, beautiful handmade food; Depot, ditto; Ras Vatika in Balmoral, great Indian vegetarian; Bunga Raya in New Lynn, great Malaysian; French Cafe for a slap-up special dinner; Baduzzi for possibly some of the best Italian in town; Rad cafe in Mt Eden.

All of these places have excellent cooking that has flavour, done by people who pay attention to the quality of ingredients and who don’t try and show off for the sake of it.

Describe the last meal you had out.

At Shop Eight in Christchurch, with Peta Mathias and Maureen and Wayne Startup from Village Press. The staff consists of a young team who use local ingredients to make simple (not plain) and delicious food in a very cool fit-out — much of it using demo materials from Christchurch. A great example of enthusiasm and talent.

The dishes we shared included a starter of local olives, radishes, whipped butter with bone marrow, salt and good bread, a dish of six kinds of mushrooms with chicken livers and potato mousse, a spicy dish of clams and pork sausages, a very sublime French onion soup, and fresh cannellini beans with goat’s cheese.

Favourite international dining destinations?

If you mean cities, Barcelona, Paris, Tokyo, Rome, Venice, Siena, Berlin, Naples, Amalfi, Penang, Siem Reap, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali, Beijing, Hanoi, Fiji for Indian, Mumbai, London ...

What will you be focusing on in your new role at Bite?

Good food and how easy it is to make without having to use expensive, fashionable or weird ingredients.

Watch the first in Ray’s 'how-to' video series for Bite: How to make a sponge cake with just three ingredients.

And check out the recipes for his perfect Mother’s Day three-course meal.

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