Russell Blackstock

Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Star chef says 'no' to SkyCity

Jamie Oliver rejects casino as location for his new Auckland eatery

TV celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is opening a restaurant in Auckland.
TV celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is opening a restaurant in Auckland.

One of the world's top celebrity chefs is to open an Italian restaurant in Auckland next year - but has vetoed SkyCity casino's dining precinct because he doesn't want to be associated with gambling.

Jamie Oliver's UK and Australian representatives scouted the city last week and say they are "considering a number of exciting locations".

But SkyCity is not one of them.

Oliver's southern operations are handled by the Pacific Restaurant Group in Sydney.

Managing director Adam Heathcote said: "One place we will not be opening at is SkyCity. We would not put our family brand into a casino setting."

The SkyCity complex is home to restaurants fronted by star chefs including Peter Gordon, Al Brown, Sean Connolly and Nic Watt.

SkyCity chief Nigel Morrison said Oliver would be no loss.

"We haven't had serious discussions with Jamie Oliver's team," he said.

"There has been a great deal of interest from international chefs but space in our Federal St dining precinct is limited and we have been very selective."

Celebrity chef Paul Jobin, SkyCity's former executive chef of restaurants, said Oliver had missed a trick ruling out the casino.

"It would have seemed an obvious choice for him as there are a lot of big names already there," he said. "Jamie is hugely popular but the celebrity chef scene in Auckland is getting carved up into increasingly smaller pieces.

"Wherever he opens, I expect people will flood in at first. But it is a very competitive market and I doubt he will get things all his own way."

The celebrity restaurants at the SkyCity complex were not necessarily huge money spinners but casino bosses liked the profile star chefs brought with them because they attracted tourists, Jobin said.

"It ensures that the area looks busy because people from all over the world know who these guys are."

Al Brown, who has the Depot and The Fed delicatessen on Federal St, said being close to a casino was not an issue for him.

"I have the greatest respect for Jamie, but I don't see things the same way at all. It is an entertainment zone for adults to congregate and they are free to do what they like.

"It is no different from what you would find in places like Las Vegas or Macau."

Herald on Sunday food columnist Grant Allen also believed Oliver would not have an easy ride.

"His concept is a formula, same as McDonald's but on a different level," he said. "Diners would expect the owner to be present now and then and I doubt that would be the case with Jamie. He is welcome to come and have a go in Auckland but he will be up against it."

Oliver's stance was welcomed by a problem gambling expert.

"I think this reflects a trend of people not wanting their brand associated with gambling outlets and pokie machines," said Graeme Ramsey, chief executive of the Problem Gambling Association.

"The celebrity restaurants at SkyCity act as a honeytrap for locals and visitors.

"They bring people into the area and the casino relies on getting revenue from people with problems. Good on Jamie."

Oliver's worldwide chain of restaurants offer affordable rustic food and seasonal ingredients.

The location of his Auckland site is a closely-guarded secret, but the frontrunner is now the Viaduct on the city's waterfront.

"We had a very successful trip and Jamie is very excited about opening in New Zealand," Heathcote said. "We are looking at opening at the end of 2014."

- Herald on Sunday

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