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Michael Meredith’s triumphant return to the Auckland dining scene

Michael Meredith’s triumphant return to the Auckland dining scene

One of the Auckland hospitality scene’s stand-out chefs returns with a new restaurant, Mr Morris.

Michael Meredith’s triumphant return to the Auckland dining scene

Acclaimed chef Michael Meredith closed his lauded fine-dining Auckland establishment, Merediths back in 2017. After a break to spend time with his family, he has returned to the professional kitchen with Mr Morris, a restaurant in Auckland’s Britomart precinct dedicated to local ingredients with flavour profiles that combine nostalgia and international influences.

He discusses the changes in the local dining scene and what led him to move from his technical cooking style to using charcoal, fire, and ‘heroing’ quality New Zealand produce.

You are known for your fine-dining, degustation-style cooking at Merediths. What are the reasons for the change of tack?

It’s about maturity. When you’re younger, you’re pushing more and exploring more about technique. As you get older, you appreciate a simpler approach.

Now, I enjoy focussing more on the ingredients than technical skills. Fine dining will never go away, as it attracts and pushes chefs and excites diners.

It will always have its place in our dining format. For me now, it’s more about atmosphere, having an open kitchen and creating an amazing dining experience.

People are going out way more than they used to; not as a special occasion, but more like two or three times a week. Mr Morris reflects that as it’s about the freshest ingredients and flavours, and is less technical than Merediths was.

What has changed in the time you have been away from professional kitchens?

When I was at Merediths, there were hardly any fishers going out and fishing, particularly for restaurants. Fishers are now catching and supplying directly to restaurants and that has changed the game, giving us the ability to access the freshest possible produce and greater variety.

Vegetable wise, I think there are a lot more varieties being grown. It gives us the ability to offer things we couldn’t before, and more consistently. In summer, there are a lot more heirloom tomatoes available, and we’re now focussing on tomatoes and cherries in the restaurant. Growers are producing a greater range now and aiming to be as organic as possible.

We ‘hero’ ingredients more at Mr Morris. We have a cabbage dish on the menu, and it’s not about trying to change it. We’re cooking it slowly and caramelising it – the natural sweetness is unbelievable, with a little bit of acid, the umami flavour profile is incredible.

What new trends are you tapping into at Mr Morris?

We’re using an asado grill for our cooking, which uses wood and charcoal. I’ve never cooked with fire or charcoal in a professional kitchen before, but Auckland restaurant Masu has been doing it with the Japanese robata and Pasture purely focuses on cooking over fire.

It benefits the food and it changes the flavour profile by adding smoke and different temperatures. It blends into our culture because of the Kiwi love of barbecues. At the moment, we are trialling charcoal and cherry wood.

What dishes are you excited about?

We have a dish of poussin, or young chicken, that is marinated in miso and bonito, then wood fired and finished with mole sauce and roasted peppers in a play on Mexican flavours.

We also have a dessert called Pani Popo. It’s based on the Samoan coconut buns you eat at food markets on the weekend, but we’ve elevated it.

We like making dishes that people recognise, but when they try it, it’s slightly different – a restaurant version. The most important thing about dining out is creating experiences and sometimes it’s about reliving experiences and making new memories when it comes to food.

The restaurant will be closed on Mondays except for dine-by- donation evenings. Tell us more…

It’s something we carried on from Merediths; the charities we donate to include Starship and the Fred Hollows Foundation. We have our own ability to give back and we are able to do it on our own terms with our own business.

Long term, we want our junior chefs to create the three-course meal as an opportunity for them to grow and develop. It’s an entree, main and dessert that will change with each event.

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