Top chef Wylie Dean is calling out a five-star luxury Northland venue which he claims turned down his job application because of his tattoos.

Dean, who has worked all over world in luxury restaurants and served celebrity customers including Sylvester Stallone and Ashley Judd, thought the advertised sous chef role at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs was "tailor-made" for him.

He was offered a trial, but this morning said he received a phone call with some startling news.

"Usually they might say you are not right for the role, but they were really straight up, saying it was because of my tattoos.


"I was really offended, I thought it was a joke."

The Herald has sought verification and comment from Kauri Cliffs and the recruitment agency Frontline but has not received a response.

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Dean, 46, got his first tattoo when he was 16, the same age he started working as a chef.

Since then he said he had spent about $12,000 on his tattoos.

Some of his body art spoke to his whakapapa, with his father of Northland iwi Te Rarawa.

While it is within employers' rights to discriminate against tattoos, it is unlawful when they are of cultural or religious significance, according to the Human Rights Commission.

Dean said he applied for the sous chef role through recruitment agency Frontline.


After sending through his CV he said he received positive feedback, and had a phone interview this week.

Top chef Wylie Dean says he was turned down for a role at Kauri Cliffs because of his tattoos. Photo / Supplied
Top chef Wylie Dean says he was turned down for a role at Kauri Cliffs because of his tattoos. Photo / Supplied

Yesterday he said he received a call from Frontline about heading in for a trial, but this morning was told he was being turned down for the role.

"They said it was because the role was customer-facing, that it was their policy at Kauri Cliffs [not to have tattoos].

"It doesn't make sense though, I've done catering for famous people all over the world and it has never been an issue."

Dean has worked in top restaurants throughout New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and many other countries. He has also appeared on food TV shows, including Monteith's Wild Food Challenge.

"You'd think if it was good enough for those places, to be on TV, it'd be OK there. People normally just think they are cool. How many chefs out there don't have tattoos?

"It is 2019 - I just didn't think this kind of thing happened anymore."

Dean, who is originally from Kaitaia, said he had moved back to the region to start up some food truck businesses and a non-profit restaurant, and was interested in the short-term role at Kauri Cliffs for the summer.

A person working at Kauri Cliffs reception said the company had no comment on the matter, and provided an email address to send a query to.

A Frontline staff member hung up immediately when the Herald contacted them about the allegations.

In February Whangārei man Sydney Heremaia was turned down for an Air New Zealand customer service agent role because of a tā moko on his right shoulder, and tatau, a Samoan design, on his left forearm.

Air New Zealand initially defended its policy, stating "customer facing staff are not permitted to have tattoos visible when wearing the uniform", which drew the ire of Māori politicians and leaders.

In June the airline announced it was backing down from the policy.

Other organisations have also embraced tattoos, including police which recently launched a recruitment campaign around skin art in a bid to encourage more people to join the force.

Up to 95 per cent of police recruits are believed to have tattoos.

During the Rugby World Cup in Japan, the All Blacks covered up their tattoos while using traditional onsen, or spas, as tattoos could be offensive there because of their association with criminal elements.