Friday, 15 December 2017

Will homes of the future need kitchens?

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Anyone skirting the town of Masterton in the 1950s looking for a bite to eat or the opportunity to take home food cooked and ready to consume had surprisingly few choices. For special occasions fine dining was available at the Empire or Midland hotels, both owned by the Licensing Trust.

They offered white tablecloths and serviettes, and a confusing array of cutlery that included fish knives that looked like oversized butter knives, and butter knives that we never saw at home anyway. Working your way in from the outside edges of the silverware was part of the mystique of the hotel experience, even if the food itself, in hindsight, was pretty bland.

You fronted up in your best clothes.

Fish and chip shops invariably had dining rooms at the rear of the premises serving hearty and reasonably-priced fare to the proletariat and the mine hosts were well-known and well liked. Ted Tozer at Tozer’s Fish Shop, Wally Grbavac at the A1, Mattie Nola at the Central and Mattie Kurta at the Wenvoe.

Fish and chips were the only takeaways on offer, although for a change of diet you could ask for sausages and chips.

New entrant was the Chief Shanghai CafĂ© which burst on to the scene in the late 1950s opposite St. Luke’s, then known as the Knox Church. Ebullient owners Jimmy Yee and Alan Chan served Chinese food with a numbered menu that was a new experience for rank and file Mastertonians, though I noticed most who dined there still ordered steak and chips.

You could get a cup of tea and a sandwich or a slice of cake upstairs at Hugo and Shearer’s or the WFCA department stores. Teabags were unheard of; tea was served from a silver teapot in Royal Dalton cups and saucers.

Two coffee bars may have slipped into my 1950s timeline, the Kalinga and the Calypso and maybe even the Waldorf restaurant.

So with my best endeavours memory-wise I can only come up with twelve outlets retailing ready-to-eat food in the Masterton CBD back then. In 1950s Masterton there would have been a population of around 15,000 and now we’re looking at close on 25,000 so today there will be more cafes, restaurants and takeaways to cope.

And you bet there are; at my last count there were sixty-six outlets to succour an apparently ravenous population and I’m not including the petrol stations who offer coffee-to-go and snacks and pies

After coffee bars came into vogue, licensed restaurants appeared and then the franchises: Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Pizza Hutt, Subway, Burger King, Hell’s Pizzas, Dominoes and Pita Pit. Ethnic restaurants evolved and gave our palates worldly insights and as our tastes became more sophisticated the Chinese category didn’t need to offer up steak and chips.

Meanwhile lots of autonomous cafes appeared as if from nowhere, most showcasing the same fare: quiches, pies and unappetising vegetarian dishes; plus cakes, muffins and scones twice as large as their 1950s predecessors, but apparently necessary to fill our increasing body weights.

If you look back at my original twelve you will see only the Waldorf remains, although the A1 name persists, but at a different venue in a different style.

If I had written this column a few weeks ago the number of eating houses would have been sixty-four. But recently the Screening Room restaurant opened in Kuripuni and just this week Don Luciano’s started trading on the corner of King and Chapel streets.

Luciano’s outgoing and gregarious host, Marvin Guerrero, probably has enough personality to make it a success, but he needs to remember that 65 other nervous business owners will be looking on apprehensively wondering just how far the discretionary dollar can stretch.

“In every restaurant, the hardness of the butter increases in direct proportion to the softness of the bread” - Harriet Markman


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