Braemar has launched its spring summer menu. Venetia Sherson was at the preview tasting…
Summer is a favourite season for Braemar chef Louise Chidlow. It represents fresh salads, aromatic herbs – including her all-time favourite, coriander – sweet-scented vine tomatoes, fresh berries, plus the chance to experiment with new dishes for Braemar patients and staff.
Braemar’s autumn/winter menu featured cold-weather dishes like hearty stews, lamb shanks – a particular favourite with patients – hot pots, potato and kumara mash and warming desserts like bread and butter pudding.
The spring/summer version is lighter, with an emphasis on tasty tarts and frittata, lean cuts of meat, fish, and salads packed with baby spinach, avocado and masses of sun-warmed tomatoes. Desserts include lemon meringue with mascarpone, blueberry and boysenberry trifle and the stunning Bakewell tart (more about that later).
Four of us have gathered to sample some of what’s on offer: Braemar’s chief executive Paul Bennett, finance manager Brenda Williamson, me and Waikato Times’ award-winning food writer Denise Irvine. Sharon Ecclestone, Braemar Surgery Contract Co-Coordinator for ACC/Workplace Insurer Claims, has been co-opted to take pictures of the dishes, but is happy to sample between clicks.
Louise has lined up around 10 dishes to demonstrate the range on offer. The full menu features more than 30 lunch and dinner options, plus light meals, vegetarian dishes and 10 desserts.
First up is pumpkin and kumara risotto with tender slivers of basil chicken, followed by light potato gnocchi, served with capsicum, asparagus, corn and masses of herbs. Louise is passionate about herbs, which she grows in her home garden. She confesses she was in her garden late the night before (“in my PJs”) gathering bunches of coriander, rosemary, basil (for the home-made pesto) and parsley for today’s dishes. Vegetables are sourced from Gilmours and Louise can’t fault them.
Her current favourites – red cabbage and baby beetroot – appear in many side dishes.
Louise, 37, a self-confessed “passionate foodie”, says her food reflects her upbringing and her training. She says she has known since she was a child that she wanted to be a chef. “I remember watching my grandmother cook and the pleasure of seeing meals prepared from scratch with fresh ingredients.”
After qualifying from Wintec, she worked at Montana Restaurant in Hamilton under head chef Peter Stark, who she says taught her about good food preparation and presentation, attention to detail and keeping calm under pressure. That final quality has been useful at Braemar where she and assistant chef Queenie (“the baking queen”) produce meals for patients and staff at Braemar Hospital, including the newly-opened day-hospital, which is now on site.
The food has to cater for a range of tastes and dietary restrictions. Sauces and dressings are served on the side for patients on a low-fat diet. The kitchen also provides gluten-free baking, diabetic foods and high protein options, plus Halal foods. Requests for comfort foods such cheese on toast, marmite sandwiches and even fairy bread are also available.
Today, fortunately, there are no marmite sandwiches on offer.
Instead, we feast our eyes on herb-crusted lamb rack served with honeyed kumara, pumpkin, steamed vegetables and blueberry jus (based on a favourite in an Australian kitchen where Louise worked); baked salmon topped with a basil and cashew crust, served with roasted gourmet potatoes, baby carrots and green beans; kumara roti, spinach, bacon and brie frittata, and cannelloni with spinach, pine nuts and fresh tomato sauce. Louise makes her own tomato sauce and the kitchen gets through 4-6 litres a week.
Food writer Denise Irvine describes the dishes as having a “home-made touch – traditional but with personal flair.” She is very impressed.
Louise puts strong emphasis on food presentation. She believes good food, presented well, can help recovery. She said she wanted to move away from the traditional perception of “hospital food.”
“People eat with their eyes so even if they can only manage a couple of spoonfuls of a dish –or are on a restricted diet – the food must look and taste appetising.”
She gets pleasure from catering for people who are recovering from illness or injury and believes good food can calm and relax them when they are stressed. Children particularly respond to food treats, especially two of the menu staples, Braemar Burgers and Hospital Hotdogs.
She says she likes to experiment with food combinations and tests her own recipes at home, where her mother gives her feedback.
At the tasting, we are struggling to do justice to our dishes. It’s tempting to eat more of each new dish but we have to pace ourselves for dessert – which brings us to the Bakewell Tart. Bakewell Tart is an English confection made up of a sweet short crust pastry base, a layer of jam and a sponge-filling topped with toasted almonds. The pudding dates back to the 1820s and is said to be the result of an error by an inexperienced servant at a hotel who erroneously put jam on the pastry base rather than on top of the tart.
Our tart is served with berry coulis and fresh cream. It gets the thumbs up from us all, but especially chief executive Paul Bennett, who remembers it being his favourite pudding at his English boarding school. “Yum,” he says.
Other desserts on the menu include blueberry and boysenberry trifle, strawberry cheesecake and raspberry brownie with chocolate and macadamia and custard cream.
And yes, ice cream and jelly – that most comforting of foods for recovering patients – is always on offer.