It's true that Auckland has some of the best chefs in the entire world (so says us) and recently top restaurant FISH announced the appointment of Wallace Mua as their new executive chef. FISH (known for its delectable seafood and sensational harbour views) welcomes the arrival of Chef Mua whose career has come full circle—unbelievably, he started in the houskeeping team there at just 15-years-old!
After spending some time in France working in a variety of kitchens, he's bringing his strong Pacific roots paired with a touch of French flair to the restaurant. We recently chatted to him about where he gets his food inspo, his go-to comfort dish and where he heads out with his mates for a drink.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I am a Kiwi born chef with Samoan Heritage and raised in Mt Roskill. I have worked in kitchens for the past 14 years and worked in hospitality going onto 16 years. The six years I spent in France further developed my palate and appreciation for fine dining and premium wines.
Why did you choose to base yourself in Auckland?
Auckland is home for me. It’s also a great time to be a chef here, it’s booming with new restaurants popping up everywhere, which appeals to my competitive side. Most of my family is based in New Zealand, so we felt that Auckland was the ideal place to raise my son.
Where do you get your food inspo from?
From everywhere and nowhere. I always try an array of dishes at other restaurants and if any inspire me I’ll try to recreate the dish with my own twist. I also follow a well-renowned chef for inspiration, Pierre Gangnaire, he has an old school style, but includes some modern methods.
Do you have a mentor, and if so, who?
All my past Head Chefs and Sous chef have in some way, shaped and contributed to my development. Specifically, Gareth Stewart (nourish exc chef) has been my key role model. Gareth came across me when I was working in a kitchen that didn’t have much room for growth and development. He took me under his wing at Soul which is where I really grew as a chef and took on a few of his key attributes in the kitchen.
Were you always interested in food?
I’ve always been more interested in enjoying fine cuisine rather than creating dishes. Growing up from an Island family, delicious food was something that I’ve always associated with family gatherings, so it only felt natural to pursue a career in the food industry.
When/why did you decide to become a chef?
I was a dishwasher and would do the odd task for the chefs in the kitchen, these odd jobs slowly became more frequent. I slowly developed my culinary skills, specifically working with a knife and understanding the different styles and techniques to prepare delicious food.
What was your biggest obstacle to overcome?
I spent two and half years in a kitchen where I wasn’t advancing or growing. When I landed back into a competitive kitchen, I found myself far behind all my peers. Knowing that I had a lot of things to learn and grow, it only drove me further to learn faster and experience more styles.
What’s your go-to comfort dish?
My go to dish would be my mother and sisters cooking, specifically their lamb chop suey with oven roasted Taro. One of my Favourite dishes to make is one I created, its quite a simple dish but has a big flavour profile - Crispy skin Tarakihi, served with a sauté of kumara, chorizo and squid, chillies (bubble’n’squeak style) on a bed of Avocado and pickled ginger puree and chopped coriander stalks.
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
- Creating food and experiences for people
- The team camaraderie in the kitchen
- Always learning, growing and improving your technique
The work life balance. It is extremely rare to find a chef who has a good work life balance. My partner really understands the amount of time it takes to manage a kitchen and staff, which is great!
If you weren’t a chef, what else would you be?
I haven’t really given this much thought. In the past I have toyed around the idea of firefighting, but this was more of an initial thought.
Best cooking skill every person should master?
Multi-tasking, a kitchen is a busy place and chefs are constantly trying to manage the kitchen while delivering quality cuisine to customers, so it’s imperative to be a strong multitasker.
What are your long-term career plans?
I think every chef’s goal is to have their own successful restaurant. Currently, I am just soaking in as much info and experience to position me to make my goal come true some day!
Where was the last place you went out for dinner and what did you think?
The last place I went was Baduzzi. I love the family atmosphere and vibe Baduzzi lends itself to, and of course you can’t go wrong with their house made ravioli.
What is your favourite place in Auckland to enjoy breakfast?
Besides Hilton Auckland ��, in all honesty given the busy schedule of a chef I don’t get the chance to enjoy breakfast out too often.
If you’re out for drinks with friends, where do you love to go?
It all depends on the night of the week, but I like The Love Bucket on K Road.
When friends visit Auckland, where is your first stop?
Mum’s house, there is always a guaranteed good food there. But if we are heading out, it would be Culpepper in the Viaduct.
The Urban List Team are coming for dinner—what will you be making us?
I love our queen crab dish with a Korean style bisque. If I really wanted to show off seafood, I learned how to make classic Bouillabaise (Fish soup) in Marseille, but with New Zealand fish it would take it another level served with a classic rouille, but with Horopito seasoning.
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Image Credit: Supplied