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The boy from aahhs! Kiwi chef Mark Simmons opens his own place

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Get ready for a Kiwi invasion!

New Zealand native Mark Simmons — formerly of Melt and Get Fresh Table and Market, both in Park Slope, and a contestant on Season Four of Bravo’s “Top Chef” — opens his first solo venture, Kiwiana, today, on Union Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues.

“I used to do a New Zealand night every month when I was at Melt, and found that we were really filling the restaurant on those nights,” Simmons said. “I figured it was a sign to finally open my own place, and do my food on a regular basis.”

Unfamiliar with the culinary pleasures of wattleseed, horopito, manuka honey or marmite? Simmons has assembled a dining room cupboard laden with the rare spices and native ingredients of his homeland, where customers can take a peek or a whiff before they dive in and taste.

“I want to show my diners what I’m all about,” he said. “Traditional New Zealand flavors that aren’t too foreign or fussy. I want to take classic dishes like Pavlova, and present them in an accessible way to the Brooklyn patrons I love so dearly.”

The aforementioned horopito — a kind of pepper berry — gets sprinkled over buttermilk fried chicken, while marmite (the controversial salty yeast spread) is used as a braising medium for baby back ribs.

Simmons grew up on a sheep farm, so you know he knows lamb. At Kiwiana, he’ll grind it into burgers topped — in classic Kiwi style — with pickled beets and a fried egg; and tuck it into savory pies sided with individual tomato-shaped vats of ketchup.

“I don’t like to take myself too seriously,” said Simmons — who, in addition to spurning finicky plating, admits to giving his dishes secret, silly nicknames (a New Zealand salmon ceviche with lumpfish caviar is the Mother and Son.)

“I just want to have a great time with my customers,” he said. “I’m all about creating a homey, relaxed atmosphere.”

We’d gladly kick back with a plate of pickled Green Lip mussels, a bottle of Steinlager, and this affable Kiwi anytime.

Kiwiana [847 Union St. between Sixth and Seventh avenues in Park Slope, (718) 230-3682].

Updated 11:53 am, August 16, 2011
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