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Last week I talked about The Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards medal winners that were announced on Tuesday 20th and I told you about the outstanding Tin’s Thai Chilli Sauces, this week I have a look at another medal winner – Wildwood.

Wildwood produces a range of gourmet spiced cacao drinks, infused with the benefits of functional mushroom extracts. The owner Joe Dakin brings a huge amount of food experience to his craft, years of hard work and knowledge resulted in his Wildwood Spiced Cacao with Reishi and Lion’s Mane cacao beverage being awarded a Silver Medal.

Joe Daken brings a huge amount of experience to his business, Wildwood Mushrooms

Joe told me he has been working with food for the past 15 years. “My Journey into fine food is a story of solutions, when I was at university studying forestry science money was tight, my hedonistic desires were many and I needed a way to improve my culinary skills. My solution was to round up a group of friends and get them to chip in for a 5 course meal that I would pedantically plan, provision, prep and serve.”

While he is was a self-taught chef at the time, he worked in a range of places during the ten years he spent travelling after university. From cheffing in Chalets in the French Alps to cooking on private yachts that sailed from places like Antibes in France, Palma and Majorca in Spain and from the Greek islands.

“When I was working in chalets I was taking care of high end clients, I would cook for them and then share the meal with them. I met some great people along the way, worked with a cool team and cooked for really interesting guests each week.”

His time on the super yachts gave Joe cause to reflect on the waste, excess and disconnection from food that happens daily in the super yacht scene, “This unease led me to the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland. Set on a 100-acre organic farm, my time there helped to not only deepen my knowledge and refine my culinary skills, but gave me a deep reverence for where food comes from and a passion for using locally grown, quality ingredients.”

You can use Wildwood powders to make hot or cold drinks “just like making a hot chocolate with milk”

Joe says these experiences developed a hunger for growing food and sowed the spawn of starting a mushroom growing business. He told me he has taken a deep dive into the world of mycelium (mycelium is a network of fungal threads that often grow underground but can also thrive in other places such as rotting tree trunks and mushrooms can sprout from a mycelium).

He met his English partner Naomi (now his wife) in New Zealand, “she’s a yoga therapist and is training to be a counsellor but has a hospo background and has worked on boats too.

“We went back to the UK together for a couple years and I worked at Poco in Bristol, a Tapas bar that has a focus on sustainability and quality local Ingredients. From here I move to a dream job at The Ethicurean Restaurant, Barley Wood. The focus here was “rustic fine dining” we foraged many amazing ingredients and worked from an enchanting walled garden attached to the restaurant. I developed a lot as a chef during this time, learning many techniques from the incredibly passionate and skilled team of chefs I worked with.

“I love my work and enjoy the benefits of these superfoods and am passionate about sharing them with others, producing these delicious functional mushroom cacao blends is a great way for me to share my passion. Functional mushrooms are super healthy but the powders can be a bit bitter. By using a high quality cacao as a base, and then adding spices in a balanced way, I could create a flavorsome beverage for my customers to enjoy the benefit of these super foods.

Fresh Lions Mane tastes a bit like lobster but we have to import them because we can’t grow that variety in New Zealand. I’ve found a great organic grower who can provide everything we need, especially measurable levels of the active compounds that ensure the quality of the mushroom extracts we use.

Time spent at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland gave Daken a deep reverence for where food comes from and a passion for using locally grown, quality ingredients

“Our fair trade, organic cacao comes from Ecuador and we soften the cacao bitterness with a little organic coconut sugar. The idea is to sweeten them to the just point where all the flavours shine, while keeping them as healthy as possible. The mushrooms are a background flavour and are included to provide the health benefits.”

Joe’s road to creating these delicious beverages started by growing and selling fresh oyster mushrooms and preserved oyster mushrooms at the Nelson farmers market. He grew these on his section close to the inner city, “it’s nuts to be able to do that in town. We grew mushrooms on site and made value added products like the preserved mushrooms but when we started this new Wildwood venture, we realized we couldn’t do both.

Joe says he would often get chatting with customers about functional mushrooms when he was at the Farmers Market and that while chatting to people he found that many were having the same problems – how to make these bitter mushroom powders taste good, and where to find quality mushroom extractsThe chef in Joe found it impossible to ignore the challenge and Wildwood was born.

Wildwood also won the category for food and drink at the Best of Natural Awards 2022 with their cinnamon cacao chocolate drink “It’s Keto friendly, has no chilli which makes it a bit softer while the Spiced Cacao drink is full-flavoured  and has lots of spice.”

Wildwood won the category for food and drink at the Best of Natural Awards 2022 with their cinnamon cacao chocolate drink

You can use Wildwood powders to make hot or cold drinks “just like making a hot chocolate with milk” and Joe says it’s good for baking recipes, making smoothies and some people even sprinkle it on porridge in the morning. There’s even a great Mushroomisu (tiramsu but with mushrooms) recipe on the Wildwood website

You can buy the Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards medal winner and other products from Joe’s website or you can pick up a pack from Bobby Franks, East Street, Benge & Co, The Junction, Red Gallery, Healthpost, Trouble & Fox or Little Beehive where you can also buy gift sets.

Published in the Nelson Mail 05-04-2023 

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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