5 questions with Chris Nelson, Executive Chef, Edgewater Resort, Wanaka

By Kate Gordon-Smith


1: What’s one of your favourite food memories?

Chris: Growing up as a kid, my father had land in Italy, so we used to drive over from the UK through France to Italy quite a lot. It was just amazing going to the markets, the produce we could get. I never liked tomatoes as a kid until we went to Italy and we’d eat tomatoes on toast. They were huge, double the size of what we’d get in the UK. From the start, I found that things I didn’t like or found quite tasteless, if you look for different produce or find these areas where this produce is grown, they can be really nice and change whether you like it or not. Fresh formaggio from our neighbour, making pasta with that was just incredible.

2: When you’re not busy working, where do you like to go for food or drink in town?

Chris: Wanaka’s great for food quality and drinking establishments. I’ve got to say Ground Up. I love the beer selection and they push boundaries with ingredients which I love. They make a Mac Talla, a Scottish ale that tastes like whiskey so might put some people off. Really peaty. They’re not scared to make drinks that others might not like. Also they do a barrel aged wild cherry sour which is just incredible. Not everyone will like it, but if you want to try something new, they have just the best range.

Breakfast and brunch, I think you can’t beat Urban Grind. That’s where I go the most. They used to have a Japanese pancake, Okonomiyaki, which is probably the best I’ve had outside Japan.

For lunch I like Wee Tart and they do a really nice Bánh mì with their fried chicken.

For dinner, I don’t think you could beat the cocktails and small dishes at Fudog. I really like their Asian influence, the artwork on the walls is really cool, it’s a really nice, relaxed dining area.

3: What’s your favourite local ingredient to use and why?

Chris: When I came to New Zealand, I took up hunting and it’s given me so much appreciation for meat. One of the weirdest things I found when handling my first animal was the fillets of meat we were taking off were so warm! Being a professional chef, I don’t know why I’ve never made that correlation before because we always get meat kept below 5 degrees. To take these cuts off which are warm, it was crazy. So, as a hunter, we’re getting things like fresh venison, goat and duck, the quality is second to none. It’s really nice to use every part of the animal and none going to waste or into petfood which is something we’re trying to change here at Edgewater.

The best local ingredient we use at Edgewater is the Te Mana lamb. We get it from Minaret Station, it’s got really good marbling, they call it the waygu of lamb and it’s high in omega3. We always get great feedback from guests on this lamb.

4. Can you share a favourite recent recipe with us?

Chris: About three weeks before lockdown, I’d been trying to source breast of lamb which is called lamb flaps here, which was the first hurdle to overcome. A new dish we’re creating for the spring menu is a rolled breast of lamb stuffed with parsley, mint, anchovies, and slow braised with a balsamic gravy. Took me about a week to find a supplier as this cut is normally shipped off to Asia. We’re trying to keep meats as local as we can and Covid’s been great in the way that not as much produce has been exported, as usual, so we’ve had the option to use it here for a change.

My mission is to get meat cuts that people don’t always eat to show them how and why it’s a great cut. Like beef cheeks a few years ago, now they’re so popular. We can do this with tail, shin and tongue.

Here's Chris' recipe for Rolled Breast of Lamb

5: Home cooked and hearty or five-star elegance – which one and why?

Chris: I love the experience of fine dining and a menu that tells a story, but to be true to my Yorkshire roots, I’ve got to say hearty and homecooked. One of my favourites over lockdown was a British classic with a Kiwi twist of venison cottage pie. Perfect for a cold winter evening. The trick is to brown your meat off for as long as you can. Me and my girlfriend argue as she always thinks I’m taking too long over that step but browning the meat really makes it great. Then I put a really generous glug of Central Otago Pinot Noir in to get all that flavour off the bottom of the pan. And then I start making my pie filling.