As the first weekend of Hawke's Bay's Food and Wine Classic winds up, visitors return home with a stash of local produce, full stomachs and a new favourite destination.
The 56-event festival is a New Zealand first and has gained high praise from tourists and locals alike.
"We are utterly delighted - a couple hundred people turned out at Trinity Hill at the end of the cycle trail [yesterday]. There was an amazing lunch at the Farmers Market with 100-plus characters and as Ray McVinnie said during a radio interview, we could have sold five more tables on the spot," Hawke's Bay Tourism general manager Annie Dundas said.
"There were the chefs in homes dinners on [Saturday] and the MasterChefs cooked up a storm. Taste Cornucopia also put on their amazing degustation dinner, which left everyone feeling very satisfied as they went home in the small hours of the morning."
One highlight of the weekend's events was the One Big Tasty Night 15-course degustation dinner at Taste Cornucopia in Hastings CBD on Saturday night. The organic cafe was turned into a fine dining venue and the 20 guests were treated to a gastronomic journey through Hawke's Bay cities, the land, the sea and the rivers, by chef James Beck, who said local ingredients had been used in each course.
The courses included kingfish vacuum marinated, paua, freshwater crayfish, smoked eel, duck liver parfait and rocky road venison. Wines accompanied each course.
The dinner was attended by, among others, Masterchef judge Ray McVinnie and Mr Beck's father, Peter Beck, former dean of the ChristChurch Cathedral and now a Christchurch city councillor.
Masterchef winners Chelsea Winter, Nadia Lim and Brett McGregor made the most of their time in Hawke's Bay, taking part in the Chefs in Homes series at Black Barn Retreats on Saturday before joining forces with talented local chefs for a lavish lunch made with local produce at the Farmers Market in Hastings yesterday.
The Locavore's Lunch was a veritable feast of Hawke's Bay's finest cheese, vegetables, herbs, meat, fruit, sweet treats and preserves. A personal chef and core ingredient were assigned to each table before each group of diners was sent away to forage the market stalls for enough food to create a feast.
Mr McVinnie, professional chef, food writer, TV personality and all-round character, provided a running commentary as chefs turned up the heat, cooking gourmet dishes on fold-out tables and top-of-the range barbecues.
Those who chose a taste-by-taste tour of local wineries by bike during yesterday's Wheely Glassy wine ride were not disappointed.
The tour ended at Trinity Hill with a free warming barbecue, more wine and entertainment.
"I would say the event has been great for the region. It's made the whole wine and food festival idea more upmarket," Trinity Hill Winery founder John Hancock said.
"It's taken a whole new direction, it's the first of its kind of festival, and it's so great Hawke's Bay can take the lead."
Among a huge crowd of bike enthusiasts tackling the trails was Olympic cyclist Sarah Ulmer.
"It's awesome, honestly," she said. "It's just a flagship for the New Zealand Cycle Trails - it's fun, it's an easy ride and it gets people out enjoying themselves."
FAWC began on Friday with a launch party at Craggy Range and will run until next Sunday.