(2020 update: Chef Rogers has recently published an outstanding cookbook titled SOUTH – which you can purchase from Matakauri Lodge)
Last week I sat down for a drink in Matakauri Lodge’s main dining room with head chef Jonathan Rogers, talking food and taking in the ambiance of this gorgeous Relais & Chateaux location. The Lodge is nestled in the hills above Lake Wakatipu with stunning views of the Remarkables, Walter Peak and Cecil mountain ranges. The interior design is warm and elegant, created by kiwi designer Virginia Fisher, and provides a tranquil space to breathe in the breathtaking landscape around the lodge. It’s the perfect setting to showcase the exceptional food Jonathan creates using the finest produce available in Otago and Southland.
Matakauri Lodge makes regular food orders with the Raeward Fresh, which Jonathan also visits a couple of times a week. He tells me that he gets inspired while roaming around the watermelon, radishes or when spotting the huge fresh figs that arrived just that morning. Jonathan also gets inspired by getting out and about. Sometimes its for business, like a trip through Kawarau Gorge to visit suppliers such as Goodies on the Gorge and see for himself what David and Jenny White are harvesting or to pick up a few of their gardening tips. Other times its for pleasure, like a fishing jaunt along Wakatipu’s many rivers. All of these experiences of the region and the local relationships that weave this place together end up making their way into Jonathan’s daily menu planning sessions. It’s a good thing he’s got lots of inspirational material to hand, because its a new menu every day at Matakauri to cater for the dynamic dining experience Relais & Chateaux are known for.
Being inspired by regional fare has been a journey for Jonathan. He grew up in Papakura where food culture in the ’90s was about pizza and fish n chips. While studying at the Manukau Institute of Technology, however, he saw an entirely different world of food, researching the work of Charlie Trotter and many other chefs who were transforming local ingredients into something truly amazing. Jonathan went from school to real-world cooking with Tony Adcock at Orbit in Auckland before heading to Canada where he had the privilege to learn about regional cuisine from Melissa Craig at Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler. It was at Barefoot that Jonathan first had access to dozens of varieties of local mushrooms and the stunning blueberries of British Columbia. While chef Rogers was learning about this kind of fusion, NZ fare was moving along the same track.
When he returned, Jonathan chose to avoid the bustle of Auckland and looked to the Queenstown Lakes area to keep honing his craft. He worked at Spire and a few other places before landing in Matakauri, where he now pulls together his years of experience and Otago’s budding food culture. On the day I visited, Jonathan chose to make a light summer lunch featuring Canter Valley duck breast, followed by a playful desert with berries from Goodies on the Gorge. His colourful plating of kale, beet, fig, watercress and walnuts, all dancing around the perfectly seared duck, made it clear that this fine chef loves what he does and the place he’s doing it.
The relationship between Angela & Nathan’s ability to gather the regions best ingredients at Raeward Fresh, and Matakauri’s elegant lodge environment, is a lovely example of what the Queenstown region is known for; a stunning combination of a dramatic space and some of the best produce in the world. The way Canter Valley conscientiously raises their ducks and the care behind Goodie’s hand-picked raspberries, gives Jonathan a solid platform to build his daily creations. The chef rounds it all out with trips to Matakauri’s own garden where his own globe artichokes, squash or borage may be just the right thing for another beautiful lunch on the lake.
Canter Valley Duck Breast, Beetroot, Goats Curd Mousse & Pickled Walnut Dressing
Chef Rogers was kind enough to share his duck breast recipe with us but for the real deal treat yourself to a few nights at Matakauri, it’s absolutely stunning.
Olive Oil Poached Beetroot
200gm Baby Golden Beetroot
200gm Baby Purple Beetroot
200gm Baby Chiogga Beetroot
Pomace Olive Oil
• Lightly scrub and trim stalks from baby beetroot.
• Place each variety of beetroot, a tsp salt, and 3 sprigs of thyme in 3 small saucepans to prevent the purple beetroot staining the others.
• Cover with the pomace olive oil and simmer on a low heat until beetroot are tender.
• Remove from the heat and allow the beetroot to cool in the oil.
• Once beetroot are cooled, scrub lightly with a clean tea towel to remove skins.
• Cut into halves.
Butternut Squash Puree
500gm Butternut Squash
• Sweat the Squash in a covered sauce pan with the butter until cooked, season lightly with salt and pepper.
• Puree until silky smooth in a bar blender, pass through a fine mesh sieve.
Pickled Walnut Dressing
100gm Castor Sugar
100gm White Balsamic Vinegar
200gm Walnut Halves
1 sprig thyme
1zest of 1 lemon
• Bring vinegar, sugar, lemon and thyme to a boil.
• Pour boiling pickling liquid over walnuts and allow to cool.
Goats Curd Mousse
200gm Meadow Croft goats curd
1 Lemon zest and juice
• Mix all ingredients together and check seasoning.
• Pickled Beetroot Slices
Thinly Sliced Golden and Chiogga Baby Beets
100ml white balsamic Vinegar
100gm Castor Sugar
• Bring vinegar and sugar to a simmer. Whisk to dissolve sugar.
• Pour pickling liquid over sliced beets and allow to cool.
2 Trimmed and scored Canter Valley Duck Breasts
Pickled Beetroot Slices
Olive Oil Poached Baby Beets
Goats Curd Mousse
Butternut Squash Puree
Water Cress Sprigs
Pre heat oven to 180c
• Place the duck breast in a large oven proof frying pan over a low heat skin side down. Keep pouring off rendered duck fat until skin is very crispy, turn the breasts over and place pan in oven for 1 1/2 minutes. Allow the duck too rest in a warm place for 5 minutes.
• Carve the duck breast into cubes.
• Reheat poached beetroot in the oven.
• Reheat butter nut squash puree in a small saucepan.
• Place a line of butternut squash puree down the middle of a plate, artfully arrange the other ingredients around the puree.
• Place a quenelle of goats curd mousse in the top left hand corner of plate.
• Garnish with water cress and lightly sprinkle with flakey sea salt.
• Lightly drizzle the plate with the walnut pickling liquid.