It is an hour before opening at The Fridge, a gourmet butchery and delicatessen as famous for its customer service as it is for its tender meat cuts and delectable delicacies.
Out front it’s empty and a little chilly (as the name suggests). Out back, fulsome fillets of recently smoked salmon rest on sheets of foil, oxtails sizzle on the stovetop, bright red baby peppers lay open ready for stuffing and a healthy flow of beef is emerging from the mincer.
The town of Alexandra is Central Otago’s commercial hub and a seemingly unlikely location for a gourmet outlet, but shop butcher Bodean Cowley and chef Scott MacDonald are proving to be a winning combination who have more than their customers salivating.
“All the chefs Scott knows are jealous of us; jealous because no one else is doing this,” says Bodean. “It’s quite a novelty to do what we do.”
The way they do things is paying off too. In November 2008 they gained silver in the gourmet section of The Great New Zealand Sausage Competition with their chicken, rocket and cashew sausage.
It made front page news in the local daily and demand jumped from 15kg a week to 25kg a day. That achievement was all the more amazing given that Bodean, who until he joined Scott at The Fridge in 2007, had never made small goods (sausages, salami). “Anyone can learn to do it, but learning to do it well is the difference,” says Bodean.
Bodean’s early career was in local supermarket butcheries and while he enjoyed the work and fun atmosphere, two short overseas stints opened his eyes to their limitations.
“You don’t make small goods or bacon there and you don’t serve customers. It’s very different to a small butchery,” he says.
Bodean’s range of sausages include pork, apple, sage and thyme; lamb, feta, red onion and rosemary; pork and smokey bacon; Spanish chorizo; and Morroccan Merguez (spicy lamb).
No additives or preservatives are used and all have natural skins and fresh herbs prepared by Scott. “Little things make the difference,” says Bodean.
Scott pulls off a piece of salmon from a fillet. “Taste this,” he says. It’s a melt-in-your-mouth explosion of flavour – divine. The Salmon arrives fresh and is salted that same evening. The next morning it is smoked to perfection.
Ordering and planning are very important and “there’s no wastage,” says Scott who is cooking up the fins from the salmon – popular, tasty morsels. Other leftover parts of the fish are used to make stock; the same goes for rib bones, which is further refined to jus for gravy.
Scott’s legendary pork pies are made using pork, salt, flour and water, even the fat is rendered down and used in the pastry. The excess juice from the baby red peppers is used to dress Scott’s noodle salad. Sausage rolls are made from leftover sausage meat and stripped thyme stalks are put into the manuka wood chips used to smoke the Salmon.
Bodean takes great pride in the quality of their meat. Beef is dry aged for two to three weeks to enhance tenderness and flavour. It is hung in a chiller with good air circulation, where it is protected by the animal’s fat on one side and its bones on the other, explains Bodean.
“People who know food can tell,” he says. “Fresh meat is bland by comparison.”
Service is their other great passion. They estimate that somewhere between a third and a half of the food they sell goes out of town.
All the rest is sold over the counter. “The service is just as important as the quality of the food we put out,” says Bodean. “Customers love it when Scott has a yarn with them; and we joke around with each other – they like that, too.”
Says Scott: “We know everyone who walks in here and if we don’t, we ask them where they’re from.”
There’s a tap at the door. It is exactly opening time and the first customer has arrived. “Hello m’lady,” says Scott resplendent in a blue and white striped apron.
Inside, the cabinets are brimming seductively with roast vegetable salad, duck and porcini paté, French cheeses, olive tapenade, pinot noir onion marmalade, dried pork and garlic sausage, lamb racks, pork ribeye, aged sirloin, bacon, sausages and so much more.
The Fridge is open.