The stars align for Ambrosia

First winner of Rotorua Matariki Dish Challenge

Shauni James





This winter the inaugural Rotorua Matariki Dish Challenge saw 11 local eateries create dishes that highlighted the region’s food while celebrating Matariki — and the winner of the challenge was Ambrosia Bar & Restaurant. The challenge, which ran for five weeks, allowed the public to taste their way around some of the town’s best eateries. The region’s newest eateries made their mark on Rotorua’s culinary scene, including Ani’s Gin Bar with their Puha Pasta, and Poco with a beetroot cured warehou kumara brandade. Peppers on the Point impressed with a fine dining entry while the Pullman’s Barrel and Co reinvented the classic boil up. Casual eateries also shone with dishes like Fat Dog’s Matariki Eggs Bene to Eastwood’s manuka-infused lamb pizza. The judges’ job was a tough one which Vanessa Wallace, business events manager from Rotoruanz, says is a testament to the high quality of the Rotorua food scene. “It was a fiercely fought competition and we were delighted with the innovative concepts that our local chefs brought to life to celebrate local produce and our indigenous Te Arawa culture.” There can only be one winner though, and taking out the title of 2022 champion was Ambrosia Bar & Restaurant with their dish of Mamaku venison, Kākano harekeke and foraged Mamaku kawakawa pesto, celeriac puree, hāngi purple potato with Lux micro greens. Ambrosia Bar & Restaurant owner Kris Beehre says it was very humbling to take out the title. “It was awesome to find out all the hard work our kitchen and front-ofhouse staff has done has paid off. It’s a massive, humbling experience.” He says the inspiration for their dish was Matariki itself, and looking at the sisters in the star cluster. Kris says the Matariki Dish Challenge gives a chance to help showcase a fantastic public holiday, and show that Rotorua is a place people can come and enjoy great dining alongside the likes of bike trails. He wanted to say a big congratulations to their staff as a whole — both the kitchen and front-of-house. Chief judge Kerry Tyack says this was a stunning entry. “It had all the elements the judges were seeking. It was technically very strong with every ingredient treated respectfully and carefully curated to ensure it contributed something essential and positive. “Visually it ticked all the boxes with a standard of presentation as good as you will see anywhere in the country. “But it was the provenance of the dish, and the expertly and sensitively told story that linked it to Matariki that raised the entry to the top. “We really appreciated the attention paid to the detail, including the menu presented in te reo and the unapologetic use of locally sourced ingredients. Ka pai!” The judges weren’t the only ones to have their say, with the public being able to cast their votes too. Taking out the 2022 People’s Choice award was River’s Catch with their dish of pickled New Zealand mussels, Treetops lodge manuka honey and eggplant hummus, Lux organics purple potatoes on rewana flat bread. Event organiser Vicki RavlichHoran says celebrating local and discovering something new is at the heart of the challenge. “As New Zealand develops our own unique food, storytelling and provenance are key. “The Matariki Dish Challenge is a wonderful chance for local eateries to start doing this and we were thrilled by the entries in this year’s challenge which spanned luxury resorts to fish n chip shops, all of which have helped highlight the depth and breadth of cuisine on offer in Rotorua.” BOP Matariki Dish Challenge winners will be announced this Friday. For a full list of participating eateries go to www. or @matarikidishchallenge on Facebook and Instagram.