Judy Rodgers, Zuni and her cookbook

There is constant development in what we do in the Nikau kitchen. Looking back at menus from 2 or 5 or 10 years ago we see the growth we have made, as we explore new ideas and ingredients or as we refine techniques. Some changes are an evolution, a gradual improvement, and some have been more quantum leaps.  But despite the change, there are some constants to life in the Nikau kitchen. On our shelves are many cookbooks written by chefs we respect and admire. Even as we change these books remain with us, in constant use, their pages a dog-eared and oil stained tribute to the chefs who wrote them.

One of our long-term companions is The Zuni Café Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers. 

Needless to say we were all sad to hear of her recent death, aged 57, after a battle with cancer.  Judy was born in St Louis in 1956.  As a 16 year old she travelled to France as an exchange student, and in the introduction to her book recounts living with the family of well-known French chef, Jean Troisgros, owner of a 3 Michelin star restaurant in the Loire. She writes of learning the importance of tradition, of ingredients, of simplicity and respect, and how “within a very few months, I had succumbed to the philosophy that guides Zuni cooking today”.

Judy’s cookbook is one of our bibles. Every recipe works, every introduction is thoughtful and elegantly written. The beliefs she espoused are echoed in our beliefs here at Nikau.  Respect for tradition and for the seasons. Respect for ingredients and for flavour. Simple dishes prepared and presented to show food at it’s best.

As we talked about the news of Judy’s death, we realised that our current menu contained no less than four Zuni Café recipes.  From asparagus and rice soup with pancetta, to the breadcrumb salsa adorning our kingfish, or the hazelnut picada that garnished the prosciutto, cherries and buttercrunch and the espresso granita in our freezer, Judy’s influence was all around us. Yet this was no conscious choice. We hadn’t set out to write a Zuni menu, it was simply a reflection of how much Judy’s recipes resonated with us. 

We will continue to come back to the Zuni Café Cookbook time and again. Even as Nikau continues to evolve, we will hold to the beliefs that epitomise Judy Rodgers and her food. Simplicity, integrity and quality. Judy finishes the introduction to her book with these words.

“I hope in this volume I can honour and convey some of their collective wisdom and passion. If our food is delicious, it is due to that passion, and to the extraordinary quality of the products we obtain, and to the talent and devotion of every cook who has embraced it with heart”.

Judy Rodgers, we at Nikau hope this post has paid tribute to your wisdom and passion. If our food is delicious it is in no small part due to you, and we embrace you with heart.

John Speak