Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Westie takes a bite of Big Apple

Aucklander who started out washing dishes at 14 about to open his own restaurant in New York City

Matt Lambert says opening a restaurant in New York is his version of the American dream. Photo / Audrey Young
Matt Lambert says opening a restaurant in New York is his version of the American dream. Photo / Audrey Young

When New Zealand chef Matt Lambert opens his first restaurant in New York City next week, he will be giving diners a little taste of Henderson Creek.

The 32-year-old says his restaurant, The Musket Room, will be a New Zealand restaurant and some of the dishes will be based on memories of his years back home.

"I've a couple of dishes based on the fact that I used to go fishing for eels in Henderson Creek every weekend. From a memory of that, where we used to pick wild boysenberries and in the same creek there would be wild leeks growing there.

"So I've done a dish with smoked eel, wild leeks - over here they're called ramps - and pickle berries."

One of Lambert's first memories was being given smoked fish from his neighbour. It was a whole kahawai and he'd smoked it in a fridge he had set up as a smoker in his back yard.

"So I have a smoked scallop dish where I play on similar sorts of things.

"Basically the food that I'm doing is very heavily influenced by the fact that I was trained and raised in New Zealand, using ingredients over here."

The Musket Room will be a 65-seater and his wife, Barbara, will run front of house. They have a partner, Jennifer Vitagliano, and between them have found sufficient investors.

But they got another US$25,636 ($31,636) through 123 pledges of support on KickStarter, an online way to fund projects. For example, five people pledged US$500 - and will get a cooking demonstration with Lambert followed by a seven-course tasting menu for eight with drinks selected by his sommelier.

Lambert says they will have about 35 staff, including nine or 10 in the kitchen, and he is feeling the responsibility for his New York enterprise, which is in part of the city known as Nolita - North of Little Italy.

"It's a responsibility I am not taking lightly. Kids from Henderson don't come up every day and open a restaurant in New York city.

"I'm looking forward to getting it done and representing myself but also where I'm from."

Lambert went to Liston College and Holy Cross School before that.

He started washing dishes at 14 in Garry Bates' restaurant Michaels. That closed and Bates later opened The Falls, also in Henderson, and Lambert did his apprenticeship with him while studying at the Auckland University of Technology.

"Great man - I've got a lot of respect for him."

Lambert also worked at Dockside in Wellington and finished his qualifications at Whitireia Polytech.

The best experience he had in New Zealand was working for Michael Meredith at The Grove.

"It brought out a passion that I didn't really realise I had as much as I did," he said.

Lambert has been in New York for about five years, working for the AvroKO hospitality group in restaurants including Public and Double Crown.

In the midst of preparing for the opening, he took a trip down to Washington this past week to do a demonstration at the New Zealand Embassy during a reception for delegates to the US-NZ Partnership forum.

Then it was back to work towards his dream.

"It's something I've wanted to do for a very long time, obviously to open my restaurant but when I moved to America, I guess it's like an American dream really. I wanted to have my own restaurant in New York city.

"It's kind of the big boy league."

So why is it called The Musket Room? He says he played around with about five names.

"I wanted to call it Beast Forever and I had a completely different concept where I was just going to just do tasting menus using whole animals but I was a little bit scared I might alienate myself from people who, say, don't want to eat pig that night."

He thought he had come up with a brilliant name, The Musket Room, and bought the dotcom in 2009.

Then he discovered there had been a restaurant on Ponsonby Rd with the same name.

"It probably seemed like such a good idea and so solid because it literally used to be a restaurant."

- NZ Herald

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