There's a little slice of heaven just outside Cromwell. It's the fruit and vegetable equivalent of Willy Wonka’s factory, except instead of being run by a sugar-hyped eccentric, it's led by two of the most interesting and humble people I've ever met.
In 2002, David White and Jeni Steele started cultivating a piece of bare land, which would become Goodies From the Gorge, a now not-so-secret garden growing a range of organic fruit and vegetables. Their own personal microclimate and alluvial quartz soil (which is clay and mineral rich) allows them to grow a range of produce not usually seen in these parts, sure to make any chef weak at the knees.
That they do, and with Queenstown steadily becoming a fine dining Mecca, David and Jenni supply many of the best restaurants, working closely with chefs. The hospitality community holds them in such high regard that many menus proudly specify ingredients sourced from Goodies From the Gorge.
David and Jeni grow to order (if asked nicely) and will give anything a go. Chefs beat a line to the door when these trials pay off; right now the arrival of a black tomato has everyone in a flap. Many of the more unusual crops are snapped up well before they are gently harvested by hand.
During our visit, we spotted the elusive black tomato, bought currants in one of every colour (red, white and black), experienced the revelation that is the cherry plum and had every future boysenberry ruined by the taste of one of theirs straight off the bush.
Completely disrupting the perception that organic means ugly, produce from Goodies is as beautiful as it is delicious. Berry after berry of near absolute perfection (there is usually at least one anomaly) almost defies belief, until you see Jeni patiently selecting the best one by one, removing the odd bug with tweezers.
David and Jeni’s passion for growing and educating people about organic produce is infectious. It’s clear that they do it because they love it, despite the long days and being at the complete mercy of Mother Nature. They are two of the most interesting people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and I could have listened to them for hours. They’re exceptional cooks, and stories of their dinner parties leave you mentally scheming to make the list for the next one. We left with the next best thing, a jar of their homemade tomatillo salsa, with instructions to serve on barbecued blue cod.
For more information and for a list of farmers' markets Goodies from the Gorge sell at, visit www.goodiesfromthegorge.co.nz.