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Sky's the limit for NZ Game Birds

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Kate de Lautour

Hawke’s Bay’s position as New Zealand’s leading food producing region has just moved up a notch with Sherenden-based New Zealand Game Birds set to supply restaurants around the country with premium, farm-reared pheasant and partridge on a year round basis.


Until now, the nation’s restaurateurs and adventurous home chefs have had to settle for eating traditional game birds when they are in season. That’s all changing, thanks to New Zealand Game Birds’ owners Bridgette Karetai and Jeff Niblett.


For the past ten years, Bridgette and Jeff have reared and supplied pheasant and partridge for the recreational shooting season - from April to August. Numbers that started off at 2000 birds have risen to 50,000, allowing the business a scale, large enough, to move into supplying restaurants and retail.


Sky City in Auckland is one of the first big name restaurants to have pheasant and partridge on the menu. Locally, restaurants including 1024 and Taste Cornucopia both have pheasant on offer.


“Ideally we would like to focus on the restaurant trade because chefs know how to cook the birds really well,” Karetai says.


Too often, she says, people have had a bad experience, outside of restaurants, with birds being overcooked and dry, however the business has a strategy to provide better education to home chefs, about cooking game birds.


“We love to butterfly the pheasant and marinate it, using fennel seeds and seasoning and then cook it quickly on the barbeque.”


At Hastings restaurant 1024, chef Kent Baddeley says pheasant is a delicacy, in fact  he chose to cook a pheasant dish for the Prince of Wales, when Charles was in Auckland around the time of William’s birth,


“It was at a dinner in Auckland and we stuffed the pheasant with fresh figs and wrapped it in puff pastry.”


Baddeley says having fresh game is “quintessentially part of our heritage” and he’s pleased to have a more regular supply.


For Karetai, the past 12 months have been spent testing the market, with product being successfully trialed in a selection of restaurants and a survey, distributed by Food Hawke’s Bay, asking chefs which cuts they would most prefer to be supplied.


 The farm shop at Te Mata Mushrooms in Havelock North is currently acting as retail distributor for the game birds, with frozen, ready to eat, pheasant, partridge and pekin duck all on offer.


Look out for New Zealand Game Birds on an upcoming TV series with the Topp Twins, who were filming with Bridgette and Jeff at their Sherenden property last week.