MY DOWN UNDER GARDEN-NEW ZEALAND CHEFS: DAN PEARSON
Every encounter was a wonderful discovery, but the Australian and New Zealander chefs blew me away! They have a very distinct personality and a very unique cuisine that mixes technique, technology and influences from Spain, Japan or Thailand. They are all linked in the research of the best product (produce) and the freshness of the instantaneity.
I have often spoken of young chefs from Australia or New Zealand, but today I present to you a chef originally from England who adopted New Zealand and for whom, I confess, I have a “parti pris”.
Dan Pearson has brought with him to Auckland not only his culinary skills (and its British influences) but also a taste and an energy that moves things and inform people. It might be ambitious, but it is work that he does every day with its pop-up concept Egg & Spoon and Chef’s Arses Blog.
The “cuisine” of Dan Pearson is simple, accurate, completely inspired by local products. Its English roots exist but they are subtly hidden in the “aesthetics of light and colours”, the same quality that I found in Michael Meredith’s work (but differently). Perhaps it is a “New Zealand-touch”, I do not know yet …
Sometimes we meet chefs whose creativity and hard work that amazes us, sometimes they are personalities whose involvement goes beyond creativity in the kitchen … Dan Pearson is a mixture of both, definitely a chef to follow!
Q+A WITH DAN PEARSON (www.eggandspoonrestaurant.com ):
1-(Scoffier) How do you explain the philosophy behind your cuisine and what is it main characteristics?
DPearson– Good quality ingredients with great flavour; not over-complicated or masked by using too many complicated techniques when they’re not needed. Simple flavour combinations with flare. Food to me is the most important art form. Being able to make a guest smile with honesty on a plate is what matters most.
2-(Scoffier) Egg & Spoon is a pop-up concept (mobile), your goal is to open a permanent restaurant?
DPearson– Most definitely. There are a number of reasons behind the pop ups. Firstly it allows me to take my time to find the right location for Egg & Spoon, as this one detail can make or break your business, and to put to the test areas of interest and trial different ideas. Secondly, it acts as a good marketing tool in the build-up to eventual opening. Finally, it allows me to work with young up and coming chefs around the country looking for new experiences within the industry. Fingers crossed we will have a location by mid-2013.
3-(Scoffier) Do you have a flavour or taste from your childhood that is again memorable?
DPearson– I come from a very English background so I would have to say a good Sunday roast or braise, whether its pork, beef, lamb or chicken with all the extras. Roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, roast carrot and parsnips, boiled greens (normally overcooked in our house), gravy, bread sauce and stuffing, all on the table by midday and finished off with a good rhubarb or apple crumble with custard. Then, have an afternoon snooze in front of the Eastenders omnibus and prepare to enjoy round two with a leftovers sandwich and the family game of monopoly.
4-(Scoffier) Do you have a particular foods (or products) that you often use in your recipes?
DPearson– Pigs head, without a doubt. There is just so much potential for a great dish. Terrine, roast, pickled tongue, crispy ears, potted meat, skin tuille, braised cheeks, pressed jowl… Pork has such a versatile flavour that you can marry it with all the seasons.
5-(Scoffier) Do you have a mentor (chefs or anybody else) that inspires you in your cuisine?
DPearson– My two biggest mentors are Toby Stuart, Head Chef of Roux at Parliament Square, and my chef when working at Foliage, Chris Staines.
Toby showed me his book Essential Cuisine by Michel Bras when we worked together in London. I saw the first page of recipes – boiled eggs – and all of a sudden everything I had been looking for was staring back at me. I’ll never forget that moment as it changed me as a chef forever. Toby is an amazing guy to work with and has a CV that any chef would dream of: Troisgros and Richard Neat to name a couple.
I don’t really know where to start with Chef Chris as he did so much for me whether was in my darkest hour or my finest moment. Right from the moment I walked into the kitchen on my stage I knew I was in the right place. This is a chef that promotes freedom of creativity and builds a team that values respect towards each other and our ingredients, and the all-important value of team work. This only touches briefly on the many kitchen ethics we, as a team, learned and practised daily.
I only ever intended to do my year at Foliage and move on, but chef constantly evolved with the times. With so much development there was no need to go anywhere else. I hear so many people speak of Foliage as the hidden gem of London. We achieved a rising two star in my time but never got the second. I’m still scarred by this as a lesser restaurant (in my view) got theirs – ouch. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for those two guys as they steered a rebellious little prick in the right direction.
Where else do I find inspiration (apart from the obvious Michel Bras)? Peter Gilmore of Quay in Sydney: I did a stage there in 2010 and it blew me away. I’m such a geek that I stole one of his plating-up spoons (if he reads this then I can send it back in the post…). Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park: great book. Juan Mari (The Wizard) Arzak, Pierre Gagnaire everyone in the top fifty, everyone in every Michelin guide… the list is endless as my favourite hobby is searching for food porn.
6-(Scoffier) Michael Meredith (Meredith’s) told me that the New Zealand scene was very young and vibrant. Since your arrival (2009), do you perceive a New Zealand signature in the world of the gastronomy?
DPearson– The New Zealand food scene is indeed very young and vibrant. This has its pros and cons.
Pros: New Zealand is untouched soil in terms of recognition for its gastronomy. When people think of New Zealand they think of three things: rugby, Lord of the Rings and sheep. This is great for chefs like me and my friends as that means there is not that much fierce competition or rivalry in order to be recognised. All of the up and coming chefs here whether from NZ or abroad all get along very well and work with each other on a regular basis to further our own skills, share ideas, produce contacts, training for younger chefs and more than anything have fun working together.
Cons: Cheffing is on the skills shortage list, some areas of the catering education system is not as fine-tuned as it could be, you can count on one hand how many restaurants could really compete with the big boys overseas, we don’t have a trusted guide system or an internationally recognised guide that would help bring in a higher quality of staff, which in turn would give the chefs of New Zealand’s future a better education (and prevent them from going overseas for training and in turn risk them not coming back because of all of the above). It’s a vicious circle and a problem that isn’t going to be solved overnight.
It would be great to see a New Zealand restaurant amongst the crowd of top dogs, but in terms of New Zealand finding a signature within the world of gastronomy I think we’re going to have to wait a few years.
7-(Scoffier) How do you develop your recipes? What are your source(s) of inspiration ?
DPearson– Some recipes are developed over time, some made up on the spot and some are untouched from when they were passed onto me through the kitchens I have worked in. I carry a sketch book with me everywhere I go as inspiration is all around us on a day to day basis. My brain never unplugs from thinking about food so when I get an idea I need to document it straight away through fear of forgetting or getting lost amongst the thousand other things I’m thinking about.
I have sketch books dating back to almost a decade ago now and it’s a great way to record self-development. There are some dishes that I still go back to and develop on paper, with maybe ten different versions of one dish spaced over a decade, and it’s still not what I’m after.
Books are a great source of inspiration; I’ve stopped counting how many I have. Not just the pretty, new ones either. The earliest cookbook I own so far dates back to nineteen sixteen. I am a firm believer that we wouldn’t have the new without the old and I find it very interesting just how far recipes have developed within a century.
Going out to dinner, doing stages, online food porn, talking with other chefs, planting veges in the garden, going to the markets…
And the biggest inspiration of all has to be as simple as being in the kitchen. It’s the one place where I’m never fidgety as there is always something to do.
8-(Scoffier) You are a very important (assiduous) contributor to the blog Chef’s Arse, what is the purpose of the blog? And, currently, what are you interested (books, chefs, trends, countries etc.) in gastronomy?
DPearson– The main purpose of my blog is to feed the brains of the young chefs of New Zealand. I have taught and spoke to so many talented individuals here that have no idea about what is going on in world of food. No idea about Michelin, top fifty, Ferran Adria, Escoffier, modern techniques such as sous-vide, and much, much more.
Industry-related media here is more aimed at the foodie or the advanced home cook rather than people like myself that want to look at food porn, want to know who’s the best, who’s up and coming, read about controversial topics of debate and new techniques, but more than anything just to be inspired.
I enjoy the foodie magazines that we have here but I am a thirty-one year old food geek and I know how to appreciate them. Is the young spotty kid working in a burger van in the dog-arse end of nowhere buying these magazines to be inspired? And if they are just what standard is it showing and setting them?
I started off in a burger van and I didn’t have anyone showing me material like we have on the blog. If I did I think the path I would have taken to get to where I am now would have been a lot less complicated. But the simple truth of it is that I just didn’t know such things existed. There are a lot of young kids over here in that same situation and if my blog manages to help or inspire just one of them then I know I’m on the right track and giving back to the industry.
9-(Scoffier) Can you give us a detailed recipe (Signature dish or other) that is characterized the cuisine of Dan Pearson?
DPearson– Recipe: Apricot, lamb fat, wild radish
10-(Scoffier) What is your goal (ambitions) as chef? Do you think about write a book, a television show, others?
DPearson– World domination!! Only joking. My main goals are to just carry on playing with food. Egg & Spoon for me has always been an ever growing idea, an evolving creative process without any restrictions and I want it to continue in that vein and be able to look back over the years (like I do with my sketch books) and see its evolution.
I would love for Michelin to bring out an Australasia guide as that would really raise the bar over here. I’m super competitive and what better way to harness that energy by setting yourself goals of a high standard. I have three empty stars tattooed on my arm and I want at least two coloured in before I hang my whites up.
I would love to do a cookbook. All my friends are in one except for me, so I think having my own is the only way it’s going to happen…
The one thing that makes me push on more than anything and the one goal I want to achieve the most is that when my daughter Alice sees all the things I do, that she is proud to call me her Dad.
RECIPE: Apricot, lamb fat, wild radish
INGREDIENT & PROGRESSION RECIPE
1. Smoked lamb fat – take fridge temperature lamb fat (roasted/clarified) and put in a cold smoker. For smoking chips Manuka wood is a favourite but you can also manipulate the flavour and scent by the addition of other dry ingredients, i.e. lavender, rosemary, tea leaves, spices etc. Once the fat has been lightly infused, melt and keep at a warm temperature.
2. Apricots – the fruit should be served at room temperature, not just for this dish but as a general rule. When you put fridge temp food in your mouth the first thing your brain will register is that it’s cold and only second to this will be the flavour, if it’s in your mouth long enough. Also we don’t want the lamb fat to solidify around the apricot upon soaking them, we want the apricot to soak it up like a sponge so when we put it in our mouths there’s a gentle explosion of flavours and aromas.
3. Chilli salt – put your safely sourced seawater into a double boiler and reduce over a long period of time. Once your salt crystals have formed and chilled, mix with freshly ground red chillies to a 4-1 ratio.
4. Other ingredients – wild radish flowers and beans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, grain mustard and wheatgrass.
EGG & SPOON/Chef-owner Dan Pearson
Auckland, New Zealand
1. Fine dining at the White Lady, May 2012, Auckland Now
2. Eat Here Now, April 2012
(THANKS AT TYSON SUTTON FOR THE PHOTOS. © TYSON SUTTON.)
Tous Droits Réservés. Copyright Scoffier ©2008-2012.