Celebrity chef and restaurateur Ben Bayly is preparing to open his fifth restaurant in Godzone, while prepping for a third season of his TV show, A New Zealand Food Story.
Two years ago, the former My Kitchen Rules NZ judge completed the first season of Food Story as he prepared to launch restaurant Ahi in Commercial Bay.
After years of cooking French and Italian cuisine, 42-year-old Bayly wondered why he wasn't creating New Zealand food – and asked what was New Zealand food anyway?
But now, with Kiwi-inspired kai at his Auckland establishments, Ahi and The Grounds, firmly ensconced, and his love of Italian food channelled at his other two Arrowtown spots, Aosta and Little Aosta, Bayly is tipping his hat to the first 15 years of his career, French cuisine. In early August he will open Origine in the former Saxon + Parole spot by Ahi in Commercial Bay.
The impressive space will seat 100 diners as well as 50 at each of his upstairs and downstairs bars.
"We are doing the best of France, think of the top 20 French dishes you can imagine but done in a New Zealand way," Bayly tells Spy.
"We're opening in winter so we will open with hearty dishes with a great mix from my Ahi garden, some amazing seafood and more."
Bayly took over The Secret Garden in South Auckland and made it his own produce haven after struggling to find great vegetables at a fair price.
He confesses he may love gardening more than cooking these days. The garden uses organic principles and some days his Auckland clientele are eating vegetables picked that day.
At 16, when Bayly first started out as a young chef in the Waikato, all the best restaurants in the world were in France.
"I would read the cookbooks of the great French chefs with their Michelin stars, I was so inspired," he says.
His dream was to get to France one day and cook. He travelled around the world working in top kitchens in Australia, America and England that were all French-inspired and used French techniques.
"I eventually got the opportunity to work in France. I landed a job at a 2 Michelin Star restaurant called Jean-Paul Jeunet and ended up spending nearly four years in France."
Bayly says he had to go through that immersion in French food culture in his career to allow him to look at New Zealand food in a similar way.
"With Ahi and Origine in the same wonderful complex, I will be able to jump between the two, celebrating the modern New Zealand food scene in one restaurant and in the other restaurant I will be able to celebrate the cuisine that taught me so much."
Bayly has already shown much of the country on A New Zealand Food story, but he says there is so much more to show, the journey must continue and with a French spring also in his step, he says he will definitely be visiting great food producers in Akaroa in the South Island.