It's a gastronomic (with a capital G) treat at The Blind Finch hamburgeria in Ohakune.

Former Whanganui boy and international chef Derek Allomes is bringing the burger to breakfast, lunch and tea with the Saigon Smile (pork crackling, pickled carrot and cucumber, fresh chilli and coriander) and the Bombay Express featuring butter chicken - just two of the offerings.

Derek has been a private chef overseas and cooked on super yachts, but has returned home to open a restaurant and gourmet burger outlet in Ohakune's Goldfinch St.

He left Whanganui High School at age 15 "because I was hopeless at school", and headed off to learn baking at a local supermarket.


The "hideously" early morning starts got to him, and he decided his best bet was to sign up at UCOL (then Wanganui Polytech) and train as a chef.

From a "brilliant basic" training, Derek went on to open the cafe Cracked Pepper with his sister in Victoria Ave, Whanganui.

The cafe, which was sold earlier this year, was known for its eggs benedict and even won a national eggs benny title.

However, Derek headed out of Whanganui 12 years ago.

"I knew I had to see the world, travel, get more experience and a solid grounding in global cuisine."

Within five years he was off to Spain and auditioning as a top chef on the world's super yachts owned by Russian new-money oligarchs, American electronics billionaires and wealthy British aristocrats.

"It was absolutely all about the rich and famous, endless celebrities, and my lips are permanently sealed."
Seven years of freelancing around the super yacht community was often complex, always exciting and a way of life. But though it had all the glitter it did eventually pall, he said.

"Being able to order in and select the finest ingredients no matter what the cost was every chef's dream."
And when the owners "parked" the boat up while they went and stayed at one of their many worldwide homes, the staff and crew found themselves often enjoying pizza in Naples, tapas in Barcelona or the sun in St Tropez, Majorca or Portugal.

The downside of super yacht living was the intense work hours when the owners were on board, cooking three gourmet meals a day for the boss, his family and friends, and cooking for the staff and crew as well, he said.

"Then there was always living in a cabin, always with a cabin mate. There was no real privacy and not a lot of space for your personal things."

One of the highlights was dining at world-renowned three-Michelin star restaurants in Europe, including one in Copenhagen. "It was expensive, but what thrill it was to be able to dine there. I'll never forget it.

"For anyone who adores gourmet food like me, it was the ultimate food experience. Everything was extraordinary ... everything."

Derek returned home last year. His parents still live in Whanganui. His aim was to open a gourmet burger restaurant and eventually a fine-food restaurant.

He toured the South Island thinking tourist hot spot Queenstown would be the ideal place but soon changed his mind when he looked at the financial logistics. "It was ridiculous, it really was."

Setting up in Ohakune had been perfect, he said.

"It's got everything - tourists, fantastic locals, a mountain, a winter and summer season."
He built his restaurant to his own design and its name alludes to the quirky, spacious interior.

"It's basically steampunk, which is taking the ideas of the Victorian era in regard to technology. It's technology based on steam power, and is usually ornate and showy with gears and cogs and pipes."

His burger menu has fascinated customers, and after just a week he already has regulars.

The menu includes burgers like Saigon Smile (Vietnam), Bombay Express (India, with butter chicken or dhal pattie, mango chutney and raita), and the Stallion (Italy, with chicken, prosciutto, Napoli sauce, grilled mozzarella and basil pesto).

Like an artist, when he surveys his work Derek is still critical of his new business.

His appraisal is picky but you can detect some personal pride.

"I think it's looking good. My customers are happy, I'm happy and if it works, maybe there'll be a franchise in the wind."

And the name - it's a nod to the old speakeasies that used to be known as a blind pig or blind tiger.