Gota admit I chose the wrong pre-summer day to be walking along the Takapuna waterfront. After having my hair teased and bullied outside, we literally got pushed inside The Commons. Door slammed shut, I was soon basking under the massaging fingers of the heaters.
We grabbed lunch there a few weeks back and it's easy to see why I always end up going back. For one thing, I didn't have to run over the bridge to have a slice of the town action. Yus. The food was fresh, challenging and a second/third visit was guaranteed because there were too many question marks and “What would that taste like” thought bubbles next to the menu descriptions.
We caught up with Executive Chef Nick Honeyman that blustery day to see what's cooking up behind the scenes.
Why the name “The Commons”?
It's like a Common Space. You can have breakfast at Elske, drinks or cocktails here or enjoy food in the bistro upstairs. At first when they found the site, it was going to be more of a Snapdragon along the Viaduct. But I'm all about food and dining so when I pitched them my idea – they loved it!
What is the first you do when you walk into The Commons?
Check bookings…see how busy we're going to be. Then I really get stuck into the prep, some things I leave cooking overnight. A typical day starts at about 8am and ends 1am. We were really busy when we first opened, most of us working 100 hours weeks- so now that things have settled a bit, it's not bad at all.
What makes The Commons so special?
It's really the location and the atmosphere. I hadn't been to the North Shore before The Commons came along, and it's such a relaxing place to be. It's the idea of having different spaces you can relax in. And fine dining at a more relaxed space.
I like the idea of people giving second chances with ingredients. For example, if people see “beetroot” on the menu, so many people already have preconceptions that they won't like the dish when beetroot is probably a very small part of the dish. That's why on the menus, we have a glossary on the back of it. The front just gives a very simple description of what the dish may be.
What's the challenge in finding fresh ingredients?
That's the best challenge – it's searching for the best ingredients. I work with great suppliers now and they give me the best freshest produce.
Would you change anything in the NZ food scene?
Definitely, it'll be protecting NZ produce. So much of our Kiwi produce is being exported and we're left with the leftovers at these ridiculous export prices. I'd like to see the protection of the market so we can enjoy more of our own produce.
Do you cook at home? What will be in your fridge if we raided it now?
Yup I always try to. I love food and because I use high end products all the time, I can just use really simple ingredients. I love pasta – I have it every weeknight. I taught my girlfriend how to make pasta now so now I can come home and eat this delicious pasta the way I would have made it!
In the fridge..you'd probably find lots of Up&Go. Lots and lots of it. Liquid meals are what I live on in the morning cos I just can't eat after having so much food the night before. Also, lots of cheese. Love cheese – especially brie. Olive oil and teriso sauce are probably the other two things.
Who taught you everything you know?
There's a variety – I've had so many mentors. I did a round of three years at different places. I'd say my cuisine is modern French with a Japanese influence. I learnt the old school French cooking, so it's using classic techniques in a new modern way.
What's one thing you wish you knew before you started your journey to become a chef?
I'm actually happy I didn't know much before I started. I've heard you had to work long hours but I just dismissed it. I was happy I was a bit naive and I'm lucky to have such supportive parents. Before I started uni, my dad bought me a ticket to go backpacking, because that's what he did when he was my age. When I was backpacking in Australia, I was working as a kitchen hand to earn some money. I was hooked. I loved cooking and the fast paced environment.
And to be such a great and prominent chef, you've really got to love cooking, your team and environment. Each chef we chat to always oozes incredible love for food and atmosphere is kept high by the banter in the kitchen.
That's the last of our chef interview series running up to the Taste of Auckland! Check out other chef secrets in the Interview Tab. Can't wait to eat more fresh NZ produce cooked up by our Kiwi chefs this weekend at Taste. Congrats to Chantel Dey who won herself a double pass to the event! Make sure you're following @UltimateOmNoms and on Facebook and keep an eye out for the next competition!
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