IT'S no surprise that the MasterChef crew included Hawkes Bay in its foodie road trip last week. With its fresh produce, world-class wineries and award-winning restaurants, the region is a culinary haven.
This week's episode is a cooking challenge using local produce from the Hawkes Bay Farmers Market, cooked on barbecues set up in the beautiful grounds at Elephant Hill Winery.
After watching the filming, Living set off on its own tour. My first stop was the Farmers Market, held on Saturdays in Napier and Sundays in Hastings, where you can talk to growers, have a freshly roasted coffee and sample the food.
The MasterChef team stayed at Black Barn Retreats at the Black Barn Vineyards, nestled among beautiful rolling hills, where head chef Terry Lowe cooked the winners a meal. Lowe makes the most of local produce in his kitchen, which came first equal in the best winery restaurant category in last year's Cuisine awards.
Lowe's creamy bread-and-butter pudding had me scraping the bowl wanting more.
I stayed at the boutique Hawthorne House - a stunning Edwardian villa tucked away in a beautiful rural setting. It has luxurious rooms and a comfy lounge with a roaring fire. Hosts Mike and Melanie Lewis create a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and also offer Murder Mystery weekends in winter.
The next morning brought a wine tour with Hamish Prins of Prinsy's Rural Experience and Wine Tours. Hamish, a Hawkes Bay local who has a deep and varied knowledge of the region, can tailor a tour to suit your tastes and time.
I tell him I want a food-and-wine tour to taste some of the best the region has to offer, and Hamish doesn't disappoint.
We visit Telegraph Hill where owner Geoff Crawford shows us around his olive grove and offers samples of the fruit and his delicious oils. Next stop is Bellatinos Food Lovers Market in Havelock North, where owners Bart Narracci and Emma Hagen show us their top quality Italian and imported foods and wines. Bart, an American-Italian, serves food made on site by chefs in the casual coffee and dining area.
We move on to handmade chocolate heaven at Silky Oak Chocolate. I find the largest and best chocolate fish I've ever tasted, and look around what is believed to be the only comprehensive chocolate museum in the Asia-Pacific region. It covers 3000 years of chocolate history and has a huge collection of chocolate paraphernalia, including a 2500-year-old Mayan chocolate pot.
We put our feet up at Birdwoods Gallery & Sweet Shop in Havelock North. Owner Louise Stobbart serves up delicious coffee and scones with cream and jam in the sculpture garden at the back of the gallery. She sits down and tells us her story of how her family moved to Hawkes Bay after being removed by force from their farm in Zimbabwe.
The gallery has beautiful art and crafts from New Zealand and Africa. Louise's old-fashioned sweetshop next to the gallery is in a single-room colonial cottage built from reclaimed materials, and has jars of goodies displayed on the wooden shelves.
Louise says she employs only grandmothers in this fantastic shop, which has a vintage cash register, baker's scales, teddy bears and a lovely garden.
We take a drive up to Te Mata Peak for a 360-degree view of Hawkes Bay, followed by wine tasting at Alpha Domus winery. Managing director Paul Ham shows us around and tells us about the business, which has an aviation theme. I enjoyed the Pilot Rose, which won a silver medal at the Hawkes Bay A&P Wine Awards.
At the foot of Te Mata Peak is the Craggy Range Winery, and a feast at its award-winning French restaurant Terroir is the perfect way to round off the day. Terroir is a French term used to describe the inherent characters of soil, climate and culture, as reflected in a wine or the food from a particular region.
The restaurant is warmed by wood fires, over which the chefs were spit-roasting chicken the night we were there. We shared a delicious Vineyard Platter of smoked fish rillettes served with lemon and sourdough, crumbed pig's cheek and marinated mushrooms.
The MasterChef judges said the contestants' dishes this week were among the best in the show's history. Sourcing produce from Hawkes Bay no doubt had a large part to play.