OPINION: The Top 50 Restaurants in the World have been announced. While history would suggest those titles belong in countries such as France, Italy or Spain, the top two are from the Nordic region, specifically Denmark, a country with only about 800,000 people more than New Zealand.
This is no fluke. The rise of New Nordic Cuisine has been documented to show a determined, resourced and orchestrated strategy to put the region on the world’s food map.
It started with a movement, much like Eat New Zealand, of passionate souls who could see the potential to present their country as a food nation.
The success of the Nordic movement is marked by a return to what makes their part of the world unique. They may have a short growing season, but their landscape delivers plenty of berries, fungi and other types of wild food.
Instead of trying to replicate the cuisines of Western Europe they’ve taken techniques and overlaid them with indigenous and endemic ingredients, so they speak loudly of place.
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This unique offering has captured the imagination of food travellers. The food and drink spend by tourists to Denmark rose by 50 per cent from 2014 to 2017. Based on New Zealand tourism figures, that would equate to another $1.9 billion per year in Aotearoa’s coffers once our borders are reopened.
28 per cent of the foreign tourists in Denmark are gastronomic tourists, for whom food and eating out have high importance for choosing to holiday in Denmark.
In 2019, the Government of Denmark launched a public-private partnership, The Gastro 2025 Initiative, to attract gastronomic tourists and to raise the status of locally produced food beyond Denmark’s borders
This initiative is led by the Ministry of Environment and Food – how’s that as for the name of a government agency? It includes a Gastronomy Academy, and a long-term co-ordinated marketing campaign using food experience as a signature for Denmark. They host the World Food Summit, have a Culinary Diplomacy team and a Gastronomic Travelling Squad which strengthens the sales of local food to eateries and assists with the development of food tourism focussing on rural and regional areas.
Pack my bags and call me Freya.
Back here in New Zealand, a nation of food exporters, we know that the top six markets for arrivals almost completely mirror our top export markets for our food, and that 60 per cent of travellers purchase food and drink they first encountered on a trip, making our tourists the perfect ambassadors.
But despite this we have no emphasis, investment or strategy that sits around food tourism. As a not-for-profit organisation existing on fumes for the last six years, trust us, we at Eat New Zealand know this.
Why is this? Do we lack quality ingredients? While it’s true that some of our best ingredients are exported and priced beyond our domestic reach, there has been a concerted effort by our best chefs to keep them here, including Eat New Zealand founder, chef Giulio Sturla.
It was actually the legend of our quality of ingredients that brought him from South America, after working in some of the best kitchens in the world. It was his questioning of why he couldn’t buy fish from the wharf outside his restaurant that was responsible for the birth of our national food movement.
He’s joined by other chefs and food enthusiasts around the country who can see the potential for us to lead the way internationally, with the right investment and policy settings.
Those settings also have to value hospitality and address the food insecurity in our country. They have to create a culture that prioritises feeding our own people good food. It’s the same food we tell the rest of the world we’re known for.
Anyway, enough rumination, here’s the recipe.
THE WORLD’S BEST FOOD DESTINATION
1 national food movement (such as the free-range Eat New Zealand)
1 large clue that we have a very cool original and indigenous food culture that should lead our story-telling.
The attention of at least 4 government agencies & their ministers (seasonality is important but preference for MPI, MBIE, NZTE and TourismNZ)
A digestible guiding document such as a National Food Strategy or some type of Values-Based Framework.
A big bunch of NZ food companies and sectors who are up for ‘leaning in’ to tell the NZ Food Story and contribute to our food identity.
A sprinkling of clever tourism operators including those with campervans and planes.
16 regions all convinced that they are, in fact, THE food destination in Aotearoa (this works because they are ALL amazing food destinations.)
A pinch of acknowledgement that we’re more than a land-based food nation, but rather, a South Pacific Island region which is mostly under the ocean.
A large dollop of epic destinations – restaurants, events, locations, accommodation. We have hundreds of these, from the Duke of Marlborough in Northland, to Hiakai restaurant in Wellington, to Rakiura (Stewart Island).
Mix together. Let ferment. Serve.