23 September 2015
When it was built in 1895, Otahuna was New Zealand's largest private home and one of the first with electricity. The 40 room timber and slate mansion rose starkly from a bare landscape in the lee of the Port Hills, just outside of Christchurch. Run much in the manner of an English-style country estate, Sir Heaton Rhodes, the property’s founder, was the long-time benevolent squire of the district.
Now a treasure-trove of stories from that time until Otahuna's present day iteration as one of the world's leading luxury hotels is told in a new book For the love of a place: the stories and cuisine of Otahuna by the current owners Hall Cannon and Miles Refo with Simon Farrell-Green.
For the love of a place is as much a book for gardening enthusiasts and history fiends as it is for foodies.
The book tells several inter-connected stories - from the nearly six decades Heaton, his wife Jessie (for whom he built Otahuna as a wedding present) and their staff spent crafting a magnificent home and grand English park, to its years as a Christian Brothers' seminary, commune, private home and finally its painstaking re-imagining as a luxury lodge.
For the love of a place is as much a book for gardening enthusiasts and history fiends as it is for foodies. While the first 100 of 288 pages tell the stories of one of New Zealand's grandest homes, the remainder is devoted to the cuisine for which Otahuna has been internationally recognised.
Executive Chef Jimmy McIntyre shares favourite recipes for his fresh 'real food', grounded in the tradition of sustainability instigated by Sir Heaton. As much as possible of what is prepared in the kitchen is produced on the property. One hundred and twenty varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts and mushrooms are harvested on-site annually while Perendale sheep, Wessex Saddleback pigs and hens are farmed at Otahuna. Breads, pastas, pickles and cheeses are all made on site.
The 60-something recipes are arranged across eight evocative chapters showcasing different locations in the house and grounds. From breakfast in the kitchen to a light lunch in the Turret Room or by the pool, afternoon tea in the drawing room or dinner in the library, wine cellar, or dining room, each illustrated in full page colour photographs by Stephen Goodenough.
The 60-something recipes are arranged across eight evocative chapters showcasing different locations in the house and grounds.
Dishes range from signature pancakes, muesli and breads to lunches like delicious baby zucchini flowers with goat's cheese and salsa vierge or three tomato soup with avocado, corn salsa and scallop ceviche. Dinner could be the slow-roast rack of lamb or seared venison with cherry compote while beautiful fruit starred desserts like orange cake with baked rhubarb are on offer.
This is a book that shares a treasure-trove of stories with the reader, in much the same way Miles and Hall regale guests with them as they tour the daffodil gardens or share a pre-dinner cocktail. We learn the story of Heaton Rhodes gentleman farmer, expert horticulturalist, popular MP, philatelist (he gave away a 20,000 pound stamp collection to Canterbury museum at a time when the average school teacher's salary was 250 pounds annually). Knighted four times, he most notably became the first recipient of the Bailiff Grand Cross outside Britain in 1947 for services to St. John.
We also learn about the people who make Otahuna special today: why Miles, originally from Boston, and Hall, from Memphis, uprooted their New York lives and careers to pursue the dream of Otahuna. And their journey from Miles' 'palpable sense of anticipation' glimpsing the grand wooden mansion through dark trees lining the long driveway on his first visit, to welcoming their first guests on 2 May 2007. Hall movingly recounts how he found himself on the morning of 4 September 2010 weeping for the heart-breaking destruction of the first earthquake and resolving there and then that 'this house and its gardens would not fall on my watch'. It reopened on 10 January 2011. Brick work from the 11 original Victorian chimneys now features in the kitchen terrace and herb garden.
Rich in personality and anecdote, For the love of a place is the perfect Christmas gift for anyone interested in architecture, food, gardens or a way of life now consigned to history.