Let's Eat

Think your pavlova can beat my mum's? Send me the recipe


Last year a great battle was won in a long war. The struggle was not over land, oil or religion. It was over a cream and fruit-filled meringue pudding.

Australia and New Zealand have both claimed to be the originating country of this favourite dessert, said to be inspired by a tutu draped in green silk cabbage roses worn by the ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, when she toured down under in 1926. The tutu is meringue with pillowy whipped cream for the skirt's net. Sliced kiwi fruit represent the green roses.

In 1912, Anna Pavlova made Ivy House (now headquarters of the London Jewish Cultural Centre) her home. To commemorate this centenary, the LJCC are holding a series of events, the first being an international pavlova competition.

Judging the competition is chef Peter Gordon, who believes the pudding is "one of New Zealand's most iconic exports". Gordon, an equally iconic Kiwi with a well-deserved reputation in the cooking world for being a genuinely nice guy, is certain of the pudding's heritage.

"Just over a year ago, the Oxford English Dictionary actually recognised pavlova as having been invented in New Zealand." To mark the occasion, Gordon was asked to make a pavlova live on Radio 4's Women's Hour. "It was a total disaster," he laughs. "Making a pav entails 10 minutes of beating egg whites with electric beaters. I told them I was worried the noise would not make great radio and spent ages looking for the quietest egg beaters, but the minute I turned them on, that was all you could hear."

Gordon has a string of successful ventures around the world. Queues regularly snake out of the door at both his London fusion food restaurants, The Providores and Tapa Room - opened in 2001 - and Kopapa, which was established at the end of 2010. Gordon is termed the godfather of fusion cooking, mixing several different cuisines in one dish. He has restaurants in New Zealand as well as a vineyard and other food businesses, and has written several cookbooks.

His passion for food was visible from a young age. "My mother says I snipped recipes out of Women's Weekly when I was four-years-old. She had no idea where that came from!" he laughs.

He believes he may have passed this to his sister, Tracey. "She never liked cooking, but a few years ago, I donated some of my bone marrow to her when she had leukemia. Since then she loves cooking too and has gone on to become a food writer." After his sister's illness, he became involved in Leuka, a charity raising money for research into the disease. His annual charity event, Who's Cooking Dinner - where diners at each table eat a unique meal cooked by a different top chef - has raised more than £3 million. "The thirteenth dinner, this month, just raised £330,000," he smiles.

While not Jewish, he has clear Jewish foodie memories from his neighbour, Renee Gold. "As a boy I tasted all sorts of Renee's food, including gefilte fish and fried fish coated in matzah meal. Until I went to Melbourne to train, I assumed horseradish was always red, as the only version I'd tasted before had been Renee's chreyn."

Chreyn and Israeli couscous have made enough impact to feature on his restaurant menus. He is also a fan of Israeli food, having travelled there last year with his friend and fellow chef, Yotam Ottolenghi and spent several days enjoying the local cuisine. "It was amazing," he says. "I did not put one bit of food in my mouth that was not delicious."

Although Gordon does believe his mum's recipe (see below) is the best, he admits: "Everyone in New Zealand thinks their mum makes the best pav".

So what will he be looking for? "A crisp outer shell and soft marshmallowy interior. It could be rolled or stuffed but the fruit and other flavourings should complement the sweet meringue."

Gordon will whittle the entries to six before he and his two head chefs recipe-test to establish the winner. Let the competition begin.

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