Dining at its finest
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.