Destinations

Ben Shewry meets the Wellington producers and restaurateurs championing sustainability

Attica owner and chef Ben Shewry visits the sustainability stars making waves on the Wellington food scene.

By BTYB Wellingtonnz.com
Press play on the video above to watch Ben Shewry's wild weekend in Wellington.
"It's everybody's responsibility to understand where their food comes from," says Ben Shewry, chef and owner of Melbourne's Attica. "It's even more important when our food comes from the ocean."
Growing up in Taranaki, on the west coast of New Zealand's North Island exposed Shewry to the wonders of fresh seafood from a young age, and sparked his early ambitions to become a chef. His career kickstarted with a stint at Wellington's Roxborough Bistro, and has culminated in numerous accolades for Attica, and Shewry's reputation as not just one of the country's best chefs, but also as an outspoken advocate for sustainability in his adopted homeland and his original island home.
"Sustainability in Wellington is even more important than [in] other places, as the entire city is, almost, wrapped with coastline," he explains.

Awatoru

Ben Shewry with Scott McNeil of Awatoru. Photo: Ben Hansen
On a recent visit to Wellington, Shewry was given the opportunity to connect with other like-minded producers such as Scott and Maaike McNeil, owners of small wild food provedore Awatoru. Supplying many of Wellington's top restaurants with line-caught albacore tuna, Karamea whitebait and paddle crab, their small-scale approach to sourcing seafood resonates deeply with Shewry.
"I often think about the hard work that someone like Scott from Awatoru puts into catching the food that I might be cooking," says Shewry. "It's my responsibility as a chef to do justice to the hard work that he's put in."

Ortega Fish Shack

Pan-roasted whole flounder, hazelnut brown butter, pickle salad. Photo: Ben Hansen
No visit to New Zealand's capital is complete without a meal at Ortega Fish Shack. Decorated with a giant marlin and fishing-buoy lights, this fine diner celebrates the bounty of Wellington's waters. Co-owner and head chef Mark Limacher champions local seafood (Te Matuku Bay oysters, Bream Bay scallops, local tarakihi and warehou) in dishes that reflect his culinary past in France and Switzerland. Be guided by the extensive wine list – helpfully grouped under titles including "Juicy Reds" and "Voluptuous Whites" – to match your meal.
There's only a few degrees of separation between Shewry and Ortega Fish Shack. The Attica chef worked under Limacher in the Roxborough Bistro kitchen, and often credits him as a mentor.
"Mark and his wife Helen run one of Wellington's most legendary restaurants," says Shewry. "I know that Mark and the team always put the utmost care into the cooking. It's something that they've always done. It's something that they've taught me."
16 Majoribanks St, Mount Victoria, ortega.co.nz

Rita

Fresh sheep's milk cheese by Stracchino, broad beans, artichokes, and mint. Photo: Ben Hansen
From sea to farm, many of Wellington's best plates take inspiration from restaurant kitchen gardens, with menus reflecting the unique environment.
Hand-painted across the entry wall in Rita in Aro Valley are the words "This heavenly place", an apt description for the love and passion that co-owners Paul Schrader, Kelda Hains and Matt Hawkes put into this suburban bistro. The motto is taken from a letter by Hains' grandmother, encouraging the chef make haste on opening a restaurant where everyone could enjoy her food.
In just a few years, Rita has become a local favourite. Housed in a quiet cottage, and just a short walk from the city centre, a visit to Rita feels like dinner at a friend's place – if you happen to be friends with Hains and Hawkes, two of the most talked-about chefs on the Wellington food scene.
"Rita is a truly sustainable, seasonal, local restaurant where the farmers dictate the restaurant and not the chef," says Shewry. The menu changes daily based on what's in season, what suppliers have in stock and what's flourishing in Rita's kitchen garden.
"I just want to feed people well and five them a really nice experience that nourishes their soul," says Hains. "I want them to enjoy the best of home cooking – like sitting around someone's table and having a beautiful meal."
89 Aro Street, Aro Valley, rita.co.nz
Press play on the video above to watch Ben Shewry's wild weekend in Wellington.
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