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hef Dan Fraser answers questions with the staccato speed of a quiz
competitor beating the bell. But then he’s used to deadlines, and
expects fast reactions when the bell rings, hundreds of times a
day, to call The Duke’s waiters to “the pass”.That’s when culinary
creations must be served quickly to the six dining sections now stretching
from garden bar to ballroom to beach. The pass is the knife edge, the portal
where kitchen and service staff meet like the two oceans at Cape Reinga.
Dan, however, exper iences very few swells or stor ms. “I’m calm in
the kitchen – I would like to say placid. I like to give r ibbings, a bit of
banter. There’s a time and a place where you need to raise your voice,
but I don’t appreciate the angry style.You don’t get the best out of
people by yelling at them,” he believes.
Daniel Fraser was educated at Long Bay College on Auckland’s North
Shore, then at Auckland University of Technology, but his food education
began at age 14, working at local pubs and bars as a “dishie”. “I’ve always
been passionate about food; I always knew that’s what I was going to do.”
After stints in Australia, interspersed by cooking at Auckland’s
Killarney Street and Praxis, and contracts on Regent Seven Seas cruise
liners, Dan arr ived at Euro, the Nourish Group’s Auckland flagship.The
5-star cruise ships had taught him how to deliver high-end European
cuisine for large numbers, and this was honed at the 400-seater
Auckland trendsetter Euro. Dan was eventually appointed, from 2008, as
senior sous-chef to Simon Gault, whom he names as a major influence.
In 2010, a one week stint at The Duke expanded into his migration
to Russell. “Probably it was work-life balance,” says Dan, recounting
the apartment living and long hours in Auckland. He had also lived in
the Far North (Ahipara) as a youngster – “an amazing time of my life”.
Shortly after the two cur rent co-owning families bought The Duke,
Dan found himself Executive Chef. “Since then the place has just got
better and better.” Dan is proud about the sparsity of fried food coming
from the kitchen now, and enjoys the delivery of fresh whole fish from
a dedicated fishing boat to the on-site preparation kitchen, allowing
Dan and his brigade to serve some of the freshest fish in the country.
“New Zealand pride” is fir mly a part of the food concept at The
Duke. “Rather than Italian or Japanese, for example, people are aware of
New Zealand food, which is quite cool.
Fresh, seasonal and local is Dan’s food philosophy. His olive oil comes
from Mangonui, honey from Paihia, and Kawakawa leaves are picked
sustainably from large local trees. He doesn’t favour foraging from an
environmental perspective. “If I went out and foraged all my samphire
(sea vegetable) there would be no samphire left!”
His “simple food cooked well” mantra also translates into new takes on
the classics, such as a pinacolada-inspired dairy-free, coconut pannacotta
with rum-infused pineapple. “I like to work with flavours people already
know and are possibly nostalgic about. I like bold colour and flavours
on a plate. The dish I’m in love with at the moment is our fish with a
crayfish bisque and chor itzo, because they are such punchy flavours.”
That dish started “in the head”, then with “a little banter” with the
chefs. “Figur ing it out in the head then tur ning it into a recipe works
nine out of ten times,” says Dan.
Earlier this year (2017) Dan reckons he was the most talked-about
chef in the country “for about two days!”The spurt of fame came
when an inspector instructed that The Duke would have to start
cooking its popular lunch dish, a medium-rare Gover nor’s Burger, to
well-done. “It tur ned into something absolutely ridiculous. People
don’t like being told what they can and can’t eat.”
Fortunately Dan persisted, and rather than remove the dish if forced
to over-cook it, he worked in sympathy with the Ministry of Primary
Industr ies (MPI) to develop handling practices that would allow the
dish to be served as intended, and, he says, as most diners enjoyed.
“MPI took a lot of the feedback on board and did a really good job.”
The methods now employed allow even the classic raw meat tartare
to be prepared acceptably for MPI. Many restaurants throughout
New Zealand will benefit from Dan Fraser’s persistence and solution-
focussed attitude in the Great Gover nor’s Burger Debacle of 2017.
Last summer, the ar r ival of one year old Lucas, the first “Fraser junior”
in the family, changed Dan’s work-life balance, he says, and buying a
house in the area means he has certainly put down roots. “Russell is a
beautiful place to raise a family.There’s a strong sense of community,
everyone knows everyone else, and it’s safe.” Fishing is his main
relaxation when away from work, “and working around the house”.
Producing up to a thousand meals a day in peak season, Dan is most
often found in The Duke’s kitchens cooking rather than in the office,
“because that’s what I do best. If I was an office chef I’d hate it”. n
Executive Chef, Duke of Marlborough Hotel
Hospitality BUSINESS | December 2017 - January 2018 | 15
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