Updated: Taste Cornucopia now open every Thursday & Friday night
Taste Cornucopia is well known for it’s daytime cafe buzz on Heretaunga Street Hastings, yet it’s less well known that Taste Cornucopia opens late on a Friday for their ‘Tasty Nights’. Every Friday brings an opportunity for head chef James Beck to further explore what’s possible on a plate and affordably share it with the Hawke’s Bay dining public. I booked a ticket for one of the first Tasty Nights, and you do need to book as the Tasty Night regulars keep coming back.
So I return to Taste Cornucopia to get an update on how this Hastings cafe is getting along and to talk all things tasty. Looking at the menu, Tasty Nights
caters for the traditional starters, mains, desserts format as well as a degustation menu where your group can decide to sample between four and seven dishes. Degustations are suited to James’ style dishes where the intense flavours of each dish can speak for themselves and be enjoyed before moving on to the next dish. As much as I like the name of the sunshine soup, the first dish I try is the short rib beef. The Short Rib beef is extremely slow braised according to the menu and the result is a beautifully tender cut of meat. “I cook the short rib below boiling point at 75 degrees for three days” says James. “When you cut it, it’s bright red in the middle, and fully cooked on the outside”. James enjoys combining the science of cooking with the creativity of art to bring it all together as an experience on the plate. “I’m interested in looking at how to give more experience to our diners, I’m currently looking at how we can add in sounds and smells to add more to the sensory experience.”
If you haven’t tried black garlic, here is your opportunity. It’s part of the molasses swished across the plate and adds a tangy richness to the short rib beef. Hidden under the carrots and quinoa crumb is a carrot and liquorice puree. The short rib is raised up on a bed of sweet roasted yams. “Slow braising is a really classic way of cooking, I’m just using those concepts but just adding a twist to it.” explains James. The beef is from Ti Kouka – an organic farm out at Waimarama.
While James prepares the next dish, I notice a wine cabinet on display and ask what wines are available on Friday’s Tasty Nights. “Our wine selection is small on numbers but is designed to appeal to a wide range of tastes that work with the food, which can be quite eclectic. There’s only 12 bottles so we’ve had to be selective on what’s available. 50% is organic and the rest is ethical, sustainably produced wine.” says James. The importance of organically sourced ingredients runs throughout the restaurant with organic beers from Mike’s in Taranaki and Pilsner called Monsoon from down in Christchurch. “The reason we don’t source from Hawke’s Bay is there isn’t an organic brewery.” James points me to the Perry cider made from pears rather than apples produced by Hawke’s Bay Independent Brewery. “That was what I matched the Signature Dish with last year”. For those who may not know, Taste Cornucopia took out the grand Signature Dish prize for best cafe dish in 2011, and 2010 for that matter against some strong competition from Napier and Havelock North. “This year, we are entering the fine dining category”. He tells me he’s already in the planning stages for the dish.
The second dish up is three rosemary marinated cutlets of lamb alongside a slow braised shank, parsnip mash, tamarillo and house made poppadoms. The lamb has a density of flavour that is enjoyable on it’s own but the beautiful sweetness of the parsnip mash ups it a notch. While I’m finishing this off, James tells me a bit more about Taste Cornucopia. “In September we’ll be three years old and I would have been back in the bay three and a half years. The Cafe came out of the desire to open my own place, an organic restaurant. The cafe was initially a step along the way yet has now developed into something in it’s own right. There’s still growth potential on our nights and we’re thankful for our loyal following especially the local Hastings business crowd, the organic community and all our Hawke’s Bay foodies.”
In comparison to London, both James and I agree that we’re lucky here to be able to get to any restaurants in twenty to thirty minutes via a drive through stunning scenery. “If you’re in London, you would travel three hours to get to a restaurant like the Fat Duck, our local taxi’s do a quick pick up and drop off to Havelock North in six minutes.”
As a popular Hastings cafe, you can get a glimpse into the Tasty Nights experience and the dedication James has to serving quality food. “Each dish is
representative of what we do here. The pork belly, seafood tartar and fish of the day are most open to daily interpretation but we put just as much effort into the biscuits, if they taste one we want it to be the best biscuit they’ve ever had.” says James. Before I can ask my next question, James opens a juicy jar of rough cut rectangle marshmallows. “Try these.” I don’t know any other cafe in Hawke’s Bay that goes to the effort of making the little marshmallows on the side of hot chocolates and mocca’s from scratch. I try one, and they’re absolutely delicious without being overly sugary.
Being an organic cafe, is that synonymous with healthy? I ask. “I don’t go out to make a healthy food cafe, the organic ethos means we aim to make wholesome food. I’m interested in healthy eating, we don’t need to cut things out, we just keep things fresh and natural. There’s no pre-packaged or pre made anything here. We cook from scratch using raw ingredients. Our pie dough is simply butter, flour, salt and water, there’s nothing added, it just takes a bit of extra effort and wage costs are slightly higher but we think it’s worth it.” says James.
“We have one extra person who starts at 9am to get things underway like hand squeezing the orange juice.” says James. Many places you can just walk in, grab the food from cabinet, get it microwaved and go. Here, everything is put on the plate by James or the sous chef Stefan Tran-Trung.
“Stefan is a French trained chef with 12 years gastro pub experience not to mention a 3 star Michellin in Paris.” says James. “To have someone like
this enthused and commited to being at Taste is awesome”. Stefan is not the only person to be attracted to James and Amber’s Vision for Taste Cornucopia. Industry professional Reuben Ferguson joins at the end of the month to take the pressure off Amber. “We’ll be teaching him a lot. Reuben is who you’ll meet out the front at Tasty Nights”.James brings out some a block of wood that’s part of the construction required to create this Friday’s new invention. “It’s going to be a clover infused blueberry
iceblock encased in white chocolate in a beautiful white cylinder…on an ice cream stick” explains James. You won’t find this at your corner dairy. “I have no idea how to get it on the plate yet!”. A few days later, James sent through these pics of the berry block. To find out how it tastes for yourself, call Taste Cornucopia and get yourself along to a Tasty Nights experience.
- Friday Tasty Nights is an opportunity to explore what’s possible on a plate Tweet
- Degustations suit James’ dishes where intense flavours speak for themselves Tweet
- Taste Cornucopia offers affordable quality dishes, 6 mins from Havelock North Tweet
TasteCornucopia.co.nz | 219 Heretaunga Street East | Email | Phone 06 878 8730