The trend for flying in international chefs for exclusive dining events is a welcome one. It gives discerning foodies an opportunity to broaden their culinary experiences without having to get out the passport.
The next international star to hit our shores is Pete Evans - an award-winning Australian chef, author, and television personality, thanks to his role on My Kitchen Rules.
Evans will be sharing his style of relaxed elegant food at the relaxed and elegant lodge at Kauri Cliffs in Northland on Saturday, April 13. Excitingly, he will bring his friend, American chef Gavin Baker - a native of North Carolina whose kitchen experience includes working as sous chef under Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck in England. Evans and Baker met on a ski field in Utah and are about to open a new restaurant, Little Hunter, in Melbourne's Collins St.
The two chefs will work alongside New Zealand winemakers Tim and Judy Finn, who will present wines from their Neudorf Vineyard in Nelson throughout the meal.
Kauri Cliffs is an experience in itself, with its world-class golf course, spa, exquisite service and accommodation, and amazing views out over the Pacific Ocean. Combined with the one-off dinner, it is guaranteed to be a weekend to remember.
Pete Evans talks to Viva in the countdown to the event.
What do you love right now about being a chef?
My passion for my craft has always been about growing and evolving and sharing what I learn with others. I especially love teaching people, young and old, how to cook healthy, delicious family orientated meals. I'm currently studying with The Institute of Integrative Nutrition so I'll have a greater depth of knowledge as to how food effects our health and wellness. When you consider the alarmingly high rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, it's disturbing to say the least. I believe I'm in a unique position to help spread the word about healthier options, and that's an honour.
Your philosophy is "cook with love and laughter". Can you elaborate?
It's really my philosophy in regards to everything in life. It's amazing how you can make the most mundane things enjoyable if you wear a smile and have a laugh while you're doing it. I spent a good 25 years in the kitchen, often doing 100-hour weeks, and the way I got through it was with good tunes and plenty of laughs. I always took my job very seriously but I was also conscious about working in an environment that had good energy, hence my mantra - cook with love and laughter.
Tell us about your friendship with Gavin Baker, who you will be cooking with at Kauri Cliffs and who you have opened a restaurant with in Melbourne's CBD?
Gavin's an incredibly inspiring and talented chef from North Carolina. We worked together in Park City a few years ago and stayed in touch after the gig because we shared similar philosophies in life, and also in how we envisioned the type of restaurants we'd like to create. Little Hunter is the first of a few collaborations, and it's been a great journey so far.
What is your vision for Little Hunter? Who and what has inspired you?
We wanted to create a fresh, modern grill house that showcased Australia's finest produce without the usual steak house stigma. Little Hunter draws inspiration from the land, the farmer, and the finest breeds in Australia to establish clean, simple and thoughtful flavours. Our goal is to be constantly learning, growing and staying at the forefront of our craft. Everything at Little Hunter is house made with attention to detail, and we cure, smoke and preserve ourselves, so nothing is left to chance.
Talk us through what you will be serving at Kauri Cliffs?
We'll be serving a selection from our "Little Hunter" menu and showcasing some fine Kiwi produce.
What is your experience of New Zealand cuisine?
I love Kiwi cuisine, I find it very honest and humble. I can't get enough of your green-lipped mussels, they've got to be up there with the best mussels in the world. They're healthy, affordable, sustainable and easily attainable, and in my book that's ideal.
Does your girlfriend Nicola Robinson have a Kiwi dish she cooks for you?
Nic and I usually cook together, I often do the meat and she does the salads, and hands-down she creates the best salads I've ever eaten. Nic's a South Island country girl, so if that's something they do good in the south, that's my favourite Kiwi dish. She's handy on the line, too, we went to Kakadu just out of Darwin to fish and cook at a resort, and the very first Barramundi that she hooked, played, reeled in and released was 85cm.
At Kauri Cliffs, your meal will be matched with wines from Neudorf Vineyards. What's your take on NZ wine? Will you be stocking it in your new restaurant? There's healthy competition between New Zealand and Australia!
Kiwi wine is certainly up there, that's for sure, I'm not a big drinker, but I know I've had a couple of reds from the South Island and also from Waiheke Island that have been memorable. I'm not one to buy into the whole Aussie-Kiwi competitiveness, I think it's great when we both succeed in everything on the world stage so, yes, we'll definitely be stocking some great Kiwi wines in Little Hunter.
Kauri Cliffs has some beautiful beaches. Are you bringing your surfboard and golf clubs? Tell us what you do while you're not in the kitchen and what you plan to do while you're in the North of New Zealand (apart from cook!)?
I usually take my surfboard everywhere in case I get a chance to catch a wave but, unfortunately, we're only over for a very quick visit, so I'll be in the kitchen the whole time I'm afraid.
What's your favourite current ingredient?
Coconuts! One for the amazing oil, it's the only oil I use to cook with due to its ability to withstand heat and, of course, its numerous health benefits. Two, for the refreshing coconut water, I drink it and cook with it all the time. And three, the creamy flesh, it's perfect for savoury and sweet dishes, and it's the ideal healthy treat for my daughters.
How would your staff describe you?
Organised and easy-going.
Top culinary tip?
Work with good equipment, starting with your knives, there's nothing worse than working with crappy knives - that's when accidents happen.
What are your pantry cupboard essentials?
Coconut oil, cold-pressed olive oil, a wide selection of herbs, raw nuts and seeds, and coconut flour. At home we don't really stray too far from vegetables, fish, seafood, meat, poultry, herbs and spices, nuts, seeds and fruit. It sounds simple, I know, but it's just what works for us and we make some incredible feasts with simple, honest, real food.
What's the kitchen appliance you can't live without?
Probably our blender, we make green smoothies everyday, and it would be a bit of a mission to make good ones without it.
Who in the food world do you most admire?
The hard-working farmers who produce sustainable, naturally, humanely raised animals whose meat provides healthy, balanced nutrients. We only use organic, sustainable, grass-fed meat at Little Hunter because, after extensive research and good old common sense, it's by far the best and fairest option.
What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing, I have absolutely no problem going straight to sleep, but I always wake up just before the sun for a surf.
What would be your desert island dish?
Ceviche - simple, raw, refreshing, with everything your body needs.
When you're off duty, what do you cook?
It depends on the season, during the warmer months we make plenty of salads, ceviches, and sashimi platters. During the colder months we make beautiful soups, stews, curries and braises. But the one thing I make throughout the year is "cultured vegetables" like kim chi or sauerkraut. We have them with every meal because they're a natural probiotic and allow you to digest your food easier and absorb more nutrients.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Spending everything I save on chasing the best waves in the world, but I have no guilt about it. I learned to cook so that I could work at night and surf all day. We have a rather huge collection of surfboards at home, too, because we all surf - we have to park our cars on the street because our garage is jam-packed with boards.
Describe your most memorable meal?
The best meals are the ones that I share with Nic and my daughters, Chilli and Indii. I admire well-executed dishes, but food for me is made memorable by the people I share it with. My family and I always have an enjoyable time around the dinner table, and those are the memories I cherish.
• Pete Evans at Kauri Cliffs, Sat, April 13. $800 a person, per night. Includes pre-dinner drinks, canapes, dinner with Pete Evans and Gavin Baker, wine by Neudorf Vineyards, full breakfast, use of unlimited green fees or 50 minute massage per person.
To book, ph: (09) 407 0010 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info, go to kauricliffs.com