Fleur Sullivan MasterChef New Zealand Episode Interview

Fleur Sullivan MasterChef New Zealand Episode Interview

Fleur Sullivan MasterChef New Zealand Episode Interview

Fleur Sullivan has never strayed far from her rural New Zealand upbringing, but serious foodies travel the world to dine at her rustic portside restaurant in a little South Island village.

However, diners don't have to be rich and famous to eat at Fleur's Place - they just need to be there in time to find a table in the tiny restaurant / café / bar on the Moeraki Wharf that has earned iconic status in New Zealand's cuisine heritage.

They'll also need an appreciation of seafood - the bounty of New Zealand's southern ocean delivered as fresh as it gets to the restaurant doorstep - because that's what always inspires this menu.

Simple seafood menu
Fleur's menu is simple and based on whatever is available on the day - the selection of seafood caught by the Moeraki Bay fishing boats that unload their daily catch on the wharf beside the restaurant.

Wednesday to Sunday, the blackboard menu lists the day's catch which could include blue cod, John Dory, moki, blue nose, gurnard, sole, flounder, groper, crayfish / lobster. Titi or muttonbird - another local delicacy - also frequently features on the menu.

Aside from that, regional organic growers supply most of the other ingredients, including heritage and unique New Zealand vegetable varieties. And the wine list includes a good selection of local vintages from nearby Central Otago - world-renowned for pinot noir and fruity white varietals.

Lifestyle change
After years in hospitality - including 20 years as owner / host of the award-winning Central Otago establishment Oliver's restaurant and lodge at Clyde - Fleur Sullivan moved to seaside Moeraki for a lifestyle change.

But - having "followed the dream to live in Moeraki by the sea" ostensibly to retire and recuperate from cancer - Sullivan was driven back into culinary action by the beckoning new mix of ingredients such as discarded fish heads and skeletons, seaweed washed up on the shore, and wild native spinach.

It was too much for Sullivan - who credits her hunter / gatherer / producer instincts to growing up on a farm - because she could never resist turning a good ingredient into a tasty dish or preserve.

She opened a small caravan selling soup and fish on the edge of the road, and then the temptation to open a small restaurant became too great.

Restoration and recycling
Surrounded by sea on three sides, Sullivan found the perfect location on the old jetty to indulge her love of "restoration, recycling and restauranting".

The old shed was renovated, expanded and furnished with bits and pieces that Sullivan had collected over the years, including a magnificent old wooden staircase - but it is shabby-chic and time-worn charm that best defines the decor.

From the upper deck, diners can watch fishing boats pass basking seals, pull up to the slipway, and move fish directly from the boat to the restaurant or smokehouse.

International accolades
Moeraki - famous for its unique coastal boulder formations - was already a popular tourist stop, but Fleur's Place soon turned it into a gourmet destination for locals and overseas guests alike.

British chef Rick Stein visited New Zealand to write about Fleur's Place because it was "one of those places that keep cropping up in conversations whenever there was a gathering of foodies".

Fleur Sullivan has received numerous awards for her restaurants and contribution to tourism, and is a member of the NZ Restaurant Association's prestigious Hall of Fame.

New Zealand's foodie bible Cuisine magazine rates Fleur's Place as one of the '100 best things about New Zealand'.

Loan & Merc - Oamaru
After almost 40 years in the hospitality industry, Sullivan has recently launched another restaurant in nearby Oamaru's historic whitestone heritage precinct.

Fleur's other place - The Loan & Merc Tavern & Eating House - is styled on a Victorian banqueting hall. The menu focuses on slow cooked heritage food, and includes an old-fashioned carvery.

The 130-year-old former grain warehouse has been turned into a rustic eating house, furnished with long tables and benches crafted from recycled kauri timber.

Background: Moeraki Boulders
Moeraki is a small sleepy fishing village on the Otago coast - 70km north of Dunedin and 30km south of Oamaru - and means "a place to rest by day".

Long before Fleur Sullivan installed her seafood restaurant, tourists visited Moeraki to view the curious boulder formations - spherical rocks shaped by ancient natural forces - strewn along a stretch of nearby Koekohe Beach.

Best seen at low tide, the boulders - some up to four-metres in circumference - can be seen emerging from the cliffs, and disappearing into the sand and the sea.

According to Maori tradition, the boulders are the remains of food baskets that washed ashore after the legendary canoe 'Araiteuru' was wrecked at nearby Matakaea / Shag Point.

The area has a rich Maori, whaling and sealing history. Other attractions include the yellow-eye and blue penguin sanctuaries, and a seal colony.

Fleur Sullivan's Bacon-wrapped Cod with Littleneck Clams

Serves 2

4 Small fillets blue cod, skin and bones removed
4 rashers streaked bacon or smoked pork belly
25ml olive oil
100ml white wine
150ml cream
10 New Zealand littleneck clams, washed
Chopped garden herbs, including parsley, chives, etc

Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Lay two cod fillets together for each portion and wrap two slices of streaky bacon around the centres. Place the two portions of bacon-wrapped cod fillets in an ovenproof frying-pan and drizzle with olive oil. Select a pan that first the portions snuggly. Roast in the hot oven until the bacon begins to crisp and the cod is almost cooked. Remove from the oven to the stove-top and, on a moderate heat, deglaze (lift the flavours from the bottom of the pan) with the white wine while the cod is still in the pan. Allow to boil then add the cream. (This should come halfway up the cod fillets). Add the clams. Boil gently until the sauce begins to thicken slightly and the clams open, then add chopped herbs, ground black pepper and salt (but only if needed on tasting). Serve with steamed seasonal vegetables and freshly dug new-season potatoes.

Interview with Fleur Sullivan

Question: Is most of the produce you use from local farmers?

Fleur Sullivan: I believe in using the foods of the region. That's how I grew up; I grew up using food of the region I lived in. Presenting your food from your region in the freshest, most natural way is definitely the best way to work with the food.

Question: Can you talk about what part you played in the MasterChef episode?

Fleur Sullivan: I was an invited celebrity chef and we decided to cook our Seafood Chowder, because it is winter time and because I own a seafood restaurant; they thought that the Seafood Chowder was the best choice.

Question: What was it like working on the special New Zealand MasterChef episode?

Fleur Sullivan: It was wonderful! It was a real eye opener because I work all day and I had never seen MasterChef before. I had to ask them what the program was about when they first asked me to go over there and it's such a big business; that's what fascinated me so much! The way that they present and organise MasterChef is amazing!

Question: How does New Zealand and Australia's fresh produce differ?

Fleur Sullivan: Australian scallops are different to ours. I noticed that in Australia you don't present your scallops with a roe, we present ours with the roe for presentation and colour and because you can eat it; I don't think there is really no point getting rid of it!

Question: What originally inspired you to become a chef?

Fleur Sullivan: Cooking was a way for me to express myself. Cooking and being hospitable is welcoming. Being a chef creates opportunities for you to present your food beautifully and go out shopping for nice dishes to plate up with and little trinkets to decorate the restaurant. It was the creative side that really inspired me to become a chef.

Question: What inspired you to create the recipe, Bacon-wrapped Cod with Littleneck Clams?

Fleur Sullivan: We encourage people to try and eat different types of fish and with this recipe you can use any fish. But on that particular day, we used the Blue Cod because that is a fish New Zeland is known for.

Interview by Brooke Hunter and Morgan Sutherland.