Hana Kirk​ spent weeks trawling the streets of Tokyo to refine her family’s karaage fried chicken recipe, now being served in a Japanese milk bread bun in Wānaka.
The former MasterChef New Zealand 2022 contestant spent the months after the show, preparing to open her first food joint called Raage with partner Patrick Forsythe​, which opened last Saturday.
After coming fourth place on the show, Kirk went back to visit Japan where her mum was from, “trying to eat as much karaage as possible” to refine her family recipe passed down over generations.
Now, it was ready to be placed either in a bread bun or on sushi rice with gherkins, pickled onion, shredded iceberg lettuce and a spicy miso and toasted sesame mayo, served up out of an outdoor kitchen next to Rove Bar and Eatery premise on Post Office Lane.
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“I just wanted to be in the kitchen … but finally, we’re here,” Kirk said.
The vegetarian and vegan option used oyster mushrooms in the exact same process, which proved popular, even amongst her meat-eating friends, Kirk said.
“I feel like good veggie burgers are hard to come by, and I wanted to make sure our veggie burger was just as good as the meat one.”
Cooking had always been a big part of Kirk’s life, being integral to her Japanese culture, but lockdown in 2020 was when her passion really took off.
The 26-year-old started a food Instagram page and moving from Auckland to Christchurch gave her more time to focus on cooking.
Karaage fried chicken was also Kirk’s MasterChef audition dish which she impressed the judges with, served with a shiso yuzu salad.
It was also a nostalgic meal, having been “the treat food” growing up – “and it’s delicious”, she said.
Although she was born and raised in Auckland, she would regularly visit family in Japan, spending time on their vegetable farm.
Six weeks on MasterChef was an intense but fun experience, Kirk said.
It was a unique experience to put her “whole life on pause”, having been working as a software product manager for a soil consultancy company, Soil Matters, in Christchurch.
For that period, her focus was 100% on food.
“It definitely pushed me to learn as fast as possible and take on the judge’s feedback,” she said.
Pushing boundaries saw her win challenges including an invention test using chocolate as a hero ingredient.
Kirk made chocolate tortillas with chocolate, orange, spice marinated seared eye fillet, winning a year’s supply of Whittaker’s chocolate.
But her highlight was the cooking challenge at Otago’s Amisfield Bistro, which was crowned best restaurant of this year, with the Cuisine Good Food Awards and three hats.
Contestants were paired up and cooked various courses as part of a degustation menu in the prestigious kitchen.
“It was edible art that we were creating,” Kirk said, winning the challenge with fellow contestant Alice Taylor.
She didn’t expect to come fourth in the competition which came to an end after she got Covid-19.
MasterChef taught her to be confident in herself and learn from her mistakes, having learnt the most when she “did the worst”. It also gave her new confidence to push more boundaries with her cooking.
But her favourite way of cooking remained simple.
Getting inspiration from good, seasonal produce that were available, preferably from her own garden or foraging, was her approach. As well as having lots of colours.
”When I cook, I like to treat every ingredient with care and respect. To pay tribute to the farmers and celebrate the beauty of what mother Earth provides us.”
She hoped to grow her own food forest one day, feeding her community but for now, it was trialling her food journey “step by step”.
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