Home' Hospitality Business : HB MAR 2016 Contents Hospitality BUSINESS | March 2016 | 21
Former Blanket Bay chef James Lewis has been dreaming of
opening his own restaurant, Catalysis, for some time, but felt
some business experience would be helpful. The young Canadian
did just that last year, taking the bull by the horns – literally - as
retail manager at Neat Meat’s new Queenstown butchery. In the
meantime he’s teamed up with an Australian sommelier to run
Catalysis as a pop-up restaurant using cafés closed in the evenings.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO A COOKING CAREER?
I took a new course in high school – cooking. I hopped on a bus
and went to another school for half a day because my school didn’t
have those facilities. It seemed like an adventure each time I went,
though the participants were exactly like The Breakfast Club.
Cooking never seemed like a career path for me, but I was pretty
good at understanding the concepts. I enjoyed it because it was all
new information to me, and it kept overlapping and being needed.
Spend one week on classic French, the next on Spanish cuisine -
the principles/fundamentals were all so similar, but so different.
HOW OLD ARE YOU NOW AND WHERE HAS YOUR CAREER
AS A CHEF TAKEN YOU AROUND THE WORLD?
I’m 27. It’s something I don’t freely expose. I’ve worked in world
class restaurants all over the globe, including The Fat Duck, Moto,
Geranium, Pied à Terre, Pier, Quay - but I haven’t seen any of
these places. I’ve worked in Perth and Sydney, Australia, Chicago,
many Canadian cities, New Zealand, London and Copenhagen
but I’ve only taken time off once. I was forced to while in London
so flew over to Malta to go rock climbing and kayaking. If I could
afford to take annual leave, I’d be all over it.
WHO HAS INFLUENCED YOU THE MOST
IN YOUR COOKING STYLES?
In total truth, no one individual has influenced me alone. I’ve
learnt from everyone and everything I’ve done. Certain people
have developed me and they’re great mentors - Chad Blunston
is one of them. My first interaction was getting put in my place in
his office. Respect is a big part for me, and I suppose my cooking
style has turned to that – truly respect the ingredients and they’ll
tell the story you want them to.
HOW DID YOU END UP IN NEW ZEALAND, AND
WHERE HAVE YOU WORKED HERE?
New Zealand fascinated me for a long time, it’s like Canada, but
in a fist - all squeezed together. You can ski and then surf the next
day without a 5-hour flight. I initially came over to run Bec Spa in
Blenheim, straight from college (probably naive, but it taught me a
good lesson). I stayed two weeks, accepted no pay and thanked the
owners, telling them I was sorry, but I couldn’t do this role. That
was the first real experience where I had to be the bigger man.
I then went to Chateau Tongariro as CDP of Larder, Entremetier
and Pastry. I worked between the Chateau and Wairakei Resort in
Taupo, being carted back and forth with the vegetable deliveries.
HOW DID YOU SCORE THE JOB AS SOUS CHEF AT
BLANKET BAY AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN THERE?
That was six years ago, then I came back to Blanket Bay after
applying while I was in London. I’d applied years before hand, but
forgot about it really until I received a Small Luxury Hotels coffee
table book as a gift with Blanket Bay featured in it. Lots of email
correspondence with chef Corey Hume, phone calls and visa work,
then four months later I landed. I learned the art of managing,
and as the menu was ever-changing it let us work on concepts
and ideas all the time. I also had a good relationship with the
gardeners, so I could learn and use the produce we grow on site.
WHAT SORT OF COOKING/FOOD ARE YOU
MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT?
I like to cook what I feel. I usually try to make food that I want to
eat as well, so you won’t see me use offal or cumin very often. I
love peanut butter, so that might come out in nice ways. I like food
that has a story, a history. I want my food to start something in the
guest and community, hence the name Catalysis.
WHY DID YOU TAKE THE JOB AS RETAIL MANAGER FOR
NEAT MEAT’S FIRST QUEENSTOWN STORE LAST YEAR
AND WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO LEARN FROM THIS?
I wanted to learn the business side of hospitality from a different
vantage point. I have seen too many cooks want things too fast, and
ultimately fail. I spent 10 years as CDP before I felt sure enough of
myself to move to that sous position. I felt that learning the business
from the walls of a kitchen was very linear and potentially flawed,
so I stepped out. I can now see how the entire district’s kitchens
manage and run their business and my ‘sample’ size is so much
bigger to learn from. Also, openings are so cool. You feel like part of
the process and want to invest in it, give it your time and bleed for it.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM AND HOW ARE YOU
WORKING TO ACHIEVE THAT?
I’ve been working on my restaurant concept for about five years
now. Catalysis means the process/action of a catalyst, so my food
should result in a response from the guest. The slogan is ‘let’s
start something...” The pop-up was a good thing for Queenstown, I
have never heard of something like that here, so why not? Pop-ups
are quite popular every else in the foodie world. It’s time we got
Queenstown on the map. For Catalysis to work, I need the community
to help, and the success of the pop-up was a very good sign. I
Links Archive HB FEB 2016 HB APL 2016 Navigation Previous Page Next Page