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It’s just about 9,000 miles from New Zealand to New York City. This is a vast distance spanning two hemispheres, the international dateline, and the Equator. Oh, and most of the South Pacific. That too.

Negotiating the vast divide between these two international destinations is something of a specialty for Anthony Hoy Fong. A New Zealander of Cantonese descent, the Kiwi chef journeyed from one end of the earth to the other a decade and a half ago, trading the pristine island nation of his birth for the opportunity to hone his hospitality skills in the high-profile, fast-paced kitchens of the Big Apple. Hoy Fong, with his twanging accent and beaming smile, embarked on a culinary career that would soon include impressive turns, from launching Top Chef University, to opening his own restaurant in Brooklyn, and even to cooking for the Obama White House.

Food & Wine recently spoke with the Kiwi chef via video link in his Brooklyn home, where he, his wife Kai, and their two children have been hunkered down during the coronavirus pandemic. Hoy Fong shared his passion for New Zealand ingredients, held forth on the challenges and rewards of cooking for children, and how he incorporates Kiwi values like kaitiakitanga, manaakitanga, and ingenuity into his cooking to bridge the distance between his homeland and his adopted hometown—an exercise he takes to with apparent zeal (ahem).

PHOTO : B&M CREATIVE ARTISTS
Q:
A:

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Thanks for taking the time to join us today, chef. Where are you currently?

I'm in Park Slope. I've made the slow progression from Manhattan as my family has grown. Slowly moved further and further out, and now I'm in Park Slope, which is perfect for the kids.

How did you wind up in New York City from New Zealand? Your wife is American, is that right?

I wanted to go to a great culinary school and work in the best restaurants—that’s why I chose New York. And yes, my wife’s American! She was born and raised in Michigan but lived in New York her entire adult life.

How did you two meet?

We met at culinary school at the French Culinary Institute in SoHo, New York. We were both “career changers” and following our passion for food. We happened to be in the same class and hit it off.

That’s terrific. How long ago was that?

That was about 15 years ago now. Kiwis and Australians, we live so far away down at the bottom of the earth, and when you reach a certain age you go do your “OE” trip—your overseas experience. A lot of Kiwis and Aussies go to London, but I wanted to go to New York, as I wanted to go to culinary school in New York and immerse myself in it’s amazing culinary scene. So I enrolled myself in the French Culinary Institute, which I attended during the day and worked in as many restaurants as I could at night.

Your wife’s name, Kai, is relevant to what we're going to be talking about today—it means “food” in Māori. Tell us about getting your hands on New Zealand kai while living in New York City. Are you able to get access to food items that you grew up with in New Zealand?

It's funny ‘cause I've seen it evolve over the years. When I first got here, there weren't a lot of New Zealand ingredients you could get. But, especially in the last five years, the accessibility has really increased. New Zealand's really increased [its] efforts and drive behind exporting products. New Zealand Trade & Enterprise have done a great job of promoting products and supporting companies that want to break into the U.S. market. You’ve always been able to get [New Zealand] wine. You could maybe get [some] lamb and venison, but that was about it. But now, whether I’m cooking at home or in my professional life, I can get just about anything from New Zealand, from great olive oils, to unique spices and herbs, and even vegetables and fruits like fresh passionfruit, yellow kiwis, and even the odd kumara—New Zealand’s version of sweet potato. And of course there’s some of the most amazing salmon now too, like Ōra King salmon. It’s tons of stuff now. Pretty incredible actually.

PHOTO : B&M CREATIVE ARTISTS

Of the ingredients you’re able to get from your home, what are the ones in particular that you like to cook with?

Personally, my favorite is olive oils. My olive oil collection is kind of like my wine collection. I collect all sorts of different ones and I usually bring a couple of bottles with me each time I come back. It's kind of like grain-fed beef in America versus grass-fed beef in New Zealand. There’s a particular brand I like, The Village Press, and they grow the olives out of Hawke's Bay. I do think you get the terroir. You get a sort of young earth [taste], not so minerally, more grassy. And that color...

You mentioned eating during the pandemic and how you've adjusted your diet and your family's diet a little bit, the type of things that you're cooking. Tell me a little bit about what that menu looks like for you in Park Slope.

There are not a lot of good things about the lockdown, but I [typically] travel a ton for work, so the best thing is that I’ve been home more, and I’ve been able to cook more. [The lockdown] was kind of nerve-wracking, so we decided as a family that we would try and eat healthy; at least we could control that part of our lives. We knew that we weren't going to be out and about doing physical activity as much, and it was a stressful time. We felt like: healthy body, healthy mind.

So we stocked up a lot of vegetables. I was making a lot of really interesting salads and just pushing the boundaries with vegetables, making them the star of the show. [For example] I grabbed a whole head of cauliflower and experimented with cooking it as a whole head, cutting it into “steaks” and even shaving it raw on a mandoline.

Tell me a little bit about what you grew up eating as a kid. What’s typical for a New Zealand diet?

I’ve always found it a hard thing to put your finger on what New Zealand cuisine is. [The country] has such great ingredients, such pure, natural ingredients, that you really don't want to do too much to them. That’s not an easy thing as a cook, but it's all about restraint. Start with great ingredients and just apply technique to amplify that ingredient itself, rather than lose it in a ton of complicated techniques and flavors.

Growing up in my family’s fruit and vegetable store, it was just about really good proteins—beef and lamb, of course—really fresh seafood, and tons of fresh vegetables and fruit. The produce was incredible and [the key was] not doing too much, just cooking it the right way and keeping it simple, letting the ingredients shine for themselves. I grew up eating Kiwi food four days a week and the other three days a week—Chinese food because that's my background.

Whether it’s my private cook-at-home life, or in my professional life, I can get just about anything from New Zealand”

CHEF ANTHONY HOY FONG

PHOTO : B&M CREATIVE ARTISTS

As someone from New Zealand who lives in America and is raising children there, is it important for you to communicate, through food, where their family comes from? Tell me a little bit about bringing Kiwi cooking into the kitchen in Brooklyn.

I’m a sucker for New Zealand classics, so I like making sausage rolls, or simple baked beans on toast and one of my favorites: bacon and egg pies —a real classic Kiwi dish. That dish is all about using really good eggs, smoked bacon, tomatoes, onions, and peas, and putting it all between puff pastry, and baking until golden and crispy. To me, it's perfect for kids, ‘cause it's colorful and flavorful. It's got the texture of the crispy puff pastry, a few vegetables, and it's a one-pot dish. A little bit of tomato sauce or ketchup on the side, and they love it.

I love to try my hand at making different types of pies, and I mean New Zealand meat pies, not the sweet holiday pies. I like to test my skills, so making puff pastry from scratch, making the filling [is fun]. Oh, I made a big batch of sausage rolls the other week, too. They’re always popular!

PHOTO : B&M CREATIVE ARTISTS
PHOTO : B&M CREATIVE ARTISTS
PHOTO : B&M CREATIVE ARTISTS

You've cooked on opposite ends of the world and for two very different sets of palates. How have you bridged that gap between your training and professional cooking here, and all this experience and familiarity with New Zealand as an agricultural producer and a culinary tradition of its own?

I’ve been trying to work that out as a chef my whole life. It really is ingredients, to me; ingredients bridge the gap. I’ll find a really great New Zealand ingredient—it could be the most amazing grass-fed, pasture raised leg of lamb—and then you bring that into an Americanized dish.

For example, barbecue lamb has recently become really popular. You take a leg of lamb or a shank and simply prepare it just like smoked brisket or pork butt. Salt, pepper, fill the smoker with some hickory and applewood, smoke for eight hours, and all it does is intensifies and elevates that already-existing flavor of the lamb. You're not masking it.

When you're looking for ingredients like that, just to use lamb as an example, are you working with purveyors in New York, or are you working with producers in New Zealand?

I know some chefs do that, but with what I do I'm always trying to watch the bottom line as well. I'll usually look at what's available in the market, what companies are trying to break into the market. One company, Silver Fern Farms—they have amazing products available in the U.S. For one restaurant opening, we had New Zealand Silver Fern Farms skirt steak. [The restaurant] was a Mexican concept, and the steak was amazing, so I wanted to incorporate it into the menu. I used it to make carne asada. The beef was grass-fed, with beautiful marbling. That was a really cool thing, with the product being readily available through the [normal] distributors because New Zealand companies are pushing and bringing it into America. I don't want to just create something that people at home don't have access to. Another example is New Zealand King Salmon Co. Their Ōra King salmon is amazing and it's readily available in America, and it's just an incredible product.

What would you recommend to an American shopping for New Zealand ingredients for the first time?

If you want to get crazy and you’re feeling adventurous, pick up some New Zealand spices. There are some spices like an Indigenous spice called horopito. It’s an herbaceous spice you can get, and you can put that on things like your grilled lamb chops or fried chicken, or use it to dust your french fries.

If you’re feeling less adventurous, mānuka honey is a good one. It tastes totally different than your clover honey, or your orange blossom honey. The texture is different, the color’s different, the flavor is different. You can just put a teaspoon of it in your tea that you drink or spread it on toast.

At Union Market over here [in Brooklyn], they always have pipis. Everyone knows New Zealand oysters, everyone knows New Zealand green-lipped mussels, but pipis, as we call them in New Zealand, they're basically a type of clam, or like a cockle. You steam them just like littlenecks.

Before we go, can you tell us about how Kiwi concepts of kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga—Māori for environmental guardianship and hospitality, respectively— have influenced the way you’ve shaped your career on the other side of the world?

Food is a medium for a lot of things. As a chef and as a Kiwi, and as someone that appreciates the Māori cultural and Chinese culture too, food is your way of showing gratitude. Food is the way that you welcome people—it shapes the way that you express your respect and love for other people. If you're trying to show your love and respect for New Zealand ingredients, treating them the right way, putting them into a format that people can understand… in terms of embracing that culture as a chef, as a curator, I do that every day. Every time I put a plate of food down, whether it's for my family at home, or whether I’m creating a restaurant menu and feeding guests. I think all of that’s done and achieved through food and recipes, and respecting those ingredients.

Chef Anthony’s Favorite New Zealand Products

The Village Press Olive Oil
Hastings, NZ

The Better Tea Co.’s Anxietea
Auckland, NZ

Lewis Road Creamery’s
Chocolate Milk
Auckland, NZ

Silver Fern Farms’ Steak
Dunedin, NZ

New Zealand King Salmon
Co.’s Ōra King Salmon
Nelson, NZ

PHOTO : THE VILLAGE PRESS
PHOTO : BETTERTEA
PHOTO : LEWIS ROAD CREAMERY
PHOTO : SILVER FERN FARM’S
PHOTO : NEW ZEALAND KING SALMON

Anthony’s Favorite Home-Cooking Recipes

Take some inspiration from these Kiwi-influenced recipes for kai that Chef Anthony cooks for his wife Kai and their two kids, August and Cameron.

PHOTO : ANTHONY HOY FONG

Carne Asada Tacos with
Salsa Roja & Salsa Verde

See Recipe

Carne Asada Tacos with Salsa Roja & Salsa Verde

Serves 4-6
Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 1 pound grass-fed skirt steak (Anthony prefers Silver Fern Farms from New Zealand)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons grapeseed oil
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1 cup sweet onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, minced
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges, to serve with 4 radishes, sliced, to serve with Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper

For the salsa roja:

  • 2 cups canned plum tomatoes
  • 1 cups sweet onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle in adobo
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • Kosher salt

For the salsa verde:

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 6 tomatillos, husked
  • 2 cups chopped cilantro
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded
  • Kosher salt
  • Begin by marinating the skirt steak. Mix garlic, cumin, soy sauce, lime juice and canola oil together. Season meat all over with salt and pepper then place in marinade. Cover and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes or overnight.

MAKE THE SALSA ROJA:

  • Place all the ingredients on a roasting tray and place under the broiler for 7-8 minutes until well charred. Place ingredients and pan juices in a food processor and pulse until well combined but still pulpy. Season to taste with salt.

MAKE THE SALSA VERDE:

  • Make the salsa verde: Bring a pot of water to boil and add tomatillos and jalapeño. Boil for about 5 minutes. Drain, then transfer to a blender. Add remaining ingredients then puree and season with salt to taste.
  • Heat a grill (or griddle pan) to high. Remove the steak from the marinade wiping off any excess (this will just burn). Season both sides with salt and pepper then sear on the hot grill 3-4 minutes each side. Remove from the pan and rest for 5 minutes before dicing into 1/4- inch pieces.
    Warm tortillas on a lightly greased pan, 30-40 seconds per side. Serve tortillas doubled-up topped with steak. Top with diced onions and cilantro. Serve with both salsas and some lime wedges and sliced radish on the side.

Recipe courtesy Anthony Hoy Fong

PHOTO : ANTHONY HOY FONG

Shaved Cauliflower
& King Salmon Salad

See Recipe

Shaved Cauliflower & King Salmon Salad

Serves 2-4
Time: 12 minutes

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 1 small head of cauliflower (approximately 3 cups shaved)
  • 1 cups finely sliced celery ribs, plus leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive (Anthony prefers The Village Press brand from New Zealand)
  • 4 oz sliced, smoked King salmon (Anthony prefers Ōra King from New Zealand)
  • 2 oz salmon roe (Anthony prefers Ōra King from New Zealand)
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper

For the dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons bonito flakes
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, grated on a microplane
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Cut the cauliflower into large chunks, then finely slice on mandoline into small pieces. Slice celery ribs on bias on mandoline into similar sized pieces. Finely slice red chili. Place into a large mixing bowl
  • Season vegetables with salt, pepper, lemon juice and dress with extra virgin olive oil. Fold in toasted seeds and nuts and add torn dill.
  • Combine dressing ingredients well until smooth.
  • Smear dressing on the plate and arrange salad ingredients on top. Drape slices of salmon over salad. Garnish with roe and more dill.

Recipe courtesy Anthony Hoy Fong

PHOTO : ANTHONY HOY FONG

Dark Chocolate
Chip Cookies

See Recipe

Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yield: 24 cookies
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/3 cup almond butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3.5 oz dark chocolate (Anthony prefers Whittaker’s 72% Cocoa Dark Ghana Chocolate Bar)
  • 1 cup giant semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • Whisk dry ingredients (flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt) together in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (oil, water, almond butter, and vanilla extract). Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and mix in the wet ingredients using a spatula or wooden spoon. Set aside and allow to rest for 1 hour.
  • Heat oven to 350°F. Position racks in the middle of the oven.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut dark chocolate into large shards. Fold into rested dough along with chocolate chips.
  • Portion the dough into 24 mounds, evenly spaced on two parchment-lined cookie sheet trays.
  • Bake for 12 minutes until golden. Allow the cookies to cool on the tray for 15 minutes so they develop a crispy bottom and edges.

Recipe courtesy Anthony Hoy Fong

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