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Steph Peirce – Chef
The humble grey pumpkin is a versatile cooking ingredient, Steph Peirce says. Photo: Lynda Gray

Steph Peirce – Chef

A smashing pumpkin recipe earned Steph Peirce, 21, a trip to Oz and an Australasian award.

As well as winning first prize in the New Zealand final of Fonterra’s Proud to be a Chef competition the second year Otago Polytechnic bachelor of culinary arts student won the award for the most innovative dish at an Australasian competition against 31 other chefs.

Her stunning dessert Cinderella’s Transformation featured a gold-dusted, white chocolate sphere on a cinnamon and cocoa crumb with pea sprouts, over which a warm salted caramel sauce was poured, revealing spiced pumpkin mousse inside.

“I wanted to represent Cinderella and my experience of being brought up on a pumpkin farm,” Steph says.

Home for Steph is the family orchard at Millers Flat, a popular stop-off for pumpkins midway between Dunedin and Wanaka. For her winning dish pumpkin was the obvious key ingredient and in particular her family’s home-grown ones.

“I wanted to use ours because I know where they’re grown. They’re real in colour and flavour.”

This year 30,000 pumpkins were harvested and packed into large wooden pallets on 6ha beside the family’s roadside stall for drive-in customers.

And about 50 Atlantic Giant pumpkins in brilliant shades of soul warming orange were piled on the back of a rickety dray and up around a pole-raised Jack- O-Lantern.

“They’re a real draw card. I don’t need to sell them but people come in and often insist that they have to buy one,” Darryl, Steph’s dad and second generation pumpkin grower says.

Weird and wonderful miniature gourds are also grown. The ornamental pumpkinrelatives, some smooth and speckled, others bumpy and wart-covered, come in all shapes and sizes.

“They’re decorative and last longer than a bunch of flowers,” Darryl says.

Both agree that the humble grey pumpkin is under-rated and the ultimate winter comfort food ingredient.

As well as being cheap it has a long shelf life of three to six months and even up to a year if stored well. The secret is to keep it warm, dry and at a consistent temperature, preferably
inside.

Another plus for the humble pumpkin is its versatility, being equally suited to sweet and savoury dishes.

Not surprisingly, the Peirce family has a number of favourite pumpkin recipes. The Roast Pumpkin and Feta Salad has become a family signature dish and never fails to impress friends and guests. The muffins are a delicious, sweet and gently-spiced pick-me-up perfect at any time of the day.

Lynda Gray, Young Country Magazine