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October 07, 2008

Chicago Chef Shawn McClain's Take on New Zealand Cuisine

Newzea
Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park.
Photo: Concierge.com

by Mollie Chen

Chef Shawn McClain of Spring, Green Zebra, and Custom House in Chicago, has just returned from New Zealand, where he spent some time as a North American culinary ambassador to the country (quite the title!). Below, his favorites from the land of Kiwis:

Auckland:
* A short boat ride to Waiheke Island is a must; it's full of wineries and beautiful scenery. Have lunch at Te Whau winery overlooking the bay.
* Dinner? Dine by Peter Gordon, a wonderful restaurant in the SkyCity Hotel.

Wellington:
* Visit any one of many cafes--Wellington is known as the capital of café culture. Awesome coffee and the freshest ingredients you can find.
* Logan Brown for dinner. Great modern cooking, an old bank as its setting, and probably the coolest people you've ever met. I had the chance to dive for fresh abalone and sea urchin with the chef, Al Brown.
* If you can schedule it right, you must see the annual rugby sevens tournament in Wellington. It's like the SuperBowl and Halloween rolled into one. You have to see it to believe it!

Taupo:
* If you can afford the rates, there is not a more idyllic spot to stay. Located on a river, Huka Lodge is stunning; it gives the word "lodge" a whole new meaning.

Hawkes Bay:
* Great wine country and a must-visit farmers' market.
* Craggy Range Winery has stunning modern architecture and a great restaurant.

Queenstown:
* If you like rides, find the Shotover boats that buzz up and down the canyons. This puts the log rides at Disney to shame!

Marlborough:
* Dine in Waterfall Bay at Seresin. An old converted cabin, it is host to special dinners accessible only by boat--paradise.

Central Otago:
* Visit the annual food and wine festival in February.
* Enjoy some of the best Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy.

Other must-tries:
* Paua: fresh abalone, stone fruit and kumara (kind of like sweet potato)
* Green shell mussels, Cloudy Bay Winery "oaked" Sauvignon Blanc

Further reading:
* Video: Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand
* Hot List 2008: Farm at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay
* The New Zealand North Island Guide
* Catch of the Day

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