New Year Honours: Tony Astle ONZM

By Brendan Manning

Tony Astle says that when he started out cooking was a job for "the lowest of the low". Photo / Dean Purcell
Tony Astle says that when he started out cooking was a job for "the lowest of the low". Photo / Dean Purcell

Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services as a chef.

"It came out of the blue, really - I wasn't expecting it at all," said restaurateur Tony Astle of his award.

The 62-year-old owns the renowned Antoine's restaurant in Parnell, Auckland, which he opened with his wife, Beth, in 1973.

"I'm very excited about it, because, well, you don't expect these sorts of things when you're a chef," Mr Astle said.

"We've been in the same business for over 40 years so it's really hers [the honour] as well, I would think."

He said the only other awards which had brought a similar sense of achievement were his induction to the Restaurant Association's hall of fame in 1997 and Cuisine magazine's lifetime achievement award, which he received in August this year.

Reflecting on his career, Mr Astle said, "I was very lucky because I found a job that I loved really, more than anything else and one that just kept on inspiring and inspiring.

"I also met all of the right people along the way from when I started at the [Le] Normandie restaurant in Wellington and then met Des Britten, who was actually knighted last year.

"[I] had a lot of inspiration from those people and they just sort of keep you honest."

Seeing young people who worked for him go on to success in their own right was a constant inspiration.

"I just want to keep those young ones coming, it's just so wonderful to see people like Simon Gault, Michael Meredith and all these boys that have been through Antoine's to come through the other end and start mentoring other people."

It was also exciting to see a change in New Zealanders' attitudes towards food, wine and hospitality.

"When I started it was just a thing that boys did not do [cooking for a career].

"It was a strange thing - the lowest of the low did that sort of thing. Now it's a very sexy job.

"You've got to love what you do and you've got to put up with the good and the bad - and you do get bad, you don't only get accolades.

"I'm so thrilled that I ended up with this job because I figure I would be useless at most other ones."

- APNZ

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