The café nestled inside Huckleberry’s Mount Maunganui store is both a destination, and an easy place to grab something quick and fresh on the go. Alongside excellent fair trade organic coffee and sweet treats, there are seasonally inspired, tasty plant-based dishes, freshly prepared to tempt vegans and omnivores alike. All dreamed up by the imaginative mind of Chef Giovanni Buttau.
Giovanni was born in Sardinia – an island so well known for its healthy traditional diet, it’s considered one of the world’s five ‘blue zones’. Rather than a formal culinary education, as a nipper, his days were spent in the kitchen, surrounded by pots and pans. Never a fan of meat, Giovanni experimented with his own plant-based recipes from a very young age. His family was soon demanding he cook for them too.
Ten years and a move across the world later, Giovanni still finds plenty that feels familiar about his adopted island home. Constantly inspired by New Zealand’s precious nature, he’s happily planted himself in Tauranga with his partner and a scaredy cat whose origin remains a mystery. We chatted to Giovanni about his most colourful food memories, his obsession with (oddly shaped) tomatoes, and an organic, plant-based philosophy that spills over from his life to his work.
What’s your earliest food memory?
I grew up between my town and my grandparents’ little farm in the countryside, and through their wisdom, learned to love all the gifts of nature. I used to spend the summer helping my grandparents,d losing myself eating all kind of tomatoes from the vines, delicious figs from the tree, berries and young green almonds. I remember the fresh seasonal food, the opportunity to just go in the garden, grab an eggplant, some onions, some courgettes and cook them immediately, getting inspired by what was ripe around me.
Tell us about your first (kitchen related) job.
I started working in restaurants when I was 15 at front of house at first. But then I was learning more and more about the amazing art that happens inside a kitchen. Watching the chefs’ amazing creations and all the passion and the respect for the foods that make the difference – when you see the love they put into their job, you can also taste it on the plate.
What do you love to make in the cafe?
In my plant-based kitchen I follow the seasons, and include some standard dishes, especially seasonal salads. But then I just see what's in stock in our amazing organic produce and I just let the fruits and veggies inspire a combination of what’s at its absolute best. My food is simple. I do it all by myself, so no long, complicated preparation, and I like to create a balance of cooked and raw ingredients.
What’s in season right now that you’re really excited about?
Right now I am loving the tomato season of course, we have beautiful organic tomatoes in stock that taste really good. I also planted some basil and funny organic black and yellow tomatoes in a garden bed outside the Mount Maunganui store, and always hope that it will help more people to understand the beauty of seasonal foods in their most natural state, compared to ultra-processed ones.
What are three indispensable ingredients in your kitchen?
In my kitchen I’m never without some good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil, tomatoes (fresh is better, canned otherwise) and carrots: fresh I would make them into a salad, or cooked they would be a basic sugo (tomato sauce) with some amazing onions.
You’re hosting the ultimate dinner party. What’s on the table, and who’s on the chairs?
The ultimate dinner party would be at a big table with all my family, and some friends from New Zealand, and I would cook for them a massive lasagne, also some BBQ grilled vegetables and fresh salads.
Huckleberry Mt Maunganui with Refill Hub + Cafe
35 MacDonald St
Mt Maunganui, Bay Of Plenty
Ph: 07 222 0098
Cafe hours: Mon - Sat: 9am - 3pm