The Plating Game: Toni Street

, from Issue #110. July 17, 2023
The Plating Game: Toni Street

We asked one of our favourite Kiwis to share her food loves so we could create a dish especially for her.

A co-host each weekday for Coast breakfast radio, a television presenter, author, and coach for her children’s netball and footy teams, Toni Street is also a self-confessed ‘foodie’. From growing up on a farm in Taranaki, to experiencing her palate change as she moved to the city, I chat with Toni about all things food – including her love for a particular Hawaiian dessert she ordered on a recent family trip.

What kind of food did you eat growing up?
Toni: I grew up on a dairy farm, so we were very much a meat and three veg type of household. We had meat from the farm and as a girl I remember having a lot of mince, steak, schnitzel and sausages. Chicken was a rarity for us. It was a treat to go to the fish and chips store, a Chinese smorgasbord, or McDonald’s.

Is meat and three veg still a regular today?
Toni: My culinary tastes have changed quite a bit as our lifestyle has – I moved from New Plymouth up to Auckland,
and went to Christchurch for university in between. I remember I’ve asked Mum several times before about why she never gave us spaghetti bolognese. I never tried it until I was about 20! Then I had my first spaghetti bolognese and I loved it – I couldn’t believe I hadn’t had it before! On the farm we just didn’t have much pasta at all, and when I think about it, we did have lots of mince so it would have been perfect. I made a lot of it in my university days and now that I’ve got children, it’s one of our family’s favourite meals to cook. We probably have it once a week – we’re all massive fans of it.

What other foods or cuisines do you gravitate to?
Toni: I’m quite a big fan of Asian cooking. Japanese is probably my favourite type of cuisine. I also really like making poké bowls for the kids. I find that they eat it easier because it’s colourful and it’s all bitsy and that’s how they like to graze.
So we have a lot of that and karaage chicken on rice. I’m also really big on seafood. We didn’t have a lot growing up because we were on a farm, but now as an adult we have a lot. I love prawns.

Can you share a favourite childhood food memory?
Toni: I feel like so many of our favourite celebrations were always around food and we were always allowed to pick what we would have on our birthday. There was a restaurant in New Plymouth that I used to ask to go to all the time.
It’s not there anymore but it was bistro- style and I would always order steak and chips. I’ve got really good memories of that. And we had a Cobb & Co., so I’ve memories of ordering the Pink Panther drink with those little crunchy nuggets.
I also have memories of having big roasts all the time on the farm with lots and lots of people around so it was usually a roast beef with Mum’s crispy baked potatoes – you can’t beat crispy potatoes. I still have them now, but I don’t do the whole nine yards with the roast... but I haven’t let the potatoes go, that’s for sure.

What do celebrations and entertaining at your place look like today?
Toni: We do most of our entertaining over the summer months because we live close to the beach – during summer we have an open-door, open-house policy. There are kids here all the time and we’ll have the parents over for barbecues where I always try to make new and exciting, elaborate salads. My favourite one from the summer just passed is a Caesar salad and it’s reignited my love of the salad again. I make my own homemade crispy croutons with little bits of crispy bacon, then there’s the grated Parmesan and the boiled egg. I make my own dressing, as well. It’s become my signature for barbecues! But it needs to involve some form of delicious meat on the side, and I love a ribeye steak. For the kids, I love doing mini sliders – it’s so easy and feeds lots and lots of people. Then I always like to make a dessert as well, usually something chocolatey.

What’s a favourite dessert of yours?
Toni: I really like cold desserts. My husband is really into sticky date pudding and apple crumbles – the warmer things.
But I’m all about cold desserts and that’s why I’m obsessed with Hula Pie from Hula Grill in Waikiki. I loved it so much, I tried to recreate it and it just wasn’t the same as when I first had it on a work trip last year, and again on holidays recently.

Tips and tricks for the school lunchbox?
Toni: I’m lucky because in the mornings I go to radio, so my husband’s in charge of school lunchboxes. But I have to try and come up with some of the creativity and inspiration. I am really trying to get into flasks more this year – that way you can have leftovers because I find my kids, and a lot of my kids’ friends, are a little anti-sandwiches. They’d rather have a flask with leftovers, whether it’s spaghetti bolognese or maybe chicken on rice. It’s easy and it’s filling.

Talk us through a day in the food life of Toni Street.
Toni: Every day I’m pretty formulaic with my breakfast because I have to pack it to leave early for radio. I’m obsessed with extra-thin Vogel’s; they’re so crispy and crunchy. So I’ll have two pieces of that with Pic’s Peanut Butter in the morning. For morning tea, I’ll probably just have a banana and maybe a coffee. And then at lunchtime, it’s whatever’s going. Sometimes it will be a poké bowl or I might make myself an omelette or cream cheese with tomato on toast. Then at dinnertime it’s everything and anything like spaghetti bolognese, or a lasagne that I’ve made or picked up from somewhere. And we do love homemade burgers. We also make homemade pizzas quite a bit.

Favourite drink?
Toni: My drink of choice is actually kombucha – I find it really easy on the gut. I love a raspberry lemon one, and I’ve got the kids all onto it as well – including my four-year-old. He asks me if he can have a ‘bucha’, that’s what he calls it.

What are some of your go-to cafés or restaurants in New Zealand?
Toni: Oh, I have lots. My favourite day- to-day is Scratch Café which is next to where I do radio – they have the most beautiful cabinet food. I find these days there isn’t as much grab-and-go food that perhaps suits my lifestyle and I’ll always want something where I have to sit down and eat it, but Scratch has a wonderful cabinet selection. We go to the Torpedo Bay Café in Devonport sometimes because it’s got a really good outlook over the harbour and they do a real good, normal breakfast – you know, big breakfast and eggs benedict and things like that. If I want to have an indulgent breakfast – and I’m talking pastries – Chateaubriant in Devonport is a beautiful French café that, in my opinion, is the best French café in New Zealand. The pastries are to die for! If we were going to splurge and go out for a special dinner, undoubtedly we would go to Cibo in Parnell. I haven’t been there in a little while, but I’m turning 40 soon and that will probably be a place I go for dinner.

Tell us about a memorable meal of your life. What was special about it?
Toni: You can’t go past sitting down at our farm in Taranaki on Christmas day. My mum and dad go all out – the meal includes a turkey, a lamb, a ham, rösti, Yorkshire puddings with trifle and all the trimmings afterwards. So the farm Christmas definitely stands out in my mind as one of the best ever. In terms of dining experiences, I’ve spent quite a few wedding anniversaries and birthdays at Cibo and they always make you feel really special. I can just picture us sitting there, all digging into the caramel pavlova. You’re always so full by dessert but when that comes out, I just have to do it because I just know how spectacular it is. And obviously the Hula Pie had a big impact on me because I loved it so much that I wanted to recreate it. And for someone that likes cold desserts, it’s just perfect. It has the Oreo cookie base with a macadamia caramel ice cream. Then the homemade hot fudge sauce on the top. It’s like an ice cream sundae on steroids.

What would be your last meal?
Toni: I would probably go something savoury, even though I am a sweet
tooth. But if it’s my last meal, I want to make sure that I’m satisfied so I would probably go a beautiful piece of eye-fillet steak with some homemade chips. I’d also probably ask to have Hula Pie for dessert to myself, because I had to share with too many people while I was away!

Click here to find the recipe that Sarah made for Toni.