Renowned chef Carl Maunder and partner Jade Lucas recently swapped Dubai for New Plymouth, where they quickly established themselves on the local dining scene, taking on not one but three restaurants, including the 90s-influence State Bistro.¬†
When the COVID pandemic hit, Carl Maunder and Jade Lucas were living in Dubai. Maunder, an experienced chef, was heading up Sean Connolly‚Äôs new restaurant at the Dubai Opera. Lucas had just found out she was pregnant with her second child. In the space of a couple days, they packed up their life and flew back to New Zealand, arriving the day the country went into its first lockdown.
Living with Maunder‚Äôs parents in New Plymouth, the pair had no real plan to stay in the city or open a restaurant there. But a chance run-in with friend and hospitality entrepreneur Craig MacFarlane led them to a new opportunity to buy in on three hospitality businesses on New Plymouth‚Äôs ‚ÄėState Corner‚Äô in the CBD. They hashed out a deal and a few months later, took charge of Joe‚Äôs Garage, Little Glutton and Gover St Bistro.
With Joe‚Äôs Garage running smoothly as a franchise, Maunder and Lucas set their sights on transforming the Asian-fusion Little Glutton into a handmade pasta eatery, now named State Pasta. The refit gave Maunder, who had led up a number of new restaurants for other notable chefs, an opportunity to lead his own passion project for the first time. Number one dish on the list? Pasta, of course.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs one of the earliest foods I learned to cook. As well as it being a comfort food, it‚Äôs a comforting thing to make. Working with your hands, it‚Äôs tactile. I find it quite relaxing – it‚Äôs like my happy place.‚ÄĚ They built State Pasta in just six weeks, renovating and painting the space, bringing new furniture in, designing the menu and honing in on the brand.
With her background in marketing and communications, Lucas took charge of the brand identity and marketing side. Building the menu gave Maunder an opportunity to bring together all his favourite ingredients he‚Äôd collected throughout his travels, as well as finding local New Zealand suppliers, like clams from Blenheim‚Äôs Cloudy Bay and macadamias grown up the road in the Kaitake Range.
With a selection of antipasti and homemade pasta served with fresh focaccia and artisan gelato, the menu embraces the comfort of good food, made with simple and quality ingredients. ‚ÄúState Pasta offers a modern approach to the style, while keeping the soul of what makes simple pasta like this so good – care and craftsmanship,‚ÄĚ says Maunder.
Beginning his career as a kitchen hand in Wellington, Maunder quickly moved up in the culinary scene, working alongside top chefs such as Simon Gault, Sean Connolly and Mark Hix, and honing his skills in award-winning restaurants in New Zealand, Singapore, London and Australia.
While gruelling work, Maunder says he loves the joy he creates for other people as a chef, a passion nurtured from a young age. ‚ÄúBoth my grandmothers were keen cooks and had really good tried and true standards. I loved weekend trips to their house for family dinners, with home baking, Sunday roasts and apple pie,‚ÄĚ he recalls.
Quality ingredients were the cornerstone of family cooking, his grandfather a keen gardener who grew tomatoes in a glasshouse. Maunder‚Äôs mother, an experimentalist in the kitchen, encouraged him to ‚Äúgive anything a go‚ÄĚ, trying new flavours, recipes and cuisines. ‚ÄúThis is something I still work on now in the kitchen, with a lot more experience and research though. We bring ideas to life with trial and error, and always give it a go.‚ÄĚ
Taking on one new business during a global pandemic, let alone three, is a big undertaking, but Maunder admits he thrives off the pressure. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve always needed a bit of a challenge,‚ÄĚ he says, recalling his early days as a chef working long hours in the kitchen at London‚Äôs famous celebrity hotspot Le Caprice. ‚ÄúWe had a six-week waiting list and were full to the brim every lunch and dinner. It was really intense, I thought ‚Äėam I going to survive this?‚Äô but after a week, I had it down. It taught me to always back myself.‚ÄĚ
Now, Maunder has Lucas to back him up as well. It‚Äôs the first time they‚Äôve gone into business together and the couple say they enjoy bringing their different skills to the business. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a good dynamic because we‚Äôre focused on different parts of the business. Jade‚Äôs skill set gives us a good edge in terms of marketing and communications,‚ÄĚ says Maunder.
With two young kids, Lucas says she loves not having to keep up the long hours of the corporate world, and instead, focus on building relationships within their three restaurants. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre able to work on meaningful things and enjoy working together,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúWe get to keep a big slice of family life, which is really what it‚Äôs all about.‚ÄĚ
The pair have recently refitted another New Plymouth restaurant, State Bistro, previously known as Gover St Bistro. Inspired by the bistros of the late 90s and early 2000s, Maunder wanted to capture the rebellious spirit of his early days in the London culinary scene, while honouring the cooking techniques he learned.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a huge trend of neo-bistronomy these days, which is great, but I really wanted to get back to the classic dishes and sauce-making techniques, like bouillabaisse, dressed crab and steak tartar,‚ÄĚ he says.
The space, with its leather banquettes and marble bar, lends itself to the bistro feel, while the relaxed atmosphere and music pay homage to the rebels and misfits of the kitchen.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre using vinyl records. The kind of music the chefs would be listening to while making the food, not what was in the restaurant. We‚Äôre bringing that back of house to the front and celebrating it,‚ÄĚ says Lucas. ‚ÄúThe clientele these days are people our age. They were the teens of the 90s and we want to reconnect with that. We don‚Äôt want to take ourselves too seriously, we want to have fun.‚ÄĚ
After years abroad, Maunder and Lucas have relished the opportunity to slow down and enjoy their first summer in New Zealand in a long time. ‚ÄúSeeing the wildflowers when you walk to the beach and hearing the cicadas, all these little things feel very nostalgic after being away,‚ÄĚ says Lucas.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs so refreshing to be back among kiwis, people have been so welcoming. It‚Äôs something you don‚Äôt think about when you‚Äôre overseas, but you notice it when you come back.‚ÄĚ