“They make the family meal the focus of their daily lives. They interact around the dinner table enjoying good, simple food and sharing their emotions and passions. We tend to show our emotions round the telly watching sport. We need to learn how to kick start our enthusiasm for food by sharing our lives over meals with our families.”
Chris first came to national attention as the winner of the reality television showHell’s Kitchen in 1993. The contestants were the “guinea pigs” in a trial format that went on to spawn seriously successful series in the United States and Britain.
“It was a real eye opener,” Chris says of the experience. “It was meant to feel like boot camp but it felt a lot more like a holiday camp compared to what I’d been doing – working full-on as a chef and helping to raise a young family.
“Still, it was an interesting journey. I went on the programme hoping to promote my passion for using locally sourced food. In the final, I based my menu around Marlborough produce. It was a more straightforward approach to the whole fine dining experience and it was great that I won because it put a different take on cooking in the spotlight.”
Chris has been a champion of the farmers markets that have blossomed around the country in recent years and is chairperson of Farmers Markets NZ, which has just held its national conference in Marlborough. “The markets have gained a huge momentum in the past few years. We had speakers from around the world sharing information and insights. The groundswell internationally is partly a reaction to the whole industrialisation of food production. Bernadette Prince from America came to speak to us and she was envious of our situation. We haven’t reached the levels of industrialised food production here yet for a start, and our farmers’ markets are more authentic than those in the United States where they have become so popular that they have to cope with weeding out lots of middle men.”
Chris’ interest in the importance of using regional produce where possible was piqued when he worked in a five-star hotel in London 10 years ago. “We used to get quality cuts of meat from a little butcher’s shop down the road. Then we were told by the company accountants that we couldn’t use the butchers any more because they weren’t ‘accredited’ and cost too much. It was crazy.” The butcher went on to win a prestigious best small butcher award and an early encounter with Gordon Ramsay’s idea of “regional” restaurants helped to cement his philosophy.
“It’s simple really – good cooking is all about a focus on using quality regional produce with respect and professionalism.”
Chris reckons that eating food is all about creating and revisiting memories and it’s this perspective that has seen him write what he calls his “nana book”. Pick, Preserve, Serve – enjoying local and home-grown produce year-round is a comprehensive guide to preserving food, with easy instructions for different methods, recipes and lists of seasonal produce.
“It’s the way a lot of our mothers or grandmothers approached food. My grandmother had a vegetable garden and used to cook and preserve what was in season. You need to do it because you enjoy it because it does take time but it can be extremely rewarding.”
Chris hopes that his book is “the untrendiest book in the world”.
“When things are trendy, they go out of fashion after a while. I want my book to still be used in 10 or 20 years’ time. I want it to be dog-eared and covered in stains from being propped open on the kitchen bench,” he says laughing.
“There are growing problems with diabetes and obesity and we need to look at our attitude to food. It doesn’t have to be expensive food and we don’t need to eat large quantities – I see that as the American way. It’s better that it is good-quality produce cooked honestly. You don’t need heaps and heaps of food to enjoy a happy meal together.
“Sitting round a table enjoying fresh food and good conversation with your family is what life is all about. The best meals are often just happy experiences.”
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