Executive chef has cooked for stars and royalty
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.