Chef profile: Ian Harrison and the Matariki Dish Challenge

by | Jun 23, 2022 | News

Nourish magazine editor talks with Ian Harrison, head chef and Sugo part owner

What can an English chef with an Italian restaurant teach us about New Zealand food? “That’s a great question,” says Ian Harrison, head chef and part owner of Sugo Restaurant in Tauranga. Harrison has called New Zealand home for over a decade and recently cemented his ties with Aotearoa with the birth of his daughter.

I’m chatting to Harrison about the Matariki Dish Challenge that is running in Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty this winter.  Ian has been eager to have the challenge in the BOP since taking part in it in the Waikato a few years back. “It’s awesome,” says Harrison. “If I was a pom living anywhere else in the world I would want to embrace that culture and the Matariki Dish Challenge offers chefs the chance to do this.”

With the first national Matariki holiday this year on June 24, many New Zealanders will have little or no knowledge of Matariki. So perhaps a visit to some of your favourite local eateries might change that. Entrants into the challenge must create a dish that has a link to Matariki, and their team must be able to tell this story. “What better way to educate and teach culture than through food,” says Harrison.

Photography: Alex Spodyneiko

In addition to embracing and creating New Zealand’s unique food, appreciating what we have here is another lesson Harrison believes New Zealanders need. Using local suppliers is a key criteria for chefs when creating their Matariki dish, something Ian says is crucial. The day we spoke he’d just got off the phone to Rob from Smokey’s in Katikati where he is going to source the smoked kahawai for his dish (more on that later). “We’re all lazy and running busy businesses,” explains Harrison, “so it is understandable if we take the easy option. But I’ve been wanting a smoked fish supplier and entering this challenge has forced me to find that connection.”

“We have some of the best seafood in the world and the finest produce available, much of which is available at the local shops. In the UK you only get access to this food at the top restaurants.” Ian points to local initiatives like the recent Flavours of Plenty Festival and the Matariki Dish Challenge and the important work these do to highlight the great food we have here.

Harrison says The Matariki Challenge forces chefs out of their comfort zone, and this then means they create something wonderful.

Photography: Alex Spodyneiko

Harrison’s dish, which he was still refining when we spoke, was going to hero smoked kahawai. The oily kahawai, Ian says, is the best fish in New Zealand to smoke. Sitting on an onion weed and buckwheat risotto with Jeruesalem artichokes, watercress and foraged kawakawa the dish will be finished off with a local lemon olive oil made from Frantoio extra virgin olive oil from Katikati infused with local lemons picked up at the Tauranga Farmer’s Market.

Ian says he was fortunate to be given a book by his wife written by New Zealand’s leader in all things Matariki, Dr Rangi Matamua. “I discovered a proverb in this book,” explains Ian, “that I have based my dish on.”

‘Ngā kai a matariki nāna I ao ake nei’. ‘Food that is scooped up by matariki’

When Matariki rises in June she is weak and cold from carrying out her yearly duties, and Māori would cook food to replenish her strength. This proverb is said during the early morning ceremony as Matariki is seen rising in the winter sky.

“My dish,” Harrison says, “works to the strength and wellbeing returned to Matariki. The cold months ahead would rely heavily on storage foods from the warmer months, the preserving of meats or fish like kahawai, while celebrating the kai of the season such as local onion weed and watercress and lemons.”

The Rotorua and BOP Matariki Dish Challenges run from 13 June to 17 July. For more details on the challenge and to find out the eateries involved go to or follow the challenge on Facebook and Instagram. Sponsored by RotoruaNZFlavours of Plenty and Nourish Magazine.

Matariki is a time to celebrate new life, to remember those who’ve passed and to plan for the future. And it’s a time to spend with whānau and friends – to enjoy kai, waiata, tākaro and haka. Discover more about here about Te Iwa o Matariki.


Used with permission from Nourish magazine 

About the Author

Vicki Ravlich-Horan

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