If there is one chef that everyone and his dog in Auckland knows about, it's Gareth Stewart. The man is a culinary legend, leading the charge of The Nourish Group and staring as one of the two guest judges on My Kitchen Rules New Zealand. And now, at Taste of Auckland, Aucklanders are getting the chance to witness the culinary genius in action.
We sat down with Gareth to chat food inspo, comfort dishes and that all important question—what will he cook us if we were to come to dinner!
Tell us a little about yourself
Executive chef of the Nourish Group and previous host of New Zealand’s My Kitchen Rules. Favouring simple food that our guest can understand, my style of cooking delivers fresh exciting flavours . With a preference for ‘no nonsense’ food, my approach to cooking is about simplicity and flavour. Joining The Nourish Group as executive chef in July 2015, my dishes deliver fresh exciting flavours while showcasing the very best local seafood and other ethically sourced ingredients. I get excited about finding amazing fresh product and the growers, producers and suppliers behind it. For me freshness is the key to any great dish!
Why did you choose to base yourself in Auckland?
My wife Angela grew up here and so it was where I applied to work when I came over 9 years ago. I love how Auckland has grown over the last 6-7 years. It has become a very cool city to live in with eateries and bars competitive with larger cities from around the world.
Where do you get your food inspo from?
Mostly from the internet but as seasons roll around you grow new inspiration. You just have to go to the veggie market and your creative mind starts going crazy with all the possibilities around food and produce. I also get inspiration just hanging out with my chefs and throwing ideas around and allowing them to evolve. Listening is a great art.
Do you have a mentor, and if so, who?
I don’t really have a mentor but I do have great support from boss’s Mark Williams the COO and Richard Sigley who is one of the share holders for the Nourish Group.
Were you always interested in food?
I have been interested in food from a very young age. I was always keen to do the food shop with my mum and could pretty much convince her to buy anything. I remember just standing and looking at the fish mongers for ages fascinated by the fish. I was never a fussy eater and always finished my plate. I guess as I got older I naturally took to baking cakes and then family diners by 11 or 12 years old
When/why did you decide to become a chef?
I would have been around 7 or 8 when I decided that I was going to be a chef but it was when I was 14 and choosing what I’d do for my school work experience that I made the decision. I chose to work at The Queens Hotel, one week as a waiter and one week as a chef. I did one day in the kitchen and hated it! It was too hard, too hot and I had sore feet from having no breaks. I opted to go back to the restaurant but I gave it another shot and never looked back.
What was your biggest obstacle to overcome?
At different levels you have different obstacles. When I first started the obstacle was that in kitchens you worked with chefs and PC behaviour went out the window. I remember coming home being very upset at the way chefs were talking and what they were saying. You grow thick skin and choose your battles.
What’s your go-to comfort dish?
It is a hard choice between lasagne and curry. Curry wins by a whisker.
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
I get to create and present with food. Good food in turn makes people happy. It is very satisfying when you nail a dish and nail a good service. When the service has been long and there has been no hiccups and it starts to wind down, the stoves are turned off and its time for a cold beer.
Being away from the ones you love the most.
If you weren’t a chef, what else would you be?
I guess I wanted to be policeman at an early age too but chose to be a chef instead. Now I think it would be something that involved farming or producing vegetables and fruit.
Best cooking skill every person should master?
Managing your time and working in a clean environment is a very important skill to attain. The rest will follow.
What are your long term career plans?
My long time plans would be to own a restaurant or two. I don’t think I will ever stop cooking but I am sure I will slow down one day.
Where was the last place you went out for dinner and what did you think?
It was a restaurant called La Rumblar in Arrowtown. It was very good indeed.
What is your favourite place in Auckland to enjoy breakfast?
Orphans kitchen on Ponsonby road. Tom cooks a mean breakfast. Fresh crumpets and some of the honey from the bees on the roof is epic.
If you’re out for drinks with friends, where do you love to go?
We tend to head to The Golden Dawn as it is age appropriate for me. It has a nice atmosphere and great beers.
When friends visit Auckland, where is your first stop?
Fish and chips at Mission Bay from the Fish Pot cafe.
The Urban List Team are coming for dinner—what will you be making us?
A smoked meat board from The Culpeper. You will get smoked brisket, pulled pork, smoked Culpeper lamb sausages and the most succulent baby back ribs. This will be complimented with slaw fries and potato buns and washed down with craft beers. And if you still have a wee bit of room you’d be a fool to miss the Chocolate and pecan pie with salted caramel ice cream.