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Meet local producers and then get your hands dirty at this Matakana boutique.

The picturesque Matakana is the perfect getaway from the big city; only a 45-minute drive north of the Auckland CBD and you're surrounded by stunning east coast beaches, spectacular vineyards, and who could forget the incredible range of food. Home to the best weekend farmers markets, Matakana is foodie heaven.

Hidden amongst Matakana's boutique stalls is a delicate shop called The Local Food Kitchen, but don't let the size of this store fool you as it's jam packed with plenty of tasty surprises. At what first appears to be a small kitchen soon turns into a unique dining experience.

My tastebuds were lucky enough to encounter the several wonders of the Matakana Markets, but first they were treated to a succulent chocolate brownie, baked by the owners of The Local Food Kitchen, Chef Mark Griffiths and his wife Carmel. This was the beginning of our three hour food journey. Upon arrival we were offered a tea of choice to complement our brownie as we all sat around the dining area listening to Mark and Carmel share their story.

Originally from England, Mark travelled and cooked his way around the world for ten years but it's here in New Zealand he met his wife Carmel who also has an eclectic food related history. From studying food and nutrition at Otago University to completing her masters degree in nutrition 20 years later. During this time Mark became a Chef Lecturer at the Auckland University of Technology and after almost two decades teaching, the pair knew their passions lay elsewhere.

They wanted to create a unique hands on experience where they could share the spectacular tastes and flavours of locally grown produce, and they've done exactly that. Having only opened in 2016, The Local Food Kitchen is fresh on the scene but has certainly made a huge impact on the community.

Next stop on our food voyage was the incredible Matakana food markets. As soon as I stepped into the square I instantly felt at home. The market itself is a vibrant interactive place that delivers an immediate sense of community. Mark introduced us to a variety of local food producers who then shared not only their stories but also samples of their amazing products. From the soft texture of freshly baked bread to smoked organic bacon that doesn't shrink in the pan when you cook it— Matakana Markets has it all.

After an hour at the markets my tastebuds were definitely ready for the next part. We made our way back to the kitchen where samples of everything we had just tried were awaiting us. Then it was time to get our hands dirty in the kitchen as we produced an impressive gourmet lunch of pan-seared Blue Moki with kumara and garlic gratin, sautéed beans, pan-fried baby carrots and balsamic baby beets. And the fun didn't end there, we also rustled up (with Mark's help of course) brulee lime tart served with berry coulis.

Not only did we cook the food but we also ate it together in the beautifully set dining room. It was incredible yet simple, from the dishing of the plates to the divine tastes, textures and smells of the food. It tasted even better knowing that we couldn't get any closer to the original source.

The Local Food kitchen is certainly a one-of-a-kind food experience in an idyllic countryside setting and it's a fascinating journey of discovery that everybody must take.

Published on April 20, 2017 by Lauren Sanderson

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