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“It was a surprise and it was really good,
seeing a female chef turn up. I think she
was a bit nervous at the start. Once she
got to know us, who we are as people, she
opened up. I learned a lot from her...”
Prison cook Paul echoed the thoughts
of other prisoners, chosen to train with
chef Amy Gillies, as part of the annual Visa
Wellington on a Plate Rimutaka Prison
‘Gate to Plate’ dinner. Kathy Ombler asked
Amy about the experience, also about her
journey to becoming one of Wellington’s
new young(er) chefs to watch out for.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION,
ARRIVING AT THE PRISON?
It was way bigger than I thought. All those
sections, or pods. It’s quite a journey the
guys go through before they are released,
or even to get to work in the kitchen. So the
cooks we worked with have come a long
way, they’re near the end of their journey, a
lot are studying, they’re trying hard.
HOW DID YOU GET ON WITH THEM?
They’re all very respectful. When you know
what some of them have done, it’s ‘agh’ –
but you have to move past that otherwise
they’re always going to be that person.
They need a chance.
HOW DID TRAINING THE PRISONERS
DIFFER FROM TRAINING STAFF IN YOUR
OWN RESTAURANT KITCHEN?
It’s a different ball game as usually they’re
cooking for 500 people, which is quite a
different style of cooking. The guys have
been trained but most haven’t ever worked
in a restaurant. They definitely have the
basics but you can’t assume they know
things. And they really like to do things
their own way; the portion sizes were huge
THE PRISONERS WERE INTRIGUED
WITH YOUR MUSHROOM DESSERT. TALK
US THROUGH IT.
We did a mushroom sponge, with goat’s
cheese cream, stout and golden raisins,
porcini meringue, thyme and brown butter.
I’d done it for a degustation, it has that
lovely kind of nutty flavour.
HERE’S WHAT ONE OF THE GUYS SAID
I hate mushrooms and I love this dessert.
You don’t eat the parts separately, it’s
got to go together then you’ll love it. Amy
showed us that.
It is kind of polarising.
GATE TO PLATE SOLD OUT WITHIN
MINUTES, IS IT A KIND OF VOYEURISM?
I guess yes, to a certain extent. However
the guys are really humbled that people are
interested, and care about this initiative.
WOULD YOU DO IT AGAIN?
Yes, definitely. At the same time I’d
encourage other chefs to go out there. It’s
quite an opportunity. Getting out of your
comfort zone is always good.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR OWN JOURNEY
AS A CHEF
I started quite late, when I was 28 I came
to Blenheim to train in viticulture but
missed the start of the course so went
into chef training. That was fortuitous, in
retrospect. I’ve worked in Melbourne, at
Turkish/Middle Eastern-style restaurants.
That influenced my style, I love the great,
delicate flavours, the pide breads. Then in
Wellington I worked at Martin Bosley’s and
Capitol. My husband JP (Henderson) and
I opened Salty Pidgin, in Brooklyn in 2015,
and we’ve just become co-owners of the
new Noble Rot wine bar, in town.
Tom Hutchison, at Capitol, and Martin
have both been really supportive. Martin
is just amazing with those guys at the
prison. Actually the whole Wellington
restaurant community is very tight,
everyone helps everyone.
WHAT’S CURRENTLY CHALLENGING YOU?
Staff shortages, from sous chef up. It’s
really hard. Everyone is struggling.
WHAT’S WORKING WELL?
At Salty Pidgin we get great support from
the neighbourhood. When we came in this
had kind of a sports bar feel and there was
already one down the road so we took out
the TVs. It’s quite a high socio-economic
area and we thought locals would want
something a bit more aspirational. We
listened to what they said. We have lots of
regulars, everyone knows everyone, it’s a
really nice atmosphere.
ADVICE FOR ASPIRING CHEFS?
It’s a great industry to be in. Its hard work
but it’s a rewarding, creative industry. It’s a
lifestyle, really. I
Chef Amy Gillies:
from the outside, in
Hospitality BUSINESS | October 2016 | 23
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