Back to basics with the best ingredients

Nearly 10 years ago, Lou and Ant Bentley gave up the daily grind in the city to pursue their dream of running a cooking school in Akaroa.

They wanted to teach people how to get back to the basics, growing their own food where possible or at least knowing where it came from and how to prepare it.

Fresh from Akaroa: Recipes from the Akaroa Cooking School, by Lou and Ant Bentley, published by Penguin NZ, RRP $50.
Fresh from Akaroa: Recipes from the Akaroa Cooking School, by Lou and Ant Bentley, published by Penguin NZ, RRP $50.
''Looking back, I guess it was a kind of risky move to set up a cooking school in Akaroa, but we always had belief that if we got the formula right it would work and give us the lifestyle we were dreaming of.''

The school has gone from strength to strength and they have moved into consultancy and culinary tours.

They aim to make sure there is nothing too complex about their recipes and they are all achievable without the need for any fancy equipment.

''The key with all cooking is to use the best ingredients you can get your hands on. We often say to guests that your dish is only as good as your worst ingredient.''

In their second cookbook, Recipes from the Akaroa Cooking School, they pass on some of the advice they give at their different classes - Asian, barbecue, canapes, seafood and gourmet in a day - before they get into some of the recipes, dividing the book into chapters on canapes, light meals, salads, mains, sweets and extras.

It gives tips on hosting dinner parties and shares how restaurant service can be incorporated into your home cooking.

They hope the book inspires readers to track down great ingredients and get out there and meet the local food producers and get to know them, so they supply them with the best.

Photos: Allan Gillard
Chermoula roast chicken on lemongrass and coconut risotto with coriander oil

This is our Pacific/Asian take on the Italian classic: risotto. The recipe was created for masterclasses that we were doing up in Niue for their biennial food and wine festival. It was an absolute hit and we have been using it at the cooking school ever since. The coconut cream and aromatics make for a creamy, fragrant risotto. The chermoula marinade also works very well with a firm-textured fish such as groper (hapuku).

Serves 6


500ml chicken or vegetable stock
400ml coconut cream
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
5 kaffir lime leaves, torn
3 Tbsp coconut oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3cm knob galangal, grated (optional)
3cm knob ginger, grated
300g carnaroli rice
100ml white wine
zest and juice of 2 limes
2 spring onions, finely sliced
100g snow peas, julienned
flaky sea salt and freshly ground
black pepper

Heat the stock, coconut cream, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves in a large pot until almost boiling, and then turn down the heat to low. Leave to simmer slowly while you start preparing your risotto.

In a large, heavy-based pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sweat until translucent and soft. Don't rush this process, as the longer the onion cooks down, the sweeter it will be.

When it is really soft, add the garlic, galangal and ginger. Cook until the garlic is soft, add the rice and stir to coat really well in the softened onion mixture for a minute or two.

Turn up the heat and add the wine. Let it sizzle away and when the wine is almost evaporated, turn the heat down to medium-low, then add a ladle of stock. Stir well and when the stock is almost all absorbed, add another ladle of stock.

Continue this process until the rice is al dente - this takes about 25 minutes. When the rice is almost cooked, take the pan off the heat and add the lime zest and juice, spring onion and snow peas.

Season well with salt and pepper and put a lid on the pan. Leave to rest for 5 minutes - this will enable the risotto to finish cooking.

Lime parfait with kaffir lime syrup, coconut crumble and pineapple salad

This fabulous dessert is cold, creamy, crunchy and zingy. Everything can be made in advance so it's just a matter of assembling when it's time for dessert.

The parfaits can be made two weeks in advance and kept in the freezer. The coconut crumble is a great little crunchy topping to have to hand - it's also delicious crumbled over ice cream or paired with a lemon or lime panna cotta.

Serves 6


Lime parfait
300ml cream
190g sweetened condensed milk (half a tin)
zest of 3-4 limes, finely grated

Kaffir lime syrup
110g caster sugar
65ml water
2 kaffir lime leaves, left whole, plus 2 extra, very finely chopped, to serve
1 stalk lemongrass, bruised and roughly chopped
3cm knob ginger, sliced
65ml lime juice

Coconut crumble
70g thread coconut
50g sugar
50g butter, chilled
25g plain flour (substitute rice flour for a gluten-free version)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Pineapple salad
¼ pineapple, cut into small pieces
zest of 1 lime

To plate and serve
mint sprigs

Whisk the cream and condensed milk together in a large bowl until it forms stiff peaks. Fold through the lime zest and taste to check that it is limey enough.

Pour the mixture into six dariole moulds and place in the freezer for at least 6 hours or, preferably, overnight, to set.

Kaffir lime syrup
Place all the ingredients except the lime juice and finely chopped kaffir lime leaves into a saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then remove from the heat.

Add the lime juice and set aside for 40 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse. Strain and then add the finely chopped kaffir lime leaves. Set aside in the fridge until ready to use.

Coconut crumble
Preheat the oven to 180C.

Combine 50g of the coconut with the rest of the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until combined. Transfer to a baking tray lined with baking paper and press out flat.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden. Remove from the oven and cool. Crush the crumble, adding the remaining 20g of coconut. Keep in an airtight container until ready to use.

Pineapple salad
Place the pineapple and lime zest in a small bowl. Add a couple of teaspoons of the kaffir lime syrup and stir to combine.

To plate and serve
Unmould the parfait and put on a plate.

Drizzle with the syrup, add a spoonful of the pineapple salad and scatter over the coconut crumble and mint sprigs.

Poached chicken, chive and preserved lemon finger sandwiches

We have been making these sandwiches for years and whenever there is a party we are always called upon to bring our famous chicken sandwiches with us.

They make a great addition to a canape menu as they can be made in advance and kept in the fridge until just before you need to serve them.

The key is to make sure that there is plenty of filling - no-one likes a bready sandwich. It should be all about the filling and the bread should just hold it all together.

Walnuts add extra crunch, so feel free to add some, if you wish. We make up loads of these, as one is simply never enough.

Makes 18

4 medium-sized free-range chicken thighs
flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup mayonnaise
small bunch chives, finely chopped
small bunch parsley, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, very finely sliced
juice of 1 lemon
1 preserved lemon, skin only, finely chopped]
butter, softened, for spreading
12 slices very fresh sandwich bread

Heat a saucepan of water and bring to the boil.

Add the chicken thighs along with a bit of salt and pepper. Bring back to the boil and then simmer gently for about 6 minutes, or until just cooked through. Remove and set aside to cool.

In a bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the chives, parsley, celery, lemon juice, preserved lemon and salt and pepper. Cut the chicken into small pieces and then mix with the mayo mixture.

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary; the sandwich filling needs to be really flavoursome, as the bread will dull the flavour.

Butter the bread and then top six slices with the chicken mixture. Top with remaining bread slices, cut the crusts off the sandwiches and then cut each sandwich into three fingers. Put on a platter so that the filling is displayed.

Cover with a damp tea towel and place in the fridge until ready to serve. (The tea towel will keep the bread fresh and soft.)

Remove the sandwiches from the fridge half an hour before serving to allow them to come up to room temperature.

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