A sense of place

From local growers to the keepers of the land and her own childhood memories of Matakana, community remains as important as cuisine to Kate Rose of the Farmer’s Daughter Espresso Bar and Dining Room.

Words Cameron Officer Photos Giona Bridler

Omaha Beach always feels on-trend. A crescent of golden sand sitting at right angles to the crooked coastline of the Tāwharanui Peninsular and within the coveted couple of hours’ drive of Auckland, it is a salubrious settlement filled with big homes, big boats, and driveways that gleam with premium metal.

But here’s a well-kept secret about this idyllic, fashionable spot – for all its ‘Rich Lister’ surface, there is plenty of historic substance to Omaha and nearby Matakana.

Generations have grown up here, cultivating the dark soil, relying upon the bountiful kaimoana. On any given Saturday in spring, it’s hard to picture bustling Matakana Village – with its hip eateries, chic homeware stores, and craft brewers – as a sleepy backwater. But a sense of nostalgia for and love of the local community are exactly what informs Kate Rose and the food she creates.

Kate is the owner of the Farmer’s Daughter Espresso Bar and Dining Room, which sits at the edge of the estuary alongside the causeway that separates Omaha from the remainder of the Matakana area.

To look at it now, it’s a prime spot; crisp, white weatherboards, leafy overhanging Pohutukawa, sun drenched decks buzzing with diners, and a car park witness to plenty of comings and goings. Remarkably though, the location hasn’t always been like this.

“As soon as I walked in here for the first time, I could see the hard work that would be needed but I could also see the potential,” says Kate. “I called my girlfriends in the city and said, ‘I’ve taken this old takeaway shop on and we’re going to renovate it over the summer. I’m going to open it into a little café.’ Their response was, ‘Are you mad?’

“They knew and I knew that this old place had been a jumble of different businesses over the years, but none of them had ever really fired for some reason. It was old and rundown – the takeaway shop it had been before I came along had been closed for years. To someone driving past, it probably didn’t appear like it had a lot going for it. But I knew it did.

“I talked to Lois who owns the land, and she was very enthusiastic about my plans. The project took four months, but she helped me every step of the way – she painted the entire exterior of the building before we reopened, she was giving me tips on how to wash brushes and things like that; I’d never done anything like this before, so I was completely open to her guidance.”

The building and its surrounds freshly renovated; Kate acknowledged all the help Lois had given her in the best manner she could think of.

“I named the café after Lois – she is the ‘Farmer’s Daughter’. This area is her home and her place, and we’re surrounded by her people, her land – I wanted to keep that connection with her. She really inspired me to do this amazing thing and I just wanted to keep her contribution as a part of our story.”

Kate’s own connection with this place also runs deep. Mention Matakana’s past as a ‘one horse town’ and you might inadvertently be referencing one of her fondest memories of growing up in the area.

“I remember weekends riding down the middle of the road in Matakana on my horse with an ice cream in my hand, coming home from the only shop which was the PostShop and the dairy. You could never imagine having a horse on the road now, let alone on a Saturday, because it’s total bedlam!” she laughs.

“But it’s a really positive thing that so many people have come to the area to live and work. This place attracts people that are natural entrepreneurs and are growing with the area which is great to see happening.”

There is also something of a shared ethos between the food Kate and her team create, and the culinary expectations of The Farmer’s Daughter’s audience – both locals and the many visitors from elsewhere.

“Whether as part of a permanent lifestyle change or for a weekend away, people are coming here for this country lifestyle,” she explains. “They want sustainable, they want organic, they are mindful and want to feel good about what they’re consuming. People are drawn to us that have the same sort of ideas and philosophies we do. They’re passionate about eating good food and having a fulfilled life – and that is really what our business is about too.”

Kate says she, head chef Julia Pałasz, and their team are led by the seasons in creating Farmer’s Daughter recipes. But they are also led, quite simply, by what ignites their interests. The idea of ‘family’ also underpins everything they produce; even how the dining space has been designed.

“We’ve got an open plan kitchen and we built that so that when you came in it feels like you’re coming into someone’s home. Over at the counter there, Julia and the girls are cooking dinner – you can turn around and chat to the people putting your food together. I think that’s really a beautiful thing.”

The Matakana soil is fertile with a peat base, meaning it’s easy to grow nutrient-dense food right outside the back door. The café’s kitchen garden is overflowing with fresh herbs and vegetables, while an old schoolfriend of Kate’s who runs a local fishing boat delivers fresh seafood in the afternoon that will form the centrepiece of exquisitely plated meals this evening, such as the Long-Lined Kingfish with Tzatziki, Char Grilled Fennel and Olive Crumb (see recipe page below).

The Farmer’s Daughter has grown quickly, from a lone coffee machine in the window as renovations wrapped up, to 120 seats split over three levels inside and out. It has become that most sought-after of things in the hospitality industry: a destination.

“The business has changed and moved – it is what we want it to be on any given day,” Kate affirms. “But at the end of the day, it’s still built around this great community ethos. That feels really good to me.”

Long-Lined Kingfish with Tzatziki, Char Grilled Fennel and Olive Crumb

 Crispy Skin Kingfish

  • Start with a 170 – 230gm portion of skin-on Kingfish
  • Heat the pan over medium to high heat with enough oil just to cover the bottom
  • Season the skin side of the fillet with flaky sea salt, just before you are ready to cook it
  • Lay the fillet in the pan, skin side down, making sure the entire surface of the skin is in contact with the pan
  • Cook until the edges are no longer translucent
  • Season the flesh side of your fillet and then flip it over, adding a little lemon juice to the pan
  • Depending on the thickness it will only need a couple of minutes on the other side – take it out of the pan just before you think it’s ready: it will keep cooking as it rests

 

Tzatziki

  • 1 cup diced fresh celery
  • 1 cup grated seeded cucumber
  • 5 cup unsweetened Greek Yoghurt
  • 2T olive oil
  • 2T fresh lemon juice
  • 2T chopped fresh mint
  • 2T chopped fresh dill
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1t fine sea salt
  • 1/2t freshly ground black pepper

 

Combine all the ingredients, stir through until evenly distributed. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary

Charred Grilled fennel

  • Cut fennel and season with sea salt and olive oil
  • Chargrill on a very hot skillet frying pan

 

Olive Crumb

  • Heat oven to 140C
  • Lay out the olives evenly on a baking tray
  • Cook until dried for 1.5 to 2 hours

 

Transfer olives to a chopping board, then chop finely into crumbs

Place the char-grilled fennel onto the plate, lay the kingfish on top, and sprinkle with olive

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