Interviewed by Susan Streit, De Gustibus Blogger
You grew up on a farm in New Zealand. How did that first influence your cooking?
We were encouraged [by our parents] to do a lot of cooking on the farm–dinners, baking. I did a lot of baking. We weren’t allowed to purchase lots of biscuits or cakes, they were expensive, so we baked those at home. Cooking can be very time consuming, and that kept me out of trouble. My mom did a lot of pickling and other sorts of things that were easy and cheap. We were on a budget. We killed our own animals on the farm, but got butchers to take care of the rest.
Tell us about your professional training.
I started working washing dishes at age 15. I left school at 18 and did my culinary training at the Waikato Institute of Technology in a region of New Zealand called Hamilton. They had a professional cookery course that I did for 2 years, and I was simultaneously working full-time in restaurants. I was working and paying my way through. I finished at age 20 and continued to work in restaurants.
How did you come to cook in the United States?
I spent a long time cooking in England, 11 years actually. For three years I was in Australia after a long 7-year stint with Chef Gordon Ramsay in the United Kingdom. I was in between positions with him. He wanted a supporting role in New York and he contacted me.
You are Chef du Cuisine at Gordon Ramsey at The London in New York City and in West Hollywood. How do you split your time between these two restaurants?
I don’t spend too much time in Los Angeles anymore, but in the beginning I did spend a lot of time there. I set it up and it’s working. I spend all of my time in New York now. And that’s nice.
Any differences in the Gordon Ramsey New York and Los Angeles menus?
The menus both have the same style of cooking, but a not necessarily the same approach. There is a bit of an Asian approach in the Los Angeles menu. The presentation of the food is slightly different between the two restaurants, also.
What about the ingredients on both of the menus?
California has such great ingredients. They are so easily accessible, especially since the have a different climate. The ingredients are better. Well, not necessarily the meats, but the vegetables and fruits are much better. They all look so good and fresh, too.
For your New York restaurant do you shop at the Greenmarkets?
I’ve been there a few times, but generally I just don’t have the time. We use them for seeing what’s available during the seasons. Unfortunately it’s difficult for us to shop there on a daily basis. We can send someone there if we need something specific picked up-seasonal stuff, like berries. I like using the Greenmarkets as an indication of what’s going on and happening with our local produce.
What underrated ingredient do you love to cook with?
Any ingredient? There are a few, but first, vegetables. Rutabaga, which is sweet, is a sensational vegetable. I do a lot of cooking with all of the winter squashes. I like doing lots of things with rabbit. It’s very popular here at the restaurant. We always have some variation here on the menu of rabbit.
Are there any restaurants in the city you like to visit on your days off?
There are a lot I like. I just had a baby, so I haven’t been out that much. It’s autumn, so Park Avenue Autumn-basically whatever season it is at that restaurant. I was just recently upstate [in New York] at the Bedford Post Inn. I went up there with no sort of idea of what it was. I had just an amazing dinner–one of the best I’ve had in a long time. Even breakfast was phenomenal.
Would you be willing to share a recipe with the De Gustibus readers?
I served this dessert while at De Gustibus. A variation of it is currently on the menu, an amazing dessert. It’s absolutely delicious.
Coconut dacquoise with passion fruit and cilantro
3 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup dessicated coconut
1 cup 10x confectioner’s sugar
Make a meringue with the sugar and whites. Fold in sifted 10x confectioner’s sugar and coconut and bake at 380°F for 8-12 minutes.
1 qt. coconut purée
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 cup powdered glucose
2 cup water
1 vanilla pod
Warm purée and water with the vanilla. Add sugars and whisk until dissolved. Blitz and pass; allow to mature before churning.
Passion fruit crème:
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup passion fruit purée
8 oz. soft butter
Whisk sugar, eggs and purée over a bain-marie until thick. Slightly cool and blitz in butter until smooth.
1 pineapple, diced
Juice of 3 limes/zest
Dice pineapple and sauté with a small amount of butter and sugar until they start to appear glassy. Add lime juice and remove from stove. Cool over an ice bath and zest from the lime.
Using a square ring cutter, cut a piece from the coconut cake and place it in the center of the plate. Fill a piping bag with the passion fruit crème and pipe a 1/4” thick layer over the coconut dacquoise. Mound two large teaspoons of pineapple dice over the crème. Shave fresh coconut over the pineapple with a microplane. Add a large quenelle of coconut sorbet on top. Garnish with fresh micro cilantro.