Barely more than a week after getting back from our Auckland trip, I was on the road again, this time to get to Wellington for a Chaine event. J2 stayed home this time to look after the boys, and also to work on a website thing he’s doing for our lodge group. Wednesday morning I got in the car and took the three-hour drive to Christchurch where I took care of a few errands, such as trying out beds for the new rooms (the ones we’re buying are commercial, and there is nowhere to experience them other than the factory, apparently), picking up sample fabrics for our sofa beds, and looking at wooden furniture at a hardwood furniture factory. I even managed to find a bamboo tea tray for serving our pu’erh tea, something I’d been looking for for ages.
On Thursday morning I left drizzly Christchurch for the flight to Wellington. Wellington is notoriously windy, of course, so flying in can always be a bit of an “experience”, but this time the weather was just a bit wet. In fact, they were having a thunderstorm, so we were somewhat delayed landing, and then once on the ground we had to wait a bit before the lightning abated and they could let the ground crew remove the checked baggage. Still, I managed to get to my hotel in good time to get to a meeting I had organised to see one of the travel agents that we work with regularly to update them on news at the lodge.
After the meeting, I was collected by a fellow Chaine board member who had picked up another two board members already and who planned to drive us to her house for a meeting before we would head out to a dinner event. Unfortunately, a massive rainstorm was hitting the area, shutting down the highway that we needed to take, along with the commuter rail service, and causing businesses all over the area to close early, throwing thousands of people onto the already congested roads and turning what should have been a 20-minute ride into what would take at least two hours. We took a quick decision and cancelled the meeting, but the dinner was decided should go on, since a) the restaurant had already prepared for the expected 60 guests, b) the event was a fundraiser for the young chef who won the competition that we held a number of months ago so that she could afford to attend the international competition to be held in Budapest in September, and c) people (like me) had flown in for the event.
As we inched along the highway, however, all our cellphones were going crazy with people phoning us, us phoning people, and everyone trying to see whether the roads were clearing, getting worse, or alternate routes were opening up. To say the least, it was an interesting afternoon. We finally got to the house, where the four of us quickly changed into black tie for the dinner, and when we got to the restaurant we were shocked to find that out of the expected 60 guests, 57 had actually made it! The evening was going to be a success after all!
The dinner was a six-course affair, with each course prepared by either our competitor or her chef, who had just joined the Chaine. Happily for us who were involved with the competition, the dishes prepared by the competitor were the best of the evening, in particular a lamb Wellington dish that was just delicious. Unfortunately, and for reasons that I cannot quite comprehend, I did not make it to the dessert course, since something either did not agree with me or perhaps I was taking in more alcohol than the limited amount of food I had had that day could absorb (the sum of food I’d eaten before the dinner amounted to a few pieces of toast at breakfast and an apricot bar that we grabbed when we fuelled up the car for the drive). Not a wonderful sensation, especially since I was on photo duty, and did not want anyone to know that I was in a bad way. Happily it passed quickly enough, and the drive back to my hotel was far shorter than the one out so before too long I was back in bed and feeling fine.
The next day the newspapers were full of news of the floods and chaos in Wellington, but the weather had passed and was not too bad. I had another couple of meetings in the morning with more travel agents, but the rest of the day was mine to do what I wanted. I took the chance to visit the Te Papa National Museum to see their exhibit on the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. What an excellent exhibit it was, too, with enormous models of a number of soldiers made by the Weta Workshop folks and loads of interesting information that was completely new to me. It really did help somewhat to make it clear why Anzac Day is such a big deal here, despite the fact that the battle was a rout for the New Zealand (and Australian) forces and it was against a foe with which NZ (and Australia) had absolutely no argument.
In the evening I went out to the house of some friends (guests from last year who now come to Oamaru twice a year for the Steampunk and Victorian festivals, staying with us for up to a week at a time) for a wonderful dinner and an opportunity to sample some options for a signature cocktail they have offered to design for the lodge (they still have some work to do). It was so nice that they did not go on and on about being nervous cooking for me, but instead just put together a really tasty and clever meal, starting with “fish and chips” (though theirs comprised little fried whitebait and chips–when I steal this idea I’ll do it with shoestring potatoes so it’ll look like a cute miniature version of the iconic classic) and then moving on to beef Wellington (meaning I had meat Wellington both nights of my stay in Wellington).
It was overall a lovely visit to the capital, despite the weather and my bout of stomach issues, and I look forward to going back in October to judge the next national Jeune Chef Rôtisseur competition.