Sure, you can’t take him out for brunch, but don’t let Father’s Day be lost in the Covid chaos. Chef Carlo Buenaventura tells Amanda Thompson about what his dad meant to him, and shares a favourite celebratory recipe.
As we plod our way through another lockdown, in another year, in this time of seemingly endless Covidity, another precious day of celebration is in danger of being lost in the chaos. Last year it was Easter and this year it’s Father’s Day – but we don’t have to let the virus win, Aotearoa.
For someone who never had much of a functioning father figure, I’m fondly and maybe a little bit aggressively attached to acknowledging Father’s Day. Or maybe that’s actually why. When you know how big a father-figure-shaped hole in a kid’s life can be, you’re even more appreciative of the dads who do actually show up and show out on the daily – and all the non-dads who fill in when called to the job. These parentals should not be forgotten about this year, chucked a packet of scorched almonds by a courier driver and a lacklustre zoom call from the grandkids (in which dad’s camera will work or dad’s mic will work, but never both at the same time). I am not ready for us, as a nation with enough on our proverbial plate already, to miss out on something special on our actual plates just because of a pesky lockdown.
And this is where the whole thing, the only positive thing really, about being in level four/three lockdowns right now is the extra time most of us have to relax into a holiday pace in our own neglected kitchens. I’m normally a big fan of leaving complex cooking to the experts. I’ve usually no patience for long involved recipes with multiple steps. But as you get older you occasionally surprise yourself by getting wiser and realising that sometimes, the time you spend on a piece of work is the whole point of performing that work. When you have the luxury to choose what you do with that time, when you could just order in or go to a restaurant or chuck a sausage roll in the microwave and choose to use your precious time doing something else – spending it on creating a meal for someone becomes an act of service; a gift of labour and love.
To that end, I have sourced for you lucky readers a beautifully mindful, celebration-worthy recipe to make this Sunday from “pop-up king” Carlo Buenaventura to soothe us in our time of national sadness, to remind us of who brought us here and more importantly, who brought us up.
One of the biggest freshest stars of New Zealand’s restaurant biz over the last five years, Buenaventura’s most recent venture has been into the fast-growing Karangahape Road dining scene with Bar Magda, featuring a Filipino fusion menu created out of Buenaventura’s love for both his home culture and fresh New Zealand produce. Growing up in the Philippines, Buenaventura’s earliest memories in the kitchen are with his father and grandmother, and says Father’s Day was always a great time for a party.
“Our society is really family orientated, and we’ll take any excuse for a big feast, any special day or saint’s day, we’ll celebrate! In our family, we eat a lot at home because we want to enjoy food that is made from the heart, and it’s just a good place to celebrate being all together.”
The beef morcon recipe Carlo has shared is one of his favourite big occasion meals, and he always prepares it for Christmas and New Year’s.
“I loved doing the cooking for my family because it’s a way for me to give back, I guess. I always wanted to show my appreciation to Dad because he cooked for us a lot. He was the main cook in our house and actually a lot of my experience in the kitchen was from learning with my dad and his mom, my grandmother. I guess he was a good example of not having to always have a huge physical presence to still make a big impact, because he had to work away from home a lot but he still guided us so much.”
Buenaventura’s dad passed away in 2017, seven years after Carlo gave up his planned career of medicine to explore his dream of opening his own restaurant and moving to New Zealand.
“My father was such a strong presence in my life. He was the one who really prepared me for the outside world and supported my career. When I left home, even though he missed me he didn’t want me to come back, because he was so pleased that I had all these opportunities. So that was bittersweet, because I only saw him once more before he died. He was so interested in the outside world but he never got to travel, so I guess in a way he lived his dream through me.”
Since landing on our shores Buenaventura has seen his hardworking rise through celebrated hospitality venues such as Matterhorn and Orphan’s Kitchen lead to the creation of his pop-up Cult Project. He credits so much of his success to his father’s unwavering support and advice.
“You know, when I moved to Queenstown I moved straight in with a group of other Filipinos and if it hadn’t been for Dad I could still be there now. He really pushed me to step away from my old life and embrace the new, take some risks. He loved the fact that I was able to go as far as I have. Even now, at this time I know his lesson would be that unfortunate things will happen but we need to be able to see past it rather than simmer in it. We need to look at the brighter things in life and how events can help us grow. We have been so lucky – my dad always taught me that home is your first place – the safe place. And it’s definitely the safest place for us all right now.”
RECIPE: BEEF MORCON
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup lemon/lime juice
- 1 tablespoon pink (Himalayan) salt (optional)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
Beef & stuffing
- 1.5kg beef flank (Carlo uses Grey Lynn Butchers. If your area is in level three, ask your local butcher if they are doing contactless sales; if you’re in Auckland, many butchers are doing delivery; otherwise cross your fingers and try your supermarket butchery)
- 4 Spanish chorizo sausages
- carrot sticks as needed
- celery sticks as needed
- dill pickle or gherkins sliced into four lengthwise, as needed
- 3 boiled eggs (in between the soft- and hard-boiled stage)
- 150g chicken or beef livers, chopped
Braising liquid/ sauce
- 250g butter
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil
- 3 brown onions, finely diced
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 red capsicum, seeded and sliced
- 1 large carrot, finely diced
- 1 celery stick, finely diced
- 250g tomato paste
- 3 large tomatoes, diced
- 4 cups beef stock
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 3 bay leaves
- 100g pitted green olives (keep the brine)
To make the brine, combine all the ingredients in a pot and bring to a simmer until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Let it cool down.
Marinate the beef in the brine for at least an hour, or up to 12 hours/overnight.
To assemble the morcon, remove the beef from the brine and pat dry. Lie the beef flat onto a tray. Arrange the stuffing ingredients on top so that they run along the length of the flank. Roll up the beef and tie using butcher’s twine.
Heat up a pan/dutch oven and sear the beef on all sides until golden brown. Set aside.
Carlo suggests: “If this is your first time making this, it’s best to watch videos on how to tie a butcher’s knot and cook a morcon/beef roulade.” Like this one.
In the same pan, heat the oil then add the butter to melt. Gisa (sauté) the onions, garlic, celery, carrots and capsicum until soft.
Add in the tomato paste and cook until it changes to a more orange/clay-like colour.
Carlo suggests: “If you have some old red wine add that in too, it will add a nice deep flavour to your sauce.”
Stir in the tomatoes, beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, and olive brine. Bring it to a simmer until tomatoes are really soft. Then put the beef back into the pan with the black peppercorns, bay leaf and olives.
Cover and simmer over a very low heat for 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender but not disintegrating. Make sure to baste every so often to keep the beef moist on both sides. Another option is to braise it in the oven at 180-190 degrees for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Remember this is a guide and assess the cooking time based on your oven!
When almost cooked, season with salt and some sugar to balance of the acidity.
When the beef is done remove from the sauce, wrap in foil and allow to rest for about 20 minutes.
You can continue to reduce your sauce to the desired consistency, but be careful not to reduce too much or the sauce will become salty.
When ready for assembly, cut and remove the twine. Slice the beef across the grain.
Arrange on a serving dish, pour over the sauce and garnish with chopped parsley or chives.