FROM GLOBE TO TROTTING…THE CHEF, THE FOOD, THE FEAST
It has been five years since Alexandra Park’s ‘Rockstar Chef,’ left a life on the road for a more ‘family-friendly’ life in a kitchen with a permanent address.
For this self-confessed music junkie, the roar of a big crowd has always been a drawcard, – unless you are David Bowie of course, who Richard rates as, “One of the nicest people you ever could have had the pleasure to meet and work for.”
The transition from chef to the stars and big stadium crowds has been considerably more seamless, and with more similarities than might be imagined. Richard says, “For a start, there are still plenty of stars, albeit most are on four legs and there is still a really good roar from the crowd.” With more than 1,000 events a year including Friday race nights, and over 156,000 visitors a year to Alexandra Park plus ten function spaces and the ever popular, The Alex Bar & Eatery, there is always plenty of action in the kitchen.
Alexandra Park Sales and Marketing Manager, Kim Walsh says, “Food is a massive drawcard for us as the word is well and truly out that yes, it may be a buffet, but not like most people have experienced before. We never tire of our guest feedback that the food exceeded expectation.”
Richard says, “An incredible collection of recipes and function menus curated over time and place are one of my most vital resources when it comes to continually keeping the culinary offering at Alexandra Park exciting and new.
Before the bright lights and big crowds beckoned, Richard’s culinary calling came from family beginnings. The concept of marrying flavours came from watching and learning from his Uncle and from this came his first ‘foodie’ love; A chicken and mushroom croquette, which in the day marked the height of sophistication.
Moving out of the family food circle, Richard dived deep into the heart of Auckland’s emerging culinary scene, which in the 1980’s was dominated by names that can be attributed to the evolution of Kiwi cuisine; Warwick Brown, Judith Tabron and Tony Astle. These names read like a roll of honour and took us from a ‘meat and three veg’ nation into a new culinary world. Not just mentors, these chefs offered the enthusiastic young chef a grounding which would serve him lessons for life in the kitchen.
With a taste of what lay beyond, Richard headed overseas armed with an “Uncompromising foundation.” First stop was Perth where Richard knocked on the door of the best restaurant in town. An unwavering ambition compensated for his lack of experience, which, while brief, had been immersive. At 20 years old, Richard was ready to go global.
With each new destination became an increasing awareness of ingredients and styles. The culmination of this early globetrotting landed Richard in London where he worked under Antony Worrall Thompson at the legendary Dell’Ugo in Soho. For Richard, the experience was reward itself, but the riches really lay in an early promise from ‘AWT’ to place Richard with his personal friends, the Troigrois Brothers in Paris.
The promise would be kept and the Michelin starred dream was within reach, but the universe pitched a curve ball and Richard caught it with both hands. That catch would dramatically change his culinary direction, but with it would come no regrets. A company that specialised in backstage catering for rock bands came a calling and with that came an offer to tour in the USA with the band, ‘Nirvana.’ Although a career highlight, it was sadly the final tour Nirvana would ever do.
For the next seven years, Richard was the ‘Rockstar Chef.’ A life on the road with the world’s top rock bands and stars, Richard recounts as “Every day was a different menu and with that came some very particular palettes to please.” The opportunity to secure a ‘Green Card,’ took Richard Stateside and kept him there for sometime before another love brought him back home.
Right alongside Richard’s love for his craft is his passion for the people he works with. In an often, transient industry, there is a great sense of pride in having trained and retained a dedicated kitchen brigade. “In the kitchen, collaboration is key, and multiculturalism is a big part of that. There is a lot of sharing and collaboration amongst our team and more than one family recipe makes its way onto a special menu. Authenticity is everything, and without it, you are nothing.”
When asked what he can’t do without in the kitchen, Richard counts, “Good stock, good reductions, handmade produce, excellent knife skills and a shared dislike of pre-produced food” as being amongst his pre-requisites.
So, for Richard, while he occasionally answers the call of the road, the pace of the track and the roar of Alexandra Park’s regular crowd offers the greatest reward.