At the forefront of the farm-to-table movement is the Hipgroup – the team behind a string of successful eateries, including Britomart’s Ortolana and Amano restaurants, many heavily influenced by the Mediterranean. Executive chef Jo Pearson likens the food culture of the Med to a “beautiful symbiosis” of sustainable produce, simple flavours and local people living with what they have to hand.
Where does your inspiration come from?
"We love food, from everywhere, but have always been drawn to the cuisine of Mediterranean countries. We began as a cafe on Kohimarama beach and have organically grown with the desire to improve our food and beverage experience. From coffee and brunch this naturally led to making bread, pastry, pasta and gelato, using seasonal local ingredients from farmers. It all complements each other and reflects our passion for the food of the Mediterranean."
Do you get back there often?
"We've all travelled through the Med and love the simplicity of the flavours, the use of what is available and at hand, and the produce that has surrounded families and neighbourhoods and influenced their cuisine and lives."
Amano means “by hand”. Along with provenance is this your food philosophy?
"If you reinterpret “by hand” it could be. Perhaps if “by hand” meant “handled with care” because the things we create don't have to be made by hand – they often are – but we are not bound by it. It might sound trite but more important to us is knowing where it came from and how it came into being – that it lived well and was cared for, ideally in a local setting by a producer or supplier that we are in a relationship with."
An ambient experience rates high in your restaurants. Is this a Med influence?
"I think the Mediterranean lets landscape speak to surroundings. It brings the outside in and creates space where food, people and architecture can co-exist without one overshadowing the other."
How do you plan your menus?
"Our menu planning is driven by the seasons. A dish will be inspired by the harvest of a new crop, a new foraged food in season, the running of a new fish species, or the opening of a shellfish harvest."
What is a must-order from the menu?
"They may seem underwhelming compared to the other sections on our menu but I love the vegetable dishes. This is where we get to play daily with what’s available from the markets and our growers. I love seeing what our team come up with. It’s especially exciting when we harvest our own produce or test crops from the farm [at Kumeu]. To witness the creative thoughts from the team and to serve our guests something they may have never tried previously is truly inspiring."
What is your favourite dish to cook?
"Something simple; tomatoes at the peak of the season, grown outdoors, so have never experienced refrigeration, then sliced and laid on charred buttered sourdough with sea salt, black pepper and olive oil. Not sure if that's cooking but it is delicious."
As a frequent traveller to the region, what's your ideal foodie vacation spot?
"Every town and region has something completely unique. I travel to where I want to experience something at its place of origin. Semolina pasta in Puglia, Moorish food in Granada, bread in Altamura, seafood on the island of Procida."
What’s next for the Hipgroup?
"Keep innovating, keep caring about the things we eat, the people we work with and the guests we welcome. And definitely some overseas trips for inspiration."
To learn more about Jo or meet our line-up of local Med stars, follow our Med series online.