Twelve Questions with Mike Van de Elzen

The Food Truck star Mike Van de Elzen was once an angry London chef who came back to New Zealand for a quieter life.

Mike Van de Elzen is happy to have more balance, but knows his children will have to get used to living in a chef's world of odd hours.  Photo / Supplied
Mike Van de Elzen is happy to have more balance, but knows his children will have to get used to living in a chef's world of odd hours. Photo / Supplied

1. Lauraine Jacobs once described your show as an Antipodean Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall but you seem a bit more urban than that. Where does your culinary heart lie?

If I could live that lifestyle where I buy a block of land in the country, set up a restaurant and grow my own food with my family, that would be fantastic. Every chef dreams of that. I grew up on a chicken farm in Henderson Valley and that was a tremendous childhood. I never wanted to be the chef who goes to work at 7am and came home at 1am and never saw their kids.

2. Do you still like chicken now?

I've killed a few chickens in my time. I was the official chicken poo scooper. I would bag up the stuff with my sister and we would sell it for rose food and other things. It was $1 a bag. The day I turned 15 I bought a brand spanking new motorbike - $5200 worth of chicken shit.

3. So you were a hard worker from the beginning?

I've got to the stage where I can put a bit of balance into my life but I have worked so hard all my life. It's the Dutch thing and working in the UK. When I was 28 I was running Bank in London, a 500-seat restaurant with 33 chefs and we'd do 1000 people for lunch. I was an angry, angry man. You had to be in a kitchen that size, but it just about broke me.

4. What saved you?

My then girlfriend who's now my wife, Bee, and I moved to Ireland to run a country house restaurant in County Wexford. I got fit and started cycling and it was really quiet.

5. You and Bee had a very successful restaurant, Molten in Mt Eden. Why did you sell that?

It was just time I think. It was just before the Rugby World Cup, our daughter Hazel had been born and that restaurant was something Bee and I had built together. It didn't seem the same without her.

6. Hazel was born through IVF, as was your new baby Ivy. How difficult was that experience?

It was tremendously hard for Bee, more than me. We waited too late before we realised we had to go through IVF and it was four very intense years. Bee is tremendously strong but imagine miscarrying and going to work that day having to serve a restaurant full of punters with a smile on your face. But we just kept going and from our third round we got both Hazel and Ivy.

7. So Hazel and Ivy could have been twins?

Yes, if Hazel and Ivy went in together, they would have been twins. They're a year apart because Ivy was frozen for a bit. There's another embryo too - I'm happy to have two gorgeous kids but if Bee wants a third it will just make us really busy.

8. You waited a long time to be a dad. Has it changed you?

I just want to be the best father I possibly can. My dad would go to work at 5.30am, he'd come home for lunch and dinner then be gone again and not come in 'til the chickens were asleep. I would look forward to the school holidays so I could spend time with him on the chicken farm. I'm hoping to see a bit more of my girls. But they will have to realise they are growing up in a chef's world with all its hours. Being a chef is what I do and it's who I am.

9. Will they be allowed to eat junk food?

If they want to go to McDonald's they can but if I can cook them some wholesome food at home and teach them about food and where it comes from then hopefully they'll mostly make good choices. If I see my kids drinking energy drinks 24/7 then I might say something. We make our own fruit syrups at home and they taste much better.

10. What's the most overrated food fad at present?

Foraging. Even the word is silly. I know lots of my friends do it but I'd rather spend the time in the kitchen working with great ingredients and leave the experts to grow them.

11. Where do you eat out?

We don't get out much at present and I'm really enjoying cooking at home. But if we do go we like [Auckland restaurants] Satya and Canton Caf. They're both really good with kids.

12. Why do so many chefs want to be on TV?

I can only talk for myself but [the process] was: you work really hard as a young chef then hopefully you open your own restaurant or become a head chef then write a cook book then ultimately you go on TV because that's the best way to get your food out to lots of people. I auditioned for the Food Truck with 30 other people and hoped. I was just ready to do something like that.

- NZ Herald

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