A Brush with Fate


NZ Life & Leisure - - Starting Over -

A DE­LI­CIOUSLY FLUFFY choco­late mousse, whipped up in her early 20s, mapped out a large chunk of Kaye McGarva’s life. The young trav­eler, who was born in Hast­ings, had ar­rived across the ditch in Syd­ney equipped with an arts de­gree, an en­gage­ment with the po­lit­i­cal land­scape of the 1980s (she was ar­rested with an­ti­a­partheid protestors at Lan­caster Park dur­ing the Spring­bok tour) and an op-shop wardrobe in­clud­ing a flu­o­res­cent-pink jersey knit­ted at her re­quest by an aunt.

While do­ing the dishes at a Padding­ton café she was asked by her boss to sug­gest pud­dings for the menu. “I made her a choco­late mousse and it was fan­tas­tic be­cause af­ter­wards I wasn’t a dish­washer any­more – in­stead I was as­signed to desserts and sal­ads.”

Bak­ing, chop­ping, fry­ing and roast­ing had al­ways been on Kaye’s radar. “There were five chil­dren in our fam­ily and my amaz­ing mother also worked part-time at the May­fair Ho­tel. Dad was a freez­ing worker who put in long hours. I started off mak­ing bis­cuits but moved onto help­ing with meals; it was the time of chicken chow mein. Later when I was flat­ting, we were very com­pet­i­tive about cook­ing nights.”

Food was also an artis­tic out­let. “My brothers and sis­ter were very sporty and I was the arty one. I dreamed of be­ing an artist and was crushed when my ap­pli­ca­tion for the Univer­sity of Can­ter­bury School Of Fine Arts was re­jected. I lost my con­fi­dence with art for many years and in­stead ap­plied my cre­ativ­ity to cook­ing.”

Kaye’s in­her­ent flair with food thrust her along an ex­hil­a­rat­ing culi­nary path­way – from dish­washer to pas­try diva, and from Syd­ney to Lon­don where, in Bel­gravia, she worked along­side the yet-to-be fa­mous Nigel Slater at the well-heeled spe­cial­ity gro­cer Justin de Blank Pro­vi­sions. Af­ter­wards, there was a solid stint as head of pas­try at Soho’s cel­e­brated French res­tau­rant L’Es­car­got, co-owned at the time by Mas­ter of Wine, Jan­cis Robin­son. “We worked in a base­ment kitchen and the or­ders were all in French. A dumb waiter took the meals up to a brasserie on the first floor or fine din­ing on the sec­ond. Our in­gre­di­ents were fab­u­lous; foie gras and part-frozen baguettes were brought in from France.”

Lon­don was a blast but even­tu­ally the lowly pay, frozen wa­ter pipes at her flat in a Hack­ney coun­cil es­tate and the birth of a nephew in New Zealand tipped her to­wards home. Back in Auck­land, she headed the pas­try team at Cin Cin on Quay. It was while search­ing the bar for a liqueur to en­hance a berry gâteau she’d de­vised that she crossed paths with her fu­ture hus­band Richard Tol­lenaar. “I was bar man­ager and I said to Kaye, ‘ That gâteau sounds re­ally nice; I wouldn’t mind a slice’. I was told rather fros­tily that I could buy it off the menu. It wasn’t the most aus­pi­cious start,” says Richard.

A chilly start it may have been but the part­ner­ship be­tween the pair warmed. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, due to a rig­or­ous over­haul of fringe ben­e­fit-tax rules, the na­tion’s res­tau­rant scene was cool­ing off.

Kaye was work­ing at Metropole where Ray McVin­nie was head chef when ar­ti­san bread pi­o­neer Tony Pa­pas vis­ited from Syd­ney to in­tro­duce the crew to fo­cac­cia and olive bread; she found it “amaz­ing, ex­cit­ing and de­li­cious”. “Good cof­fee was es­tab­lish­ing it­self in New Zealand and peo­ple wanted cheaper food so bread-based meals and sand­wiches were ideal.”

When Metropole was forced to close its fine-din­ing room be­cause of the down­turn, she hired it as a venue for a cater­ing com­pany. “It was a dis­as­ter – the de­mand wasn’t there.” Bounc­ing back, she turned her sights to those in­trigu­ing Euro­pean breads and a ground­break­ing treat – au­then­tic fudge brown­ies – with a recipe sourced from an Amer­i­can waiter at the res­tau­rant.

Hand­made spe­cial­ity breads and cakes be­came the back­bone of Pan­doro – a bak­ery Kaye and Richard es­tab­lished in a gut­ted dairy on Par­nell Rise. It was Bri­tish cook­ery leg­end Prue Leith who brought some un­ex­pected magic to the en­ter­prise. In New Zealand for a sym­po­sium of food writ­ers, she an­nounced she’d vis­ited Pan­doro and found its Ital­ian breads to be the best out­side Italy. “We just ex­ploded. We’d worked in restau­rants not bak­eries so we only used old recipes, pure in­gre­di­ents and were driven by flavour. On one oc­ca­sion a flour com­pany sales rep asked what im­provers we used in our bread. I had no idea what he meant.”

Suc­cess was in­stant. “They were long days and it was hard work with 3am starts but we were young and naïve which helped. My brother Neil joined us and food writer Lau­raine Ja­cobs en­cour­aged Richard to study sour­dough bread mak­ing in Cal­i­for­nia. I loved what we were do­ing – the pace, the in­ten­sity. We con­stantly sold out.”

Pan­doro rode the wave but, out of the blue, Kaye faced a per­sonal knock­back. On the day her daugh­ter Olivia turned two, she dis­cov­ered a lump in her breast. A mas­tec­tomy, six months of chemo­ther­apy and re­cov­ery fol­lowed. “Such an ex­pe­ri­ence can be help­ful to your view of the world. I think you must con­front your vul­ner­a­bil­ity and it’s easy to feel scared about a re­cur­rence but it’s im­por­tant to get on with the busi­ness of life,” she says.

Richard says Kaye’s health scare re­in­forced the im­por­tance of walk­ing to­wards chal­lenges. “On tough days when Kaye was wiped out I thought, ‘Okay I’m a solo dad but we need to keep putting one foot in front of the other be­cause the sun will still come up, Olivia and Zoe need to get dressed and we mustn’t get bogged down.’”

Sev­eral years after Kaye’s can­cer, a buyer for the busi­ness – by now a chain of ar­ti­san bak­eries in Auck­land and Welling­ton with 150 staff – ap­peared on the scene. The op­por­tu­nity to exit Pan­doro co­in­cided with the cou­ple’s de­sire for a change of gear.

The day the deal went un­con­di­tional there was dev­as­tat­ing news: Kaye’s younger brother Steven, 39, died in a car crash, killed by a drunk driver while driv­ing home from Palmer­ston North to Hast­ings.

Reg­u­lar vis­its to Hawke’s Bay en­sued and, without the dom­i­nat­ing force of Pan­doro in their daily lives, new pos­si­bil­i­ties sur­faced. Kaye em­barked on paint­ing classes pro­pelled by a re­newed en­ergy to re­turn to art. The pull to her child­hood stomp­ing ground strength­ened – the cou­ple wanted to be closer to Kaye’s fam­ily, were weary of Auck­land traf­fic and Richard had a long-har­boured dream to grow grapes and make wine.

Those de­sires man­i­fested them­selves in 2005 when the cou­ple bought a 1960s dwelling on the side of Te Mata Peak above Have­lock North. A gen­tler rhythm of life took hold. Much to the amuse­ment of their then high school-aged daugh­ters (now 22 and 21), Kaye and Richard got out their own school bags. Richard ticked off a Diploma in Grape­grow­ing and Wine­mak­ing at the Eastern In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in 2013 and planted a mi­cro vine­yard of chenin-blanc grapes on the slopes be­yond the house while Kaye cap­tured that il­lu­sive dream with a Bach­e­lor of Vis­ual Arts and De­sign a year later.

Amidst the re­al­i­sa­tion of am­bi­tions there has also been heart­break­ing pain. Three years ago Kaye’s beloved older sis­ter Pam was also killed in a car ac­ci­dent. “It was my sec­ond sibling to die in a car ac­ci­dent through no fault of their own other than be­ing in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t prop­erly un­der­stand grief but it’s so im­por­tant to keep talk­ing about those we’ve lost. I have a strong faith in hu­man­ity. I had my for­tune told on a street in Los An­ge­les by a woman who said to me, ‘Go in search of life; don’t merely go with the flow’ and that prompted me to study art.”

In early 2017, art moved cen­tre-stage in Kaye’s life with the open­ing of her con­tem­po­rary gallery, Muse (muse­art.nz), in Have­lock North. At Muse she has a clear agenda: break­ing down elitism and coax­ing the com­mu­nity through the door. Her own artis­tic prac­tice – which fo­cuses on il­lu­sion and per­cep­tion and is in­formed by the works of Amer­i­can ‘light and space’ artist James Tur­rell and Bri­tish op­ti­cal-il­lu­sion art ex­po­nent Brid­get Ri­ley – is an on­go­ing joy.

She now di­vides her time be­tween her stu­dio at Waio­hiki Arts Vil­lage near Taradale and the gallery. Richard does the gallery book­keep­ing – “it’s like herd­ing cats” – and sus­pects his Muse in­volve­ment will be sim­i­lar to Pan­doro: “I’ll end up be­ing drawn in. It’ll be­come full noise and a big part of my life.”

He says there are learn­ings to share be­tween the busi­nesses of bak­ery and gallery. For Kaye it is the wis­dom from her late mother Vi­vian that con­tin­ues to res­onate. “Mum en­cour­aged me not to put my art aside. She grew up in wartime Lon­don, was evac­u­ated sev­eral times and her own ed­u­ca­tion and op­por­tu­ni­ties were cut short but she al­ways buoyed us along.”

Kaye says the open­ing of the art gallery has brought with it a sense of hav­ing come full cir­cle. From wafer-thin pas­try and prof­iteroles to cia­batta and fo­cac­cia, food and its ex­e­cu­tion fed her soul for 30 years. Now that kitchen cre­ativ­ity is trans­posed to the can­vas and art gallery.

“I re­mem­ber Richard once gave me an easel but at the time I felt I had noth­ing to say.” Now there is so much to be said.

‘I had my for­tune told on a street in Los An­ge­les by a woman who said, “Go in search of life; don’t merely go with the flow” and that prompted me to study art’

LEFT: Kaye’s child­hood home was “the wrong way round for the sun”. When she first walked into their Have­lock North house in 2005 it was a rev­e­la­tion of light, space and strong de­sign. “I was so struck by the feel­ing – you can see right through the...

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