Ex­ec­u­tive chef has cooked for stars and roy­alty

The Tribune (NZ) - - RENDEZVOUS -

A man who has cooked for the Queen and Hol­ly­wood A-lis­ters such as Bruce Wil­lis, Demi Moore, Ale­cia Keys and Kurt Rus­sell has now come home and is ex­ec­u­tive chef at Rendezvous Restau­rant.

Mark Har­man, who is listed in Next mag­a­zine as one of the top six chefs in New Zealand, has re­turned to where his im­pres­sive ca­reer be­gan and is now pre­par­ing exquisite meals at Rendezvous in the Sum­mer­hill Cen­tre.

While Mark was chef at Huka Lodge, the five-star re­sort hosted Queen El­iz­a­beth and Prince Philip. Her ver­dict was that the food was bet­ter than what she ate at Buck­ing­ham Palace.

Praise in­deed. Mark re­calls she chat­ted to the kitchen staff at the open servery and ap­pre­ci­ated the food that show­cased New Zealand meats and seafood such as lamb, veni­son, scal­lops and pheas­ant, ac­com­pa­nied by ex­otic Kiwi veg­eta­bles.

‘‘The food she chose was sim­ple, pre-planned but de­lec­ta­ble,’’ Mark says.

His years at Huka Lodge un­der ex­ec­u­tive chef Nic Watt brought him to a new level of fine din­ing and broad­ened his knowl­edge of cook­ing for a range of peo­ple and tastes.

It all be­gan nearly 30 years ago. Mark’s mum was a foodie and she passed on her love of cook­ing to her 10-year-old son. In­stead of kick­ing the soc­cer ball af­ter school, Mark earned his pocket money by pre­par­ing the evening meal.

‘‘I learned to cook home roasts, mac­a­roni cheese, bake bis­cuits and pre­pare sauces and gravies,’’ he said. ‘‘I peeled car­rots, chopped broc­coli, cooked pasta and en­joyed it.’’

Mark stud­ied home eco­nom­ics at Frey­berg and, when he left school, he knew what his pro­fes­sion would be. At 16 he was work­ing the grave­yard shift at Hester Guy Foods, pre­par­ing bulk food for su­per­mar­kets the fol­low­ing day.

‘‘I had to cook and clean and quickly learned how to al­lo­cate time and do things fast,’’ he re­calls.

From there he stud­ied part time at Ucol and Massey Univer­sity, grad­u­at­ing as top stu­dent with a Trades Cer­tifi­cate in Cook­ing. His prac­ti­cal work was achieved at The Coach­man where he worked full and part time for three years.

‘‘Ini­tially I ran the meat and fish sec­tion but, when I left at the age of 20, I was run­ning the kitchen.’’

From there Mark honed his skills at a num­ber of qual­ity, award­win­ning ho­tels in New Zealand and over­seas. He cooked at the Gold Coast Hy­att Re­gency and the fives­tar Pow­er­house Bou­tique Ho­tel at Tam­worth be­fore re­turn­ing to New Zealand to the Icon Restau­rant at Te Papa un­der Peter Thorn­ley, the high­est paid chef in New Zealand at the time.

Bou­quet Garni in Welling­ton fol­lowed and then Huka Lodge.

Fol­low­ing a stint back home Mark was ready for the world again. He was shoul­der tapped to cook for Peter Gor­don at a leukaemia fundraiser and then as ex­ec­u­tive chef at his two pop­u­lar SkyCity restau­rants, Dine and Bel­lota.

‘‘Th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences im­proved my time man­age­ment, helped me lead a team, im­ple­ment sys­tems and deal with sit­u­a­tions that of­ten oc­cur in a kitchen.’’

Mark was an es­tab­lished star in Auck­land win­ning re­gional awards, mak­ing TV ap­pear­ances, hold­ing master classes and pro­duc­ing his own su­per­mar­ket brand of soups, sauces and pestos.

In be­tween times he ex­ported his skills to the Caribbean and, for a year, cooked for Hol­ly­wood stars and jet­set­ting busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives, at the Aman­yara Re­sort, part of the world’s top ho­tel chain, Mark demon­strated that a Palmy boy could cook for the best.

At up to $30,000 a night for a room, they de­manded top-qual­ity food and got it. In turn Mark ex­tended his knowl­edge of fine din­ing and fur­ther en­hanced his im­pres­sive skills.

But he was now a fa­ther four times over and, de­spite the na­tional and in­ter­na­tional scene be­ing only a chop­ping board away, Mark and Talia de­cided to come home.

Fol­low­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as ex­ec­u­tive chef at Salt in Auck­land, the fam­ily set­tled on a life­style block at James Line, re-en­rolled their chil­dren at Cor­ner­stone School and Mark looked for some­thing ex­cit­ing and dif­fer­ent.

He found it when he met Glen Vi­vian at Rendezvous. Glen was not just look­ing for an ex­ec­u­tive chef but a busi­ness part­ner.

‘‘Glen wants to put Palmer­ston North on the culi­nary map by serv­ing in­ter­na­tional cal­i­bre food. That’s also my de­sire by push­ing the bound­aries and pro­vid­ing a qual­ity of food that you can’t find any­where else in the re­gion,’’ Mark says.

Glen’s vi­sion is to make Rendezvous, the flag­ship restau­rant in a chain of restau­rants, cre­at­ing a na­tional brand and build­ing on the food lines that Mark has al­ready pro­duced and will in­spire in the fu­ture.

It’s very achiev­able for a man who loves food and can see the tremen­dous po­ten­tial in putting Palmer­ston North on the map as a cen­tre for qual­ity cui­sine.

Now he’s put down his roots, Mark wants to de­velop his Sea­sons Gourmet brand of su­per­mar­ket prod­ucts, pub­lish a va­ri­ety of cook­books, hold cook­ing classes and food and wine tast­ings and be­come a reg­u­lar celebrity chef on TV pro­grammes.

At 38, the world of hos­pi­tal­ity is still ahead of him.

Mark cooked for Hol­ly­wood stars and the queen.

Mark Har­man has re­turned to Palmer­ston North to take on the role of ex­ec­u­tive chef at Rendezvous Restau­rant.

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