Sunday, April 14, 2013

Showbiz life

Another Saturday night, another comedy gig for the Pukekohe Vegetable Growers’ Association. On paper it was probably my strangest corporate engagement since being enlisted as the host/judge of Urologist’s Got Talent, a variety show performed by the major players of the sexual health and faulty urinary tract industry.

The winner of that competition was a man who used shadow puppets to tell the story of a successful prostate cancer surgery. His victory came despite a sag in the sheet which rendered the silhouetted characters a little ambiguous in the already dimmed light of Mikano restaurant. You’d think if anyone could have foreseen how a little bit of sagging could ruin a performance it’d be a urologist, but I guess his triumph despite the flaccid work tools was a pretty good metaphor for the importance of the profession.

Like the urologists, the vege growers were a very friendly and good humoured bunch. My old mate Ben Hurley, who’s been doing corporate entertainment far longer and more successfully than I have, reckons the more boring the occupation the more fun the audience. Say what you like about accountants, after a day crunching numbers they’re up for a laugh. But telling jokes to people who work in, say, advertising is much harder – there’s no laughter, just confusion and resentment at spending any length of time in a room where somebody else is talking.

So yeah, growing spuds might sound boring but the people who do it are great fun, and we were in a first class venue: Bracu, set on an olive estate 35 minutes south of Auckland. The new chef is an ambitious, energetic fellow who cooked the restaurant back into the Metro Top 50 this year. Charged with creating a menu that emphasized vegetables, he even made dessert from vegetables – a caramelized tomato with twelve different flavours and basil sorbet, which he learnt from apparently famous French chef Alain Passard. It was a masterpiece, like an episode of ‘Pimp my Tamarillo’ (and don’t be pointing out in comments that actually a tomato is a fruit – after my event induction last week you do not want to be going toe-to-toe with me on fresh produce trivia).

Anyway after a couple of years of unreliability Bracu is back in the saddle and I’m very happy again to recommend a visit. Their function room The Pavillion has room for almost a couple of hundred and if you get bored with the small talk you can step outside onto a dark deck, overlooking the lake, which seems purpose built for drunkenly monkeying around with somebody hot you’ve just met.

For all those chefs and restaurants who missed out on the Top 50 this year well, you don’t need my sympathy. If the last couple of months have taught me anything it’s that you should take bad press on the chin, work out whose opinion you trust and who you want to impress. And if you have a happy staff and plenty of customers you don’t need to worry what a dozen critics think of you – if the food is decent, the room will be fuller each week, while today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper.