Din­ing at it's finest

Go Travel New Zealand - - Fine Dining -

Brought up on a farm out­side Hamil­ton, I dis­cov­ered a love of food at a young age and would of­ten be found bak­ing in the kitchen along­side my Mum. As I got older, I was en­cour­aged to cook some­thing my­self when I got in from school rather than com­plain of be­ing hun­gry. My brother would wait pa­tiently in the side­lines be­fore we sat down to de­vour an en­tire cake to­gether. I have a very sweet tooth. An­other huge part of my up­bring­ing on the farm was hunt­ing, shoot­ing and fish­ing and this un­doubt­edly taught me a lot about the dif­fer­ent meats, butch­ery and the as­so­ci­ated cook­ing tech­niques. Af­ter study­ing to be a chef at Waikato Poly­tech­nic and a short stint in Auck­land, I headed over­seas to see the world and learn my trade. I spent 20 years be­tween Lon­don, New York, Los An­ge­les and Mel­bourne. I had an amaz­ing time through­out that pe­riod and was able to work in some in­cred­i­ble places and with some in­cred­i­ble peo­ple. Gor­don Ram­say was a large part of my time over­seas and also Markus Ware­ing. My ef­forts in the kitchen were ac­knowl­edged in the four Miche­lin stars I col­lected in three of the restau­rants I worked. Lon­don has al­ways been a spe­cial place for me and is where I spent most of my 20s cook­ing. We had ac­cess to the best pro­duce from around the UK and also Europe, which re­ally opened my eyes as a chef and taught me the value of stay­ing fo­cused on cre­at­ing dishes by us­ing great pro­duce, first and fore­most. New York was also a city that I par­tic­u­larly loved: The amaz­ing va­ri­ety of restau­rants and new con­cepts that were be­ing de­vel­oped and the speed with which ev­ery­thing hap­pened. I am not sure if our move back to New Zealand was a con­scious one or one that hap­pened through a se­ries of op­por­tu­ni­ties, but through­out the time I was away I would al­ways imag­ine my­self set­tling back here one day. I have al­ways felt the pur­pose of an OE is for us Ki­wis to bring back some of the skills and ideas that we learn while we are away. I now have five restau­rants and also over­see Ostro in Auck­land’s Brit­o­mart as food di­rec­tor. Rata in Queen­stown came first and was opened in early 2012 with my busi­ness part­ner Fleur Caulton and has been a labour of love over the last four years. Madam Woo fol­lowed with its edgy dé­cor and our best pos­si­ble ver­sion of au­then­tic Malaysian dishes and slick ser­vice. We now have four around New Zealand and are in­cred­i­bly proud of the hard work our staff put in to en­sure the suc­cess of the restau­rants. Af­ter start­ing a fam­ily over­seas, the more time I spent in New Zealand, the more it made sense to move here per­ma­nently. We have been back nearly four years and have no re­grets. So much about liv­ing in NZ ap­peals to me but a big part of it is fo­cused around hav­ing a well-bal­anced life­style and my kids be­ing able to ex­pe­ri­ence what I had grow­ing up. We can be found catch­ing snap­per off the rocks, roam­ing our broth­erin-law’s farm, eel­ing, pot­ting for crays, dig­ging for pipis, duck and rab­bit shoot­ing and so on. The same goes for the kitchens in my restau­rants. The NZ pro­duce is out­stand­ing and the sea­sons de­ter­mine what is avail­able so as a chef it keeps on your toes. The list of great pro­duce avail­able to cook with is a long one and some­thing we fo­cus heav­ily on at Rata: Fiord­land cray­fish, Marl­bor­ough salmon, lo­cal veni­son, white­bait, bluff oys­ters, clams and, of course, all the amaz­ing fruit and veg­eta­bles. Cromwell has the best stone fruit in New Zealand; plums, nec­tarines, peaches and cher­ries, which we use fresh and also pre­serve so we can find other uses for them through­out the year. The pro­duce avail­able is a large part of what makes the NZ din­ing scene so spe­cial and so many Kiwi chefs make the most of this by serv­ing amaz­ing sim­ple food that re­ally al­lows the pro­duce to speak for it­self. GO Travel has cho­sen some re­gional restau­rants that they be­lieve best em­body the din­ing scene in New Zealand.

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