How would you describe your food philosophy?
My food philosophy is based on respect for our wonderful locally sourced ingredients, our suppliers, and the environment in which we live. We work with many small passionate suppliers and we treat the product with respect from the moment it arrives in the kitchen, through to the way we store it, the techniques that we use to bring out the best flavours and how we cook it. We try where possible to source local product and we prefer to use small local suppliers as part of our community sustainability approach to business. I like to work closely with my suppliers and find that there are always things to learn about what this country can produce and how to honour the produce we have in the kitchen.
As a chef, who inspires you?
I get inspiration from my suppliers; they are always welcome in my kitchen. I enjoy having them visit – showing me new products and talking through how that product can be used. I am also inspired by global food trends, including the San Pellegrino Top 50 restaurants, and eating out both locally and internationally. My travels around NZ and Wellington always inspire me too; looking at what people are doing, whether it is a new French baker, visiting a vineyard, or wandering through Ontrays and talking with Steve and the team. Finally, I am inspired by the produce we have here.
You are one of the rare chefs who has built name based solely on your food and merits, and not run the “celebrity chef” path of mass media promotion etc. Why is this?
I am a fairly introverted person and so being in the limelight makes me feel uncomfortable and it takes me out of my comfort zone. For me, I’m much happier being in my kitchen, surrounded by my staff and cooking for my guests. I am comfortable and happier not being in the celebrity limelight. What is most important for me is talking with my guests and ensuring they have the best experience possible, and letting the food talk for me.
Can you tell us a bit about your winning dish from the 2012 Wellington on a Plate?
It’s hard for me to pick one dish, as they are all very good and I’m proud of all of them. So for me, there isn’t one dish on the menu that is the winning dish. Last year ,we had dishes such as Waikanae crab cakes, Pirinoa Station lamb, Victor’s rabbit pie and Otaki carrots through to the Smoke and Oakum rum (made in Cuba St) that we used for the rum babas. What I enjoy is the number of creative local artisan producers and the love and passion for what they do. Sometimes I’m surprised at what I’ll find here on our doorstep, but I’m also excited by it.
How did you find your WOAP festival experience last year?
I was really humbled by winning the Dine award for my lunch menu last year. Overall, I found it an exciting and motivating experience for both myself and my staff as we were certainly very busy. Our kitchen team thrives on being busy and we find the festival a welcome end to the winter and the quieter months when we are all hibernating at home. On the downside, because I am a hands-on chef, the festival keeps me busy in the kitchen and I never get to experience the festival for myself. I always have to rely on feedback from friends and staff.
We’re seeing lots of exciting culinary happenings coming out of Wellington at the moment – almost like a food and dining boom. Would you agree?
Definitely. This is reflected not only in new or expanding restaurants and bars, but also in the growth in local suppliers. I feel this is a reflection of Wellington consumers and their demand for enjoying good food and entertainment. I think our strong multi-cultural makeup drives our demand for different and exciting culinary experiences and we have the talented people here who can meet that demand. Wellington is not a dying city, but rather one that is full of innovative and colourful people, this is reflected in our culinary scene.
What else is coming up for you?
We are opening a humble, CBD-based eatery in the lovely historic Huddart Parker (Jervois Quay) building later this year. The focus will be on well sourced local ingredients, cooked simply.
The White House Restaurant is located at Upstairs, 232 Oriental Parade, Oriental Bay, Wellington.
Visit www.wellingtononaplate.com for more information on Wellington on a Plate.