Cuisine Awards 2011The story of this fantastic vanilla started with an act of kindness. Retired farmer John Ross was a frequent visitor to the Tongan village of Utungake, on Vava’u, so when it was hit by a storm in 2002, he and some friends went to help rebuild. The chief offered him the use of spare land. With little work for the young people there, John put in a vanilla plantation. The first vines were planted in 2003 and the project now employs up to 30 locals, mostly extended members of one family, the Latus, in peak season. When first given Heilala vanilla, New Zealand chefs were “blown away” by its freshness and aroma, says Ross’s daughter Jennifer Boggiss, who left her job to take on the marketing. At the bottom of the world, we typically get the end of the crops.
From a fi rst harvest in 2005 of 30kg, 2010 saw a crop of nearly two tonnes. After harvest, the beans are sun-dried in Tonga before going to home base in Tauranga to be made into extract, paste or syrup, or packaged as beans. “Simply the best,” said the judges. Where a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of extract you can use ½ - 1 teaspoon of paste. Jennifer loves it just mixed into whipped cream or mascarpone.