The programme for this year's Wellington on a Plate festival in August was announced ten days ago, and I was surprised to discover that amongst the restaurant deals, tours and events on offer, I actually learnt something new. That something was the existence of an animal called thar (or tahr), which you can sample as part of the Logan Brown Ata Rangi Wild Game Degustation Dinner.
Apparently, this relative of the wild goat has a huntable population only in New Zealand, which draws people from around the world; in fact, it is so numerous here that the DoC considers it a pest and has put in place Control Plans for the Himalayan Tahr, although other thars in other parts of the world are endangered.
At the risk of sounding like a voracious carnivore, I was also amazed to see that there would be Turduckenqua at the Larder. I had heard of turducken before, but stuffing quail as well inside a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey was new to me. Given that this event is sold out already, I am not the only one who finds it novel.
And novelty is definitely in, with events dedicated to feet (all five sessions sold out already!) and offal, as well as themed dinners such as R.M.S. Titanic: The Last Dinner, featuring an 11 course menu as served to first class passengers on 14 April 1912. I was also pleased to see traditional Māori food on offer, including braised muttonbirds with horopito on creamed pūhā. Even the participants of the Burger Wellington challenge are striving for uniqueness: The Cheeky Pipi Moa Burger has an ostrich patty, and The Larder is offering The Brain Burger with gremolata-crumbed lambs' brain, of all things.
I also discovered (not from the programme directly, but through inspired web browsing) that people eat lamb fries in many places around the world. These are very different to lamb's fry (the former is testicles, the latter liver), which is a traditional dish available from such institutions as The Green Parrot, which has been open in Wellington since the 1920's!
None of the above elicits a shocking reaction as much as a shellfish called geoduck (pronounced "gooey duck"), which is nowhere to be seen in the festival, despite being apparently commercially harvested in New Zealand. Maybe next year.
Apart from promising new foods to try, the festival programme has highlighted some movements in the Wellington food scene that I was previously unaware of. For instance, Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, which is due to open its doors in September, is available for a sneak preview, and its Cuisine and Pâtisserie Introduction courses are already sold out. And where the greasy Munchen Burger joint used to be (next to Logan Brown), a new Spanish and Argentinian grill restaurant called El Matador will open in July, a new project by the owner of Ernesto Cafe.
All these exciting things has prompted us to purchase our flights to the capital already. We are still planning what to eat, and I suspect many items will be sold out before we get a foot in the door, but I am sure we will encounter many culinary delights. As a fallback plan, you don't need to make a booking for Oyster (a "food truck style" event in a carpark daily), where you can apparently get six kinds of oysters every night, though I suspect they just mean served six ways.