What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Am I allowed two? They’re brief! The first is just ‘put your head down and work hard’, which was a key lesson I learnt as an apprentice chef in my late teens. The second one was ‘figure out how to correct the mistake’, which is harder than creating something new or fresh. Often in the kitchen something will inevitably go wrong, and a really good chef is somebody who knows how to deal with the mistakes. I think great chefs are people who can run a kitchen efficiently and well, and do lovely dishes, but I think knowing how to fix a mistake, that’s a really underrated virtue.
Who is your role model?
Again, can I have two? Actually, there are three. One is Christine Manfield, she’s a chef and she’s got this wonderful palate… I just think she’s amazing. Her techniques are drawn from across the world – from a mix of Southeast Asia, India and Europe, she’s just wonderful. My second choice comes from when I worked as a consultant at a couple of restaurants in Istanbul for about 17 years. There were the two guys that owned the businesses, called Tarik Bayazit and Savas Ertunc and what I loved about them is they were hugely stylish, and so had an impact not only on my restaurant life, but also in terms of their approach to style and taste. So Christine’s food, and then Tarik and Savas because they ran restaurants that were incredibly well respected… The first one that I was involved in was in the top 50 restaurants in the world and the second one won best restaurant design in the world from Wallpaper*.
What food can you not live without?
Tamari – wheat-free soy sauce. It’s just delicious with everything from raw beef to sashimi, in a dressing, or drizzled over grilled meats… I often mix it into caramel and make a salted caramel sauce for desserts. It’s just the best salt in the world.
What item, apart from your passport, can you not travel without?
A roll of clingfilm: I use it to wrap things like leftover sunscreen and shampoos and the odd bottle of vodka or really nice bottle of wine you can’t take in your hand luggage. It’s really handy and stops things leaking. I’ve been green forever and even though I know the plastic is unsustainable, because clingfilm is very rarely recyclable, I can’t stand the thought of throwing away a half bottle of shampoo or using those horrible little bottles they give you in hotels, I’d rather just bring it back in my luggage.
What do you like to do on a day off?
This will sound really silly, but I rarely get a day off, and that’s because I’ve got two restaurants and a newspaper column in New Zealand, which all need attention. When I can grab one, I’ll probably be found cycling from where I live in London out to the Olympic Park or down the Thames. I also like to swim, though I don’t have time to do it as much as I’d like, which I find annoying. The London Fields lido and the Zaha Hadid London Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park are within easy distance. The Olympic pool is a little bit further, but that’s the best swimming pool in the universe.
Where is your favourite place to eat in London?
The one I love the most currently is Kyseri on Grafton Way. It’s a restaurant from Selin Kiazim, who used to cook with us here at The Providores and Kopapa. She’s Turkish Cypriot and also runs Oklava in Shoreditch. What I love about her food is that it’s really flavoursome, really punchy; it looks pretty but it’s packed full of flavour. And there’s nothing I eat that she cooks that doesn’t make me go, ‘Oh my God, that is so delicious.’
Apart from food, what are your biggest passions?
I love gardening. At my house I have a tiny little garden out the back, and three or four times a year I’ll prune it and trim it with my friend Maria. Sometimes we’re out there for six hours… it’s so small, you wonder how you can spend more than ten minutes on it! And I think that managing the restaurant here at The Providores with my business partner Michael [McGrath] is also a passion. Actually managing the restaurant, looking at what we’re doing and moving forward… it’s a passion linked to food, but the business side of a restaurant.
And finally, who would be your ideal dinner guest?
My heritage is Maori and Scottish on my dad’s side, and Scottish on my mum’s side and the person I’d like to have over for dinner would probably be my great-great-great grandmother. She was full-blood Maori, her name was Rewhaunga and she was a herbalist, which is something I find really interesting. My great-great-great grandfather, John Workman, was a Scottish whaler, and in 1834 he was working on whaling boats and travelling and trading, and he met Rewhaunga, and they fell in love and got married. In fact she’d been taken prisoner by Te Rauparaha, a great Maori warlord and it was him who gave her to John, my great-great-great grandfather, and they are the reason I exist, from that meeting, back all those years ago.
I’d love to have them both, but if I could only have one I’d have her, and just ask her what was it like before white people had even gone to, settled or been seen in New Zealand, and her story I think would be amazing.
The Providores and Tapa Room, 109 Marylebone High Street, W1U 4RX, theprovidores.co.uk