Paddock to Plate Journey

Over the past 5 years, Brad has developed a relationship with Beef + Lamb NZ thanks to winning their Excellence Award consecutively since opening the Bistro doors. This month they interviewed him about our recent paddock to plate journey, which began when we bought a steer to graze in our paddock and continued through to using the beef as the star attraction at our 5th Birthday Celebration Dinner

Paddock to plate

An interview with Brad King

How has the Bistro grown and evolved over the last five years to meet your paddock to plate ethos? 
The Bistro is situated on a six acre lifestyle block in the Karanagahake Gorge. We always had a vision for The Falls Retreat to have its own vegetable gardens supplying the Bistro kitchen and over the past five years these gardens have grown accordingly. We have now really started to focus on using seasonal vegetables and reducing our carbon footprint by also sourcing from local suppliers. We even do "Barter at the Bistro" where locals bring in their excess produce in exchange for a coffee or a pizza and a chat to the chefs.
How did the idea of purchasing a cattle beast come about? 
As word about our paddock to plate ethos spread, we were approached by a local farmer (our kids go to the same school which incidentally has won an Envirogold Award for its commitment to sustainability).  He was wondering if we wanted to buy one of his Dexter/Galloway steers, raised on a bio dynamic farm, with the view to using the meat at the Bistro. This sparked my interest and I wanted to explore this opportunity.
What challenges were there to get the beef from paddock to plate? 
Well as with all great ideas, it's never plain sailing! We purchased the bull and organised a local farmer to deliver him to The Falls Retreat.  However, his trailer got bogged in as there had been so much rain and we ended up having to get a transporting company involved. We then had to register with NAIT (New Zealand's National Animal Identification and Tracing) which was a completely new process for us in the hospitality business and then look for slaughter options. We soon realised home kill was unfortunately not an option so had to find an abattoir that was relatively local (to avoid undue stress on the animal while being transported) and one willing to take a single beast. In the end, we partnered with one of our suppliers, Harmony Meats who assisted us in getting the steer transported and slaughtered and returned to their butchery to be hung for two weeks. I then took my entire kitchen crew into Harmony Meats and did a butchery session which was a real eye opener in terms of the skill required to navigate the animal and produce all the different cuts of meats.
Which beef cuts did you use for the five-year celebration dinner? 
The beef was used as the main course for our five-year celebration dinner. I created a dish to demonstrate the different cuts of beef and different cooking techniques paying homage to my four consecutive Beef + Lamb New Zealand accolades.   The dish which evolved was ‘Beef Three Ways’ -  smoked eye fillet of beef, braised beef ravioli and sous-vide ballotine with mushroom arancini, garden carrot, orange and vanilla bean emulsion, beetroot chutney and poached tamarillo.
The remainder of the beef continues to be used on our regular menu, in our specials and on our meat lover’s pizza. The reality is that from a whole beast, there is a lot of meat and we need to be changing our menu to adapt to the different cuts we are using.  There is only so much eye fillet (which tend to be popular on restaurant menus) so we need to be introducing less popular or lesser known cuts and adapting our cooking methods accordingly. 
Where to next?
Our vegetable gardens are flourishing; we have started doing workshops and are really wanting to develop educating people about sustainability and growing and eating seasonally. We already have chickens and more livestock may be an option.  Pigs are on the radar (we are thinking home-made prosciutto and cured meats) and maybe lamb could be our next learning journey. Watch this space!