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Chef Grant Kitchen arrived at the Lake House Arts in early March to take over the kitchen and convert what was a casual café into a 'must-visit' café and restaurant.
Grant may be known to many Takapuna locals as chef at the much-lauded Pinto Plus during his 18 month stint there. He is also head chef at No.5 restaurant and Le Chef in O’Connell Street, and National Salon Director for the New Zealand Chefs Association. That involves running the national hospitality competitions and coordinating the New Zealand Culinary High Performance Squad in its international competitions. He also demonstrates at Auckland Seafood School.
Now, he’s at his own restaurant, named Chef at the Lakehouse. “It was an interim name, or so I thought,” confesses Grant, but it had the right connotations for the kind of restaurant he is creating. Moving to the Lake House was “an opportunity to showcase the food I like to do and the service I like to offer – contemporary bistro with lots of flavour and healthy options”.
He describes the food as “retrospective and contemporary at the same time. I’m taking the food we all grew up with and creating new flavours a different way. There’ll be a focus on good service, and on using tried and true cooking methods and techniques.”
His brunch, dinner and corporate hospitality menus all reflect his favourite flavours and cuisines. There’ll be an emphasis on what he says are the marks of any great chef: soups, stocks and sauces made from scratch. “We’ll be foraging as well,” he adds, from the Lake House garden.
“We’re doing everything ourselves,” he says, “so we know what’s in the food, and we have the ability to change dishes to meet dietary and allergy requirements.”
It will be no problem to cater for vegan or vegetarian diners. “We know what’s in each dish,” he says, “so we can deconstruct it. But one of my favourite things to do is ask ‘Would you trust the chef to make something for you?’.” He launches into a mouth-watering description of a recent dish that incorporated (among other things) thyme-scented roasted mushrooms, dried tomatoes and a fresh salsa.
Chef at the Lakehouse, Grant says, is an opportunity for him to be hands-on and “do some really good food in a new way”. That includes “grandma’s mayonnaise” (yes, it really does use sweetened condensed milk) with an iceberg lettuce salad, sourdough croutons, tomato and prosciutto. He’s sourcing free range organic produce when he can, and local seasonal produce. This includes the wines (once he gets a licence for Chef), which will come from local vineyards in Matakana, Kumeu and Waiheke, to complement a selection of the best international wines.
So far it’s early days for Chef. The first brunch menu tested the limitations of the kitchen. He’s now launching menu changes, and you can expect this and the dinner menu to evolve with the seasons. He’s not using prime cuts of meat at the moment, he says – breakfast and lunchtime diners are price conscious. He’s also managing daytime serving sizes, avoiding the temptation to overload plates with more than people can enjoy, and is making sure that all items can be prepared quickly. “People only have a small window for lunch so I’ve designed the menu accordingly.”
Grant brings his considerable talent and experience to Chef at the Lakehouse, and it’s clear that this new old-style café has diners and their enjoyment of the food he creates at its heart.
Chef at the Lakehouse, Lake House Arts, 37 Fred Thomas Drive, Takapuna 09 486 0802
All day brunch 8am-4pm seven days a week.
Dinners Tuesday – Saturday pending a new licence – watch http://www.lakehousearts.org.nz/webpages/lake-house-cafe/ for updates
Channel Magazine: Issue 76 May 2017