When Earl Zapf strolls through his five-acre Elsthorpe property, it feels like heaven. The EIT chef tutor, artist, grower, and visionary has established his personal “Food Forest” by planting 2000 trees, 40 sorts of vegetables, and 30 varieties of fruit, including some exotic rarities such as Yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit.
Originally from Germany, Earl left his small home town of Rosenheim after completing his apprenticeship as a chef. His parents owned two restaurants but Earl was eager to see the world and challenge his palate. Earl worked in Italy, the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, the Caribbean, Thailand, Fiji, and the Cook Islands. Eventually, he landed in New Zealand, a place where everything is possible, as he puts it. He says, “New Zealand is a culinary melting pot and an inspiring place for chefs who want to let their creativity run free.”
Promoting plant-based eating is Earl’s mission. “I see a real need to change our eating culture, consume more plants, less meat, less processed food, and be healthy. It’s easy and delicious. I’m passionate about the culinary potential of plants. You just have to know what to make out of it.”
Earl is the mastermind behind a new cookery programme starting on March 16 at EIT, the Certificate in Plant-based Cookery. “Living in the fruit bowl of New Zealand with its fantastic fresh all-year-round produce makes a plant-based lifestyle easier,” stresses Earl. “I was always a big fan of seasonal and regional cooking.”
Earl is neither a vegetarian nor a “purist”. He started to shift away from the traditional meaty dishes while working as a head chef in a high-end retreat in Hamilton.
Once relocated to Hawke’s Bay, he was hired to redevelop the café attached to Chantals before taking up the chef tutor job at EIT. “I guess as a chef you are always teaching someone, but what I love about tutoring at EIT is that you see people growing. I feel that I can play a significant role in shaping the future of the hospitality industry.”
EIT’s new plant-based programme targets everyone who wants to learn classical cooking methods while exploring alternative ways of cooking. “The course runs over 25 weeks with one afternoon or evening class per week. The fees are only $295.”
Earl has spent his Christmas break creating mouth-watering dishes featuring non-meaty, dairy-free, and unprocessed ingredients. Grains, seaweeds, nuts, seeds, roots, herbs, beans, flowers, vegetables, mushrooms, high-quality oils, you name it. “I’m so excited,” admits Earl. “I will teach learners how to make bread, nut milks, nut cheeses, dairy-free ice creams, and vegan pastry. We will also delve into basic fermentation and pickling technics, all of this while learning knife skills, traditional cooking techniques, and food safety. An eight-course degustation menu served to paying customers at the EIT Scholars Restaurant will cap off the programme. Our learners will discover a whole new culinary world.”