The North Island is home to the country’s tastiest toasted sandwich once again, with Mount Maunganui’s Freeport with Cleaver & Co taking top honours in the Great NZ Toastie Takeover 2023.
Talented young chef Brooke Moore has won the hotly contested title – and snagged bragging rights for the North Island for the second time only in the competition’s history – with her impressive creation Surf, Turf & Smoke, Monsieur!
A standout for competition judges, Freeport’s winning toastie featured housemade smoked lamb pastrami, smoked prawns, mozzarella, smoked cheddar sauce and McClure’s Sweet & Spicy Pickles, sandwiched between locally-made BreadHead miso tahini sourdough and served with smoked aioli and pickle juice gel.
The win will come as no surprise to locals. A favourite with Mount Maunganui residents and Bay visitors alike, Freeport with Cleaver & Co and owners Aaron Hodson and Tim McLaren have been serving up mouthwatering creations from their Bayfair base for four years now.
Twenty years of age and born and bred in Taupo, Moore joined the Freeport team just seven months ago after roles at Taupo’s The Landing and Baked with Love. As senior chef de partie at Freeport, she runs the BBQ section.
While having no formal qualifications, Moore describes herself as being “obsessed with food” from a very young age, working in hospitality from the age of 14 and in cooking roles straight out of school from age 18. Moore’s twin sister Olivia also works in food styling and photography.
Thrilled to have taken out the top prize, Moore says she relished the challenge of coming up with Freeport’s first ever Toastie Takeover entry.
“I tried to make it as relevant as possible to the Bay area, with everything made by us inhouse, except for the delicious sourdough which is a favourite from our friends at local bakers BreadHead.
“The concept of surf and turf is meant to signify the Tauranga region – the beautiful coast and the amazing seafood right here on our doorstep, juxtaposed with the sheep grazing on Mount Maunganui.”
A stand-out for the judges was the lamb pastrami, which Moore says was a labour of love. “For the pastrami, I pickle it in the leftover pickle juice for ten days. The first batch was spot-on, but when I tried to scale it up using a slightly different method it didn’t turn out as well, so it was back to buckets of lamb pickling in the chiller.”
Another favourite was the pickle juice gel. Says Moore: “I enjoy making gels and the pickle juice is a sweet and tangy dipper that works well with the creamy aioli.”
The competition’s toastmaster royale, Joe McClure, from Detroit-based McClure’s Pickles, applauded Moore and said her “exceptional toastie left me wanting more.”
“The brilliance of Moore’s toastie lies in its great use of ingredients and the innovative concept of surf and turf within a region that truly exemplifies both. Each bite was a harmonious blend of flavours, with the succulent surf and turf elements perfectly complementing each other. It was a delightful culinary journey that showcased the creativity and skill of chef Moore.
“One unique aspect – besides the house-smoked lamb pastrami and smoked prawns – was the side of pickle juice gel, allowing the diner to personalise their experience by dosing it at their discretion. This added a delightful tangy twist to each bite, further enhancing the overall taste profile. Attention to detail, overall presentation, taste and innovation all came together to set this toastie apart.”
The win sees the North Island retain bragging rights to the best toasted sandwich in the country, with last year’s supreme award going to chef Rich Johns of Okere Falls Café in Rotorua. Prior to that, South Island eateries had reigned supreme with Joseph Walker from the Hokitika Sandwich Company taking the inaugural title in 2019, Romeo Dowling Mitchell from Dunedin’s Hungry Hobos in 2020, and Steve MacDougall from Mollies Bar & Eatery in Blenheim in 2021.
After travelling around the country to judge the finalists’ creations, McClure applauded the “immense talent and creativity on show within New Zealand’s culinary scene”.
Along with Freeport with Cleaver & Co’s winning entry, he said competition organisers would also like to acknowledge BEERS in Christchurch and Shining Peak Brewing in New Plymouth as deserving of special mention.
“BEERS crafted a delectable toastie featuring lamb pastrami cured in McClure’s pickle brine. The combination of tender lamb and the tangy brine created a unique and unforgettable flavour experience.
“Shining Peak Brewery’s The Joestie also deserves commendation for its use of smoked eel and the very unique McClure’s pickle caviar. “The smoky richness of the eel and the bursts of pickle caviar added a delightful complexity to the toastie, making it a true gastronomic delight.”
Head judge Kerry Tyack said the judging team had noticed a significant leap forward in terms of toastie innovation in 2023.
“It is clear that around the motu, entrants are taking this comp very seriously and that plenty of thought has gone into the delivery of top flight toasties.
“Seasoning levels were much more consistent, the choice of cheese more considered and the importance of monitoring fat content has been noted.
“Where we feel there is still opportunity for fine-tuning is in bread type and thickness. Some toasties were too bread heavy and so lost points.
“Those entrants that mastered this all-important balance delighted the team with terrific toasties full of finesse, innovation and satisfaction.”
A firm feature on the culinary calendar, this year’s annual Toastie Takeover saw 185 eateries battle it out for the title of this year’s top toastie, with 150,000 toasted sandwiches consumed by the event’s conclusion.
Competition criteria required sandwiches to be toasted between two slices of bread and able to be eaten by hand. The toasties also needed to contain cheese (or a vegan substitute) and McClure’s pickles, with all the other ingredients entirely up to the entrant’s imagination.
Open to all New Zealand eateries, participants came from as far north as Kororāreka, to as far south as Invercargill, and ranged from sandwich specialists, to fine dining restaurants, breweries and food trucks, with a vegan fast food chain, a subterranean cocktail bar, Wellington Airport, the Bluebridge Cook Strait ferry and even a retirement village in the mix.
The 14 finalists selected for the second round of judging included Cazador (Mt Eden), Good Day (Orakei), Lord Kitchener (Sandringham), Okere Falls Store & Craft Beer Garden (Rotorua) (2022 Supreme Winner), Hayes Common (Hamilton), Freeport Cleaver & Co (Tauranga), Best Burgers (Havelock North), Shining Peak Brewing (New Plymouth), Café Polo (Wellington), Huxleys (Wellington), BEERS Craft Brewery (Christchurch), Sprig & Fern Tavern (Nelson), The Fine Lion (Ashburton) and Roasted and Toasted (Lumsden).
Each finalist was again assessed on presentation, effectiveness of preparation technique, eatability, taste, innovation and originality, with Joe McClure from McClure’s Pickles and Nick Brown from Cook & Nelson travelling the country to sample the finalists’ creations.
Moore and Freeport with Cleaver & Co will now receive a bespoke Rikki Berger trophy and a year’s worth of McClure’s Pickles, with the winning toastie remaining on the menu from 11.30 am to close, seven days a week until early August.
For more information about the Great NZ Toastie Takeover, check out www.toastietakeover.com. For more about McClure’s Pickles, see mcclures.com. And for more about Freeport with Cleaver & Co, visit freeportandcleaver.co.nz. McClure’s Pickles are made in the USA.