Braised food

What Chefs Eat at Home: Butter Braised Leek Pasta

Alex Davies of Gatherings at his home in Christchurch.

CHRIS SKELTON / Stuff

Alex Davies of Gatherings at his home in Christchurch.

Alex Davies exudes the interesting and quietly cool personality that is also the signature of his food plates. The owner and head chef of Christchurch’s Gatherings has a warm, slightly faded Essex accent after growing up in the UK often watching Jamie Oliver on TV. He moved to New Zealand when he was 20, after his parents here. He went to cooking school after arriving “really just to make friends” but is now one of Christchurch’s top chefs. Its cozy restaurant with seasonal cuisine has the rare distinction of being both comforting and daring. The focus is on sustainability and local, seasonal ingredients and Davies cooks with the environment at the forefront of his mind. He wants to produce deliciously good food, but with a view to reducing emissions through food miles and food choices.

Davies’ career really began in post-earthquake Christchurch, launching the Local Food Project which showcased and celebrated the region which, at the time, was trying to rebuild itself with a new post-earthquake identity. His reputation as a chef is now recognized in food circles nationwide and one only has to eat at Gatherings to see why.

READ MORE:
* What chefs cook at home: Helen Turnbull
* Peas, love & joy: A very vegetarian Christmas
* The return of cast iron: why an old kitchen favorite is back in style

Davies doesn’t eat meat and his little restaurant started out vegan but expanded to kai moana. His reputation as a great cook of fish and seafood has grown exponentially. His cuisine is prepared to be shared around the table with the hope that people will taste things they might never have tasted before.

“I want people to feel like they’ve entered a warm and welcoming space, I want people to relax around food and learn about things that maybe they don’t usually have, but because they are in a comfortable environment, it is less intimidating. Being in a rigid space served by someone in a suit who uses French words you’ve never heard of is not synonymous with joy or feeling comfortable,” he says.

Davies grew up eating simple foods in England and says that’s often his philosophy at home. “Celebrating simplicity with delicious local ingredients, because good food doesn’t mean lavish food.”

Davies puts the finishing touches on his dish in his kitchen at home.

CHRIS SKELTON / Stuff

Davies puts the finishing touches on his dish in his kitchen at home.

Despite working long hours in the kitchen every day, Davies often enjoys coming home to cook and eat with his partner and 3-year-old daughter. The carpenter who helped create the warm look of Gatherings has just remodeled his kitchen at home, so it’s a space he now enjoys cooking in.

“In general, it’s very simple. After spending 10-12 hours processing food, I just want to make something simple and tasty.

He also wants to keep his daughter’s palate in mind, not wanting to cook anything too crazy for her. Although it seems that its taste is already refined enough for a toddler.

“She fits into everything, it’s really nice to see. We went to Fleurs (in Oamaru) recently and she was eating all the shellfish and removing all the clams and mussels from the shells and eating the fish boneless.

Vegetables are never lacking at home either. Davies says working at pace in a commercial kitchen means eating a spoonful here and there, but often not much more than that. “When you’re working in a kitchen you don’t really eat well, so when I’m home I always eat well because that’s a time when I can actually absorb those nutrients into my body and eat properly.”

It’s comforting to know that even a top chef shares the family favorite, pasta cooking, which is a big hit in the Davies household. “We like to eat pasta as a family. It’s simple, it’s quick, it’s tasty, it’s quite easy to prepare. Sometimes I make the pasta but sometimes I can’t be bothered, when you’ve been cooking all week.

Pasta with leeks braised in butter, fresh herbs, garlic and parmesan.

CHRIS SKELTON / Stuff

Pasta with leeks braised in butter, fresh herbs, garlic and parmesan.

Leek pasta braised in butter, fresh herbs, garlic and parmesan

Preparation time: 10 mins

Cooking time: 20 mins

For: 2

1 large leek

200g butter (or olive oil)

1 lemon

5 garlic cloves

250g fresh pasta

50g of parmesan

A large bundle of sweet herbs

  1. Cut the leeks into large chunks, uniformity doesn’t matter here as we intend to cook them until soft.

  2. Put the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, add the chopped leeks, sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and black pepper and stir. Let them get to know each other, add the finely chopped garlic and put a lid on the pot. Reduce heat to low and stir occasionally

  3. After 10-15 minutes, the leeks will be completely tender, sitting in a pool of their own liquid and a pool of garlic butter.

  4. While the leeks cook, bring a pot of water to a boil. Season the water with plenty of salt, once boiling add the packaged pasta. If you want good stuff, look for Kiwi brands like Feed the Soul, which make amazing fresh pasta using 100% New Zealand wheat. Prepare the pasta if you feel up to it.

  5. Once the pasta is cooked, drain all but most of the liquid. Toss the pasta through the leeks, hit with a squeeze of lemon, coarsely chopped herbs and grated parmesan, toss over low heat to bring the sauces together and pour into a bowl. Season with dry chilli if you like a little spiciness.

Pan-fried asparagus and silver beet vinaigrette.

CHRIS SKELTON / Stuff

Pan-fried asparagus and silver beet vinaigrette.

Pan-fried asparagus and silver beet vinaigrette

Preparation time: 10 mins

Cooking time: 10 mins

For: 2 (as a side dish)

8 asparagus spears

Bunch of silver beets

1 tablespoon of honey

50g apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

150g olive oil

  1. Place the asparagus in a very hot, heavy-bottomed frying pan in a good drizzle of olive oil. Season well and lower the heat a little.

  2. Heat a pot of water and make it as salty as the sea. Once boiling, add the silver beet greens and cook longer than usual (5-6 minutes), until tender and silky. Embrace the giving texture of the vegetable, al dente is old fashioned.

  3. After about 3-4 minutes cooking the asparagus on one side, flip it over, it will be caramelized and blackened but delicious, check the seasoning and take out of the pan, toss in the hot silver beet leaves.

  4. In an old bottle. Combine dressing ingredients, season generously and add whatever you want at this point, think sweet herbs, lemon zest, chili, Szechuan seasoning, garlic, whatever you want. Shake the bottle as hard as you can and there you have it. It will give you more than you need.

  5. Drizzle as much of the dressing as you’d like over the greens and asparagus, don’t worry too much about the timings here as both vegetables are great served cold anyway.