Tattoos and transcendental tea: a study in the sense and expression of self

‘Nature’s Nerds’ was a note I made in my phone when hastily and oh-so-cumbersomely trying to come in some way close to butterfly netting a matcha meringue, smoked quince ice cream and shaved raw quince dish I had towards the end of my meal at Pasture. The astringent, almost powdery raw fruit swept away the sweet but tealeaf-bitter marshmallowy whip and dense, silken ice cream. It was a fleeting experience, like a whispered secret, ethereal and cloudlike. Yet, like a secret, the details have settled in and seem intent on staying for good.

(And yes, I got to sit at the table of the best chef in New Zealand and all I could come up with was a box of highly processed, pebbly lolly ‘food’stuffs from my childhood. Mea culpa. But also, if we want to get deep&meaningful about it, testament to the transporting nature of food and centrality of food to one’s identity, past, present and future.)

If we were to very much over extend the candy-themed metaphor, Pasture is the nonpareils (sans lurid hues) of the New Zealand food space. (You can’t just limit these guys to being a restaurant – ecosystems come to mind.)

For Pasture is truly without equal.  

Eating there is like having a good friend come up and unexpectedly hug you tight from behind. Pasture is a comforting – and confident – reminder that you don’t need to shock to awe.

It is also a reminder to know, and to own, yourself: “At Pasture we have a combination of things that are uniquely ours and so our focus has got to be on developing what makes this place so special.”

“Trial and error and experimentation are a given – every single day.”

Laura Verner, half of the team heading up Pasture, is fiercely in-the-know about what she is about. She is also intimidatingly articulate about it. It’s awesome, and not in the overused sense of the word.

She also has some very cool tattoos: “I started being tattooed thirteen years ago and I have many I adore and a few I regret, but you live and learn and most importantly... as my body and a form of expression, I love them all.”

And Pasture too is a study in self-expression. Laura and Ed, Pasture’s head chef and Laura’s husband, have striven to share – not tell – their story through Pasture. From its drinks programme, playful playlist and beautiful wooden cutlery rests to the place’s front door.

A walk-in-the-woods mushroom and spruce tea so headily and seductively of itself I could feel the pine needles underfoot, crunching as I walked through a heavily damp forest.

A most-intriguing pairing of de-then-rehydrated potatoes and potato puree with soundly dense discs of seaweed and truffle.

Cultured butter I could – and did – eat like cheese. 

Overwhelming talent and instinct backed up by well-placed and paced drive and determination, knowledge and experience.

‘Exploded’ is the overused&abused verb for describing the arrival of an Anthony Bourdain tomato-slice-in-a-sandwich tectonic shift of a new restaurant, but it doesn’t seem right here. Pasture is there as if it always was and always should be. So strong is the sense of self and such is the self-assured nature of the restaurant and its people. Laura says they’re “very proud of the impact Pasture has had on the dining scene in New Zealand. We get a lot of feedback from our peers about the influence we have had and we can see how things we have done have been recognised.”

I anticipate Pasture’s true impact won’t be known for some time (cue the Meryl Streep Devil Wears Prada cerulean speech). It’ll take time for the flavour trails from this place to shake down and spread out.

Being such a distinctive character and so definite about who you are is no gentle wander along a pine needle-strewn stretch. As Laura notes, you have to be “very realistic and grounded” and be prepared to work yourself “into the ground with passion and dedication”. In getting to Pasture they “have faced a lot of challenges and adversity on our path and it is not easy to be different. We've had a lot of criticism as well as a lot of praise. The most important thing is for us to believe in ourselves and what we offer – integrity is something nobody can take away from us.”

“At Pasture we don't believe in hiding who we are, and it's hard to hide some of [my tattoos] as I have a full sleeve, half sleeve and a hand tattoo. I don't define myself as a tattooed person, I just happen to have quite a few.” It’s not about letting what you do or what you eat or what is on your skin define you, but about knowing what makes you distinct, and working mighty hard to bring it off, day-after-day.

 

Laura and Ed Verner are behind the forward-thinking and -leaning Pasture, the Auckland restaurant where a measure of cider is described on the drinks list as a “shimmy shake”. And where a meal can rush you in with the tide, across a sandy foreshore, and – holding your hand – run with you into the cool shade of a damp, coolly lit forest. And then land you, oh so safe-and-soundly, at the brambly edge of a field of dairy cows.

Bearing witness to their story and resolutely strong sense of self makes for a truly restorative and heart hummingly joyous experience. Pasture’s manifesto – Have fun. Be good. Be hospitable. Make it delicious. No rules – reads as last words on live-bys. Follow ‘em. I know I certainly am. And I’d also highly recommend adopting Laura’s approach to tattoos: “do not think about what [they] will look like when you are old”.

So, try to get there as soon as you can and don’t forget to leave a tip.