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Bringing A Taste Of NZ Venison Direct To Asian Chefs

A delegation from the New Zealand deer industry has wrapped up a highly successful visit to China and Korea to help gain more space for New Zealand venison on Asian menus.

Hosts and guests at the Deer Industry New Zealand event at the residence of the New Zealand Ambassador to Korea, Dawn Bennet. Photo supplied.

While the region is more commonly associated with exports of New Zealand deer velvet, venison is starting to make strong inroads into China. By 2023, the country had grown to be New Zealand’s second-largest market for venison by value, after the United States.

The delegation included Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) executive chair Mandy Bell, marketing staff and executive chef Graham Brown, who created special dinners showcasing deer industry products in both countries.

While in the region in mid-late March, the group met with the New Zealand ambassador to China, Grahame Morton, and trade officials who are working with their counterparts in China to help finalise market access arrangements into that country for New Zealand deer velvet. From 1 May, frozen velvet can no longer be imported into China as a traditional medicine, the only channel that was open for trade. The change resulted from a streamlining of domestic regulations.

The DINZ group began their meetings in the northern regions of Xifeng and Changchun, where deer velvet is mainly grown and processed. Joining the group in China was Shanghai-based Felix Shen, who has taken up a part-time role as DINZ China representative, following a successful stint as local liaison for the China Deer Velvet Coalition, a group of three New Zealand velvet exporters.

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After meetings in Beijing focused on trade issues, the group moved to Shanghai, where they hosted a special dinner at the five-star Ritz-Carlton Pudong hotel’s Michelin-starred Jin Xuan restaurant. Guests included important trade contacts, customers and media.

Working alongside Brown to create the menu for the special dinner was chef Xijin Wu, who is also helping promote New Zealand venison’s profile in China. The two chefs designed two venison-themed dishes for the dinner: a heart tartare and a venison rump and eggplant parmigiana with tomato fondant and grilled asparagus.

DINZ’s Graham Brown also spent time in the city with Shanghai-based Kiwi Hunter McGregor, who imports and distributes venison in China, visiting and demonstrating how to prepare the product to chefs in the city.

At a separate event at chef Wu’s restaurant, invited chefs were treated to a more Chinese-themed menu showing how venison could be used in smaller portions in items such as dumplings. Interestingly, Chef Wu had included NZ velvet into a couple of the venison dumpling dishes.

From China the DINZ group made a short visit to Korea. DINZ assistant manager markets, Virginia Connell, said the trip provided an ideal opportunity to connect with Korean companies that import New Zealand velvet and use it in their products. “It was also useful to be able to update them on the implications of changing market access arrangements in China,” Connell said.

Highlight of the visit was a dinner hosted by New Zealand ambassador Dawn Bennet at her residence in Seoul. Guests included leading chefs, food influencers, trade officials and ambassadorial staff.

Once again, chef Graham Brown provided the commentary, cooking demonstration and a full menu of venison-based dishes. These included a tartare, short ribs with yakiniku glaze, venison and velvet broth with udon noodles, venison rump and eggplant parmigiana, and venison barbecue plate.

DINZ market manager Rhys Griffiths says the event was designed to learn more about the potential for venison in Korea and plant the seeds for growth in that market as more product – particularly leg cuts – becomes available.

“We were interested to see if there were any obvious barriers to acceptance of venison for fine dining in Korea, around qualities like taste, texture and colour. In fact, the response from the chefs who attended was very positive, with texture voted the most impressive aspect. We are encouraged to take the next steps needed to start stimulating interest and developing a market.”

Connell added that venison in Korea could benefit from an association with the same health and fitness qualities valued in deer velvet, New Zealand’s main deer product export to that country. Most of the chefs sampling the venison dishes agreed, saying health benefits could be key to attracting customers to try venison in their restaurants.

For the record, the chefs voted the venison rump and eggplant parmigiana as their favourite, followed closely by the short ribs.

Griffiths and Connell made a short stopover in Taiwan on their return journey to meet with trade and company representatives. Connell says New Zealand venison is starting to be noticed in Taiwan, where companies such as Korea Ginseng Corporation are also a developing market for modern healthy food products featuring New Zealand deer velvet.

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