THE hunt for the best wild food burger in the Eastern Bay is on, with commercial burger makers being given an opportunity to go wild and earn themselves bragging rights for their effort.

The inaugural competition, which runs throughout this coming week ahead of next weekend’s Local Wild Food Challenge, will see commercial outlets vie for the chance to claim the title of ‘Best Local Wild Food Burger in the Eastern Bay’.

Marketing and events co-ordinator Julie Allerby says while entries have now closed, competition is likely to be tight between entrants, Port Ohope Store and Cafe, Little Goose Eatery, Fisherman’s Wharf, Daily Grind and Javaman.

Criteria for the competition requires the burgers to include at least one wild ingredient. “It could be a wild yeast, meat, poultry or seafood. It could be the vegetables or herbs or spices,” Julie says. “It doesn’t have to actually be sourced from the wild.”

The entered burger needs to be on its creator’s menu for the duration of the week and it will be the public that decides the winner.

“Customers need to try the burgers, and then get online and vote,” Julie says. “We’re hoping the public embrace the competition and get behind it, paving the way for it to become an annual event.

“We wanted to give those in the hospitality field the chance to be innovative and have a bit of competitive fun with their hospitality colleagues,” she says. Competitors are advised to

“let your imagination take you to the bounty of the rivers, ocean, bush or parkland, and make a burger that is proud to be wild”.

The winner of the event will be announced live at the Local Wild Food Challenge at Mahy Reserve in Ohope on February 2 and presented with the already coveted trophy.

To vote, go to Facebook page, Local Wild Food Challenge.

Leon Burgess

PASTA PARCELS: Leon Burgess won best effort in the children’s category last year with his rabbit ravioli.

AT the tender age of 11, budding young Whakatane cook, Leon Burgess, is currently preparing for his fourth challenge in the Local Wild Food Festival.

First entering the festival’s inaugural event in 2016 when he was eight years old – making pipi fritters alongside his brother and sister – Leon hasn’t missed a year yet.

“I entered by myself the second year and made a venison pie and I won two categories,” he says, following the win up last year with a rabbit ravioli that took first place in a category too.

The Awakeri School student says he “just loves making things,” adding that he “loves eating them too”.

Often helping his parents to make dinner at home, Leon says he gets inspired to cook things by himself. “Mum and Dad are really good at cooking,” he says of his parents who are former owners of Whakatane cafe, Javaman, “and when I get inspired, I just want to just cook, cook, cook”.

Well versed in the concept of “knowing where our food comes from,” Leon says the family always tries to use as much of their own homegrown food as possible, or else food they know the origin of.

Mum, Nicola, says no one in the family is a hunter. “We don’t even fish,” she says, “but we have a good garden and Leon manages to track down other things he wants for his entries by asking extended family or friends.”

She says Leon traded with his teacher for rabbits when he needed those, and was given venison by his cousin. “You don’t need to be a hunter yourself to enter the competition.”

Meanwhile, Leon is practising and fine-tuning his entry for this year’s event – lamb kebabs with a salad of home-made mozzarella and home-grown tomatoes and cucumbers. “I made the kebabs for dinner last night and tried out three different marinades to see which one my family likes the best.”

The verdict is not in yet. “I’ll decide before the weekend,” he says, but with the event now just one week out, Leon seems to be on top of it.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he says. “I don’t get nervous because it’s just lots of fun.”

EASTERN Bay Life reporter Lorraine Wilson introduces some of the entrants of the Local Wild Food Festival, along with some of last year’s winners.

Meet the contestants

Diana O’Brien

SWEET WIN: Diana O’Brien’s blackberry mouse and honey-tuile napoleon won the dessert section last year.

FORMER contestant and Local Wild Food Festival fan Diana O’Brien, says she would encourage anyone to enter the event and “just give it a go”.

“It’s really fun and you learn a lot too.” Though living in Tauranga, Diana says her entry last year followed visits in previous years to view the event. “It’s really amazing to see the things people come up with.”

Unable to enter this year, Diana wowed judges last year with her blackberry mousse and honey-tuile Napoleons, which won first place in the dessert category. “I hadn’t even known what a tuile was before I started to work out what I was going to make.”

In a less successful bid, she says she and her cousins had also entered as a team, cooking a dish of tua tua.

“We had a few issues,” she says. “We couldn’t get the gas burner hot enough to cook them properly. It was a fight with mother nature.” With strong winds keeping the cooking temperature low, she says on reflection, they should have used an electric element available at the event. “It didn’t go that well.”

“It really is an appealing event,” says Diana, “and for me, foraging for food is in my genes so it’s great to see what people can create.”

Adrian Kingi

LITTLE Goose Eatery head chef Adrian Kingi, who took out second place overall in last year’s challenge, says the opportunity to showcase his talent and to “see if I can come up with something different to everyone else” is what is motivating his return to the event this year.

With little over a week to go, Adrian says he’s still working out exactly what he’ll make. “I want to use things that other people probably won’t. I try to keep away from pork and venison because I think a lot of other entrants will use those.”

Adrian wowed judges last year with his dish of ostrich accompanied with kamo kamo mash, blueberry jus, and piko piko – the young, curled shoots of edible ferns.

“I’d never eaten ostrich before that,” Adrian says, describing that meat as a bit like beef, and “quite nice”. “You do learn a lot from entering the event. It really is a challenge.”

He says the restaurant was also involved in the event last year making the whole festival, for him, a very busy time. “Things got a little bit tense.” Adrian will be aiming for an easier run this year.

By Lorraine Wilson