Category Archives: Behind the scenes

Thoughts while washing dishes (or why I cook)

There is a certain quiet in the kitchen when everyone has eaten and left.

Sleep starts to tease your eyelids as your hands work methodically to soap and rinse the sprawl of pots, plates, utensils … getting slower as you start yearning for bed, then quicker as you look at the time and remember that your alarm clock will ring in 6 hours.

It is work, you work harder than you have all day at your day job. You hop off the train, kiss your husband, run to the store, come home, march into the kitchen, don an apron, get moving. When guests expecting dinner are due in 45 minutes, there is no pointless dawdling or twiddling of thumbs, no pointless scrolling, no staring at the clock willing 5pm to come sooner. It’s work shift #2 after a full shift #1, but it’s rewarding work – chopping, measuring, sniffing, stirring … eating … talking … checking that guests’ glasses are full and bellies filling. You whip cream and make tea. You co-host. You listen, talk, laugh, catch up. And then, just as quickly as it began, it’s over. They go home. Time to wash up and then to go to bed.

But THIS moment, washing dishes, marvelling at how cooking smells and laughter give way to crumbs on the table and oil splashes on the stovetop. THIS silence is golden. You understand that time is your own to do what you want with it. You understand why people are the most important thing in the world. You understand that all the work that goes into cooking and feeding makes sense and is worthwhile, even though food takes effort to cook and less effort to eat and once done it is a cycle to be repeated in the days to come.

Finally – when people have left and the plates are clean again, you can feel the difference it has made. You have given, but received so much more in return. You are satisfied with food and the fullness that comes from eating together with others. And you are filled with gratitude.

That’s why I do it. To feel good, to have fun – but equally, to enjoy the satisfaction of working hard with my hands and feeling rested, well and grateful.

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Moustache

It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
~ Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

What do you remember of your childhood?

I recall abstract details… my first hula hoop; the pain of piping hot cheese toast scorching the roof of my mouth; the excitement of hiding backstage waiting for the curtain to go up. If I concentrate with my eyes shut, I can just about remember what it was like to be 6, 7, 9, 12…

These days, I find myself learning how to be a child all over again.

In recent years, life has (necessarily) involved plenty of ‘growing up’ (whatever that really means!) – a big shift from School to a world that is largely about Money Job Romance House Marriage Kids Plans Politics Catastrophes Choices Vacations Service ItDoesn’tEnd Etc Etc.

It’s exciting and necessary.

But in many ways, it’s really not everything.

All work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy; it kills him.

Perhaps the more ‘growing up’ we do, the more we need to remember what it is like to be small, to wonder, to love without complications. To enjoy whizzing down a slide without thinking about how to announce your slide ride on Facebook. To be able to tell someone “I don’t want to play with you today” or “let’s be friends!” – just like that. To eat when hungry without worrying about getting fat.

Perhaps we could place equal importance on Big Decisions and Small Things.

Perhaps we could, every so often, leave our suits and aprons at home in favour of donning milk moustaches and eating delicious cookies.

This is Deanna, whiz and powerhouse behind Moustache. I had already heard many good things about Moustache through media and friends – this morning, I got a chance to experience the goodness in person. Yay! As I tucked into a glorious cinnamon cookie and cold fresh milk, I enjoyed getting to know the face and story behind this Cookie Wonderland.

Like so many good things, Moustache is built on passion, genius, the pursuit of excellence and a lot of hard work. I admired the staff’s friendly and calm countenances and the yummy cookies more and more as I learned the realities of building this dream and running this business.

What you see now, a concept that seems simple enough (milk, cookies, the child in all of us and a glimpse of Deanna’s childhood) – is the result of months of brainstorming and resourceful thinking done in pockets of available time. Strings of early mornings and late nights. Careful budgeting. Setbacks and victories.

Blood, sweat, tears and laughs.

Every cookie is baked fresh, on site, with good ingredients like cage-free eggs and generous bites of Whittaker’s chocolate. On that note, I discovered why the peanut butter cookies Kath and I bought yesterday at 4pm were positively glowing with everything melting in just the right places… the cookies tasted like they had just emerged from the oven because, in fact, they had. The Moustache team sends fresh trays of cookie dough into the oven every half an hour to ensure customers get a constant supply of fresh cookies!

Things I love about Moustache: the way it is so bright and user-friendly – walk in and your eyes and nose automatically know what to do. Its warmth and fragrance. The option of buying gift boxes along with your cookies. The menu. The smiling staff. And, of course, the cookies – preferably enjoyed warm with cold fresh milk.

Pop in on weekdays for morning coffee or an afternoon pick-me-up, Saturdays for a treat, or before a show at The Civic (conveniently located a stone’s throw away).

If you miss your childhood, Moustache is an excellent place for reminiscence – if you never had a childhood, make up for it here.

Thank you, Deanna, for a lovely morning!

Moustache – 12 Wellesley Street West, Auckland

A peek into GIAPO’s kitchen

Chefs aren’t made in the kitchen.
Chefs are made from something they have deep inside them –
an inner flame that burns brightly… with purpose, curiosity and passion.
In reality, true chefs pursue the creation of something better than yesterday and when they think they got it, they realise they don’t.
~ Gianpaolo Grazioli

A smiling face opens the door, and we walk through to the area behind the counter. I peek into the cosy kitchen and see that it resembles a laboratory – only it is fitted with stove facilities and edible ingredients. A purple cap finds its way to my head. I take in the sight of 24 cracked eggs caught in a bowl, yolks bobbing in the gloopy pool of whites. I smile at the myriad of utensils, pots, bowls, trays and litres of milk that line the shelves and fridge. I stare out the window at the other humans walking to work (and smile knowing that I will join them soon… BUT not just yet).

Slowly, a sense of unfounded familiarity and tingles of exhilaration wiggle through my toes.

I am in GIAPO’S kitchen.

This morning, Giapo is baking brownies to make brownie gelato. Fresh cream is whipped till it tries escaping from the mixer with violent jerks, and leaves in its wake a beautiful mound of butter. No store-bought chocolate is used (he uses fresh butter, choice cocoa powder and cocoa butter). Giapo gives me a sample of cocoa butter to taste – I am a little put off by its name because it sounds like a lotion, but I am struck by the luxurious quality of it, the way it reminds me of an edible bar of creamy soap – creamy but clean and not sticky in any way (“wow!” is what I want to say). In the course of the morning, he also makes a beautiful batch of dulce de leche and the bit I taste fresh from the pot leaves me feeling a little like I am walking on air.

The way everything whirls, mixes and cooks around me reminds me (just slightly) of one of my favourite Disney moments. I am as intrigued by the beautiful brownie-making process as I am by Giapo’s solid understanding of the science behind food/cooking. (The science of food is not yet my forte. I cook and bake by way of a certain random madness, and without an understanding of why ingredients act the way they do).

So I enjoy myself immensely watching the brownie come together, but I can’t shake off this funny feeling that lingers in my mind the whole time I am in the kitchen… until Giapo tells me he’s going to make a chocolate gelato and combine that with the brownie to make brownie gelato.

This is the moment at which everything feels illogical and marvellous all at once. Questions and answers start flying in and out of my head in rapid succession.

WHAT! WHY! I want to say. How does any of this make sense? Does everyone even really see/understand just how much work goes into this? Couldn’t you take more shortcuts? Couldn’t you use less good (and thus costly) ingredients? Why don’t you let supermarkets/stores etc carry your products? Why do you bake brownie from scratch? Why and how do you invent so many new flavours every single week? Why do you do what you do?

I’ve asked some of these questions before. But even as these questions surface in my mind, everything now makes complete sense in my heart. I already know that yes, GIAPO is a business with overhead costs. Yes, there is nothing to stop them from taking a few time and money-saving shortcuts. Yes, they could easily rely on market knowledge and stick to flavours that have been proven to be popular with the masses (rather than take a chance with experimental flavours). Yes, they could arrange for supermarkets and other stores to stock their gelato.

But the way I see it, GIAPO is not your average business. It’s a people-loving business/”Wonka factory”/thought leader/research lab/innovative centre/delicious gelato parlour and more, rolled into one magic entity. I think it’s less about sticking with the proven, or focusing on profits, or abiding by what some would label as “sense”…

The way I interpret it, it’s about the execution of a mission. Loving food and loving you. Fanning that inner flame. Embarking on a quest to experience life by tasting everything. Combining science, art and passion. Holding strong to values and principles in a society that doesn’t do this as much as they should. Pushing boundaries. Following a dream and vision. Having the courage to go where passion says to go. Making something gobsmackingly delicious, just ‘cos. Revolutionalising gelato, food and eating. Taking pride in their work. Having fun along the way.

And, as they say, giving you food that is as it should be – good for you. With a lot of love, commitment, excellent techniques, quality time and ingredients (no shortcuts or artificial content), and a sparkling dose of genius.

It’s taken me two days to write this post, and still I am not sure I have expressed myself adequately. But thank you for reading my clumsy words. If you’re in Auckland, please visit GIAPO and bring everyone you know. If you are not in New Zealand, well, get here. It’s a thoroughly beautiful country. And go to GIAPO.

Grazie mille Giapo, for the lovely privilege of spending an hour with you in your kitchen!

Giapo – 279-291 Queen Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 550 3677