Getting down to Earth with TownTonic
When I rocked up to Town Tonic on a mundane Monday night, I didn't know what I was in for. What a plant based cooking class would entail was not something I had comprehended previously. Anyone who knows me would say I live on cheese and chocolate. But I'm always keen to learn something new and the chefs sure opened my mind to the wonders of eating plant based foods.
I loved that no one was there for the same reason. I sat next to an Engineer, fresh to Christchurch and keen to meet new people. The couple opposite were eating vegan as a new lifestyle choice for health reasons. To my right was a well-known regular to Town Tonic who’d come to support his favourite restaurant. And me? I was there to learn something new! We each were from different age groups and ethnicities, yet coming together through the simple act of sharing a meal.
And the line-up did not disappoint! An impressive seven course meal was on offer with the chance to interact and gain a few insider tips on how these delicious works of art are brought to life.
The five chefs responsible for the evening were Jamie Bennett - owner of Town Tonic, Tom Riley, Julia Grueskin, Shafeeq Ismal and Zac Reynolds. All were living in Christchurch but bringing knowledge from working all over the world!
Course one: Fish 'n' Chips! The taste and texture of the battered celeriac resembled the sensation of a mouth-watering piece of cod. Complemented by the crisp kumara wafers and oh so English mushy peas. The first course excited me for what was to come.
Course two was a Pulled jackfruit taco followed by a delicious round of Gnocchi.
Course four: Massaged Kale. Who knew you had to massage your kale? This dish surprised me! When I first saw the ingredients I thought “this is mostly going to taste of kale!” In the past I'd found this leafy vege to be tough and not a pleasant texture. Julia somehow managed to gently work out the knots and tensions and loosen it up to be the most enjoyable experience I've had! The sweetness of the sultanas, mixed with the saltiness of the olives and the tartness of the lemon juice, created a joyous song. Julia has kindly let me share this recipe with you – so check it out and see if you and kale can become friends too.
Course five: Mac 'n' cheese. This had to be my favourite dish of the night! The creamy flavours remind you of your mother’s cooking. Although the sauce wasn’t as fibrous as diary cheese the sleek textures were evident
Course six: Soy kebab. Shafeeq Ismal, Head Chef at Town Tonic, comes from a South Indian background. Shafeeq was an abundance of knowledge and skill He taught us that butters and creams, traditionally used in Indian cooking, were not a necesatity in showing off the creamy, bold flavours Cooked under coals the smoky flavours really put a spin on how I remember traditional Indian cooking when I visited Kerala.
And last but not least the delicious seventh course: Pumpkin Pie served with coconut milk sorbet and the creamiest chocolate mousse you have ever had. But my favourite part about this amazing experience was of course meeting such inspiring and driven people. I’d had the pleasure of chatting with Jamie Bennett – a staple on the Christchurch food scene for more than 13 years. Jamie was part of the team that set up the hugely successful Riccarton Farmers Market! Having trained in France and travelled extensively, Jamie's a family man whose passion for good wholesome food is infectious!
Natural and down to earth. I think the most important thing when sharing a meal is to enjoy ourselves. The food we make reflects the spirit in which it is made and those who eat respond accordingly. The attitude and appreciation we bring to our food makes the biggest difference to our enjoyment. So challenge that stigma that comes with eating plants. And do something meaningful for your body and our planet.