Ostro’s new head chef working alongside Josh Emett has brought the robust flavours and attention to detail that he learned in Sydney home to our waterfront.
Are you from Auckland? I was raised in Waipu, a small place about two hours north, in the Green Bay area.
I know Waipu. It used to have a really cool cafe, when we’d drive up north we used stop in there. Last time we went were sad to find it had gone. Yeah, it burned down last Christmas. My sister used to work there.
No! Blonde hair? Yes!
She’s great! They’re always so happy and fun in there. Haha. They’ll rebuild. It was big news in Waipu though. Waipu is pretty much one street so that cafe was pretty much half the town!
I don’t think this conversation could get more Kiwi if we tried. Haha.
How do you get to Britomart? I drive from Glen Innes and park in the Britomart car park. I’m yet to familiarise myself with the train system here. Until a few months ago, I was in Sydney and I never owned a car. Not many people own cars there because with the train system you can go from anywhere to anywhere, it’s every 10 minutes, it runs late. I think if the trains could run later here it would be better. I don’t finish here until midnight sometimes.
What do you do here? I’m the head chef. I run the kitchen. We have multi levels, we do catering on a couple of levels, we have a private dining room upstairs with its own kitchen, a patisserie and Ostro.
How did you get into it? From the age of about 14 or 15 I’d worked in kitchens with my aunty, as she was a chef. When I was a poor student in Hamilton I got a job at Novotel Taunui in Hamilton starting as a kitchen-hand and moved up. I quit university. Hands-on working in the kitchen just felt really comfortable for me.
I was senior sous chef at Cafe Sydney, a big shop on the waterfront. Not too dissimilar to this, but two or three times the size. I worked in Sydney for 10 years and pretty much as soon as we knew we were having a baby we made the decision to come home. Back where it all began.
What are you going for here? I’m trying to push Mediterranean food and flavours. We had about 40 people on our roster at Cafe Sydney. It took a lot of management, but the structures I learnt there were second to none, which is kind of what I’m aiming to do here.
You have to make things work simply, but executed well. You can put anything on a menu, but if you can’t execute it every time to the same level – and it’s not about what you can do it’s about what you can get others to do. There’s going to be three different people doing that dish, and if they can’t all do it exactly the same then it’s not consistent.
What’s the most popular thing on the menu? Lobster and snapper pie. We pretty much sell out of those every day. It’s rich and very good.
What’s your favourite thing on the menu? The most delicious thing for me is probably the Beef Wellington. I’d never served it before and I came here and it was on the menu and I thought “How does that work?” It is a 40-minute wait minimum, and really needs to be well executed. I wouldn’t even attempt to do it! We’ve got a couple of guys here who can do it perfectly. I make sure at least one of them is always here.
What’s your favourite hidden Auckland City gem? I don’t go out much. Haha. Me and my partner take our baby for walks around Panmure Basin, we love it there. But I really like this Britomart area. Yesterday I went to the bars in the alleyway off Galway St [Roukai Lane]. It’s got a really nice scene down there. When I left Auckland, none of this was here and I came back and was like, “Wow this is really nice.”
Coming back, what do you think about the standard of cuisine in Auckland? I think it’s pretty bloody good. I think New Zealand keeps up there with the rest, and it’s also pretty cutting-edge.