Food and drink are the source of many memories. Simon Day remembers a hangover and his childhood with milkshake guru Matt Fitzgerald.
Of all the scenes from 1982’s Spielberg science fiction classic E.T. to be preserved in Matt Fitzgerald’s mind, it’s the moment young Elliott is sent out to get pizza by his brothers that’s had lasting influence. Fitzgerald is obsessed with fast food. He loves the memories the food represents. And he loves its flavours: the oil and grease, the balance of the salt and the sugar.
“My heart is in fast food. It’s always been into fast food. I’ve always wanted to own a burger bar, or a fried chicken joint. I’m a chronic fast food eater – I have to go to the gym a lot. It’s nostalgic and delicious. I’d love to take up Playstation again, get stoned and eat pizza.”
While running Fred’s cafe at the top of Auckland’s Franklin Road, milkshakes were his first chance to release his passion. Each week he’d write his new special shake in chalk at the top of the menu. There was “popcorn”, “donuts” – a recipe made with cornflakes – and one day there was “chocolate peanut butter”.
That same day I was very hungover and traipsed up from number 17 Franklin Road to get coffees for my flat. During that tenancy I would visit Fred’s almost every day, but this was the first time I paid attention to the milkshake special scrawled on the blackboard. I adore peanut butter and was drawn to the shake.
As I plodded back down the road holding four coffees in a tray, I took a sip of the milkshake in my other hand. First I tasted chocolate, next I felt the texture of the crunchy peanut butter, and then all the flavours came together and the memory hit me: it tasted just like a liquid Snickers bar. My hangover was suddenly gone, and I was immediately a disciple of Fitzgerald’s milkshake genius.
From the success of his experiments at Fred’s cafe, Fitzgerald started making his own milkshake syrups in his kitchen and in 2014 created Master Milkshakes. He really didn’t know what he was doing at first and the experimentation led to a long list of failures. The list includes Black Doris plum, blueberry, Jaffa, lemon meringue, and “anything with banana. It’s very hard to naturally extract the essence of banana. It was real trial and error. It’s just a balancing act.”
Under the guidance of Wellington syrup company Six Barrel Soda, Fitzgerald started to perfect the recipes. It’s still cooked on his stove at home, but with a little more science. And then he sends the syrups to Six Barrel Soda to be bottled.
“I wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for them. They’ve been really generous with their knowledge. Hospitality is getting more and more collaborative.”
He’s created a roster of fun and innovative flavours that work. It’s all natural ingredients: the “Choccy Fish” recipe started with fresh raspberries, and when it wasn’t strong enough he added some natural raspberry essence, a bit of salt and some sugar. The result is a perfect replica of the chocolate and raspberry flavour of the walk to the corner dairy to get the classic Kiwi lolly pulled from the jar and presented in a little white paper bag. The apple pie syrup is based on his mum’s dessert recipe.
The culinary tastes of the American troops stationed here between 1942 and 1944 created the New Zealand milk bar, the place which first introduced us to milkshakes, ice creams and sundaes. This was the genesis of our own unique cultural phenomenon of corner dairies, with their ice cream by the cone, milkshakes and $1 mix bag of lollies. It’s that nostalgia, those flavours of childish happiness, that Fitzgerald wants to capture in his syrups.
In the laughing hand-drawn young astronaut that is the face the brand – it smiles from Master Milkshakes’ cups and syrup bottles – you’re reminded of Spaceman candy sticks, Frosty Boy ice cream, and the Longest Drink in Town’s giraffe. Like the flavours, it’s an update of the 50s retro vibe with a distinctly Kiwi twist.
A good milkshake is very basic. It needs good ice cream. It doesn’t have to be top shelf, but it can’t be “aerated and shit”, just good creamy dairy and sugar. It’s got to have full-cream milk. And it needs to have good syrup made from good ingredients.
“It’s that simple.” (But don’t be afraid of adding a cheeky shot of coffee or bourbon depending on the time of day.)
Always use vanilla ice cream to be true to the syrup. Fitzgerald’s ratio is three scoops of ice cream, 30-40ml of syrup, and 100ml of milk. Mix on a long hard blend until the ice cream is fully incorporated. Fitzgerald loves the famous Hamilton Beach milkshake machines where you plug the silver blending cup into the blending stick. Nutribullets and blenders just don’t do quite the same job.
“They’re quite hard to find and when you do they’re really expensive. They’re amazing. Really simple, ingenious engineering, with only a few moving parts. They’re incredible. They do their job so well.”
Master Milkshakes has been an ongoing side passion project for Fitzgerald, initially while running Fred’s and now that he’s in charge of Madame George on K Rd. But his new venture, Electric Chicken, is a chance to finally work with the thing he loves the most, fast food. It’s popped up once already in Mercury Plaza, and is “opening soon” in a yet-to-be-confirmed venue. He’s excited to combine the simplicity of fried chicken and milkshakes, and their symbiotic relationship of salt and sugar, sweet and savoury.
“It’s a way to celebrate them both at the same time.”
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