Restaurant month is full of exciting collaborations and this event's no exception: Marvel Grill have invited one of Sydney's top chefs, Gregory Llewellyn of Hartsyard, to Auckland for a "root to leaf" dinner where each course is carefully crafted for, or matched to, the perfect beverage. Inspired by the American South, one course has been created with Estrella Damm's malt and wheat beer Inedit Damm in mind, while all four courses are set to be ideal versions of the comfort food one craves during the heart of winter.
Gregory opened 14 restaurants along the US coast before opening Hartsyard with his Australian wife Naomi three years ago. When the owners of Marvel Grill, Wendy Sutherland and Alisdair Gribben, visited Hartsyard they loved it so much they knew they had to give Auckland a taste of the restaurant's increasingly famed fare.
On the morning of his first Auckland service Gregory sat down for a chat to talk about his work life and new book, all of which seem to centre around some pretty wonderful things, namely: family, friends and fried chicken.
Have you visited Auckland before?
No, this is my first time in New Zealand. I love it here, it’s a beautiful country. I’ve never done anything like this before but I think it’s great to do things that take you out of your comfort zone. Being taken out of the little box that you live in is really good. It helps you grow and be more creative.
What approach do you take when creating a new menu?
Number one: it has to be tasty. We take more of a comfort approach to food and make sure it’s approachable, not weird–things like fried chicken and biscuits. Very natural sort of food, we don’t necessarily seek out the best organic or biodynamic stuff, we expand on everyday things that people want to eat.
So you don't tend to follow trends?
We try not to. We’re a very small neighbourhood eatery in Sydney and we’ve always kept to that – really good things have happened from that. We’re more interested in trying to out-do what we’ve done the week before or things we’ve had on the menu from day one.
You don't have to give everything away but can you tell me a bit about about the menu you've dreamt up for Auckland Restaurant Month?
We’re doing some classics like fried chicken, a peanut butter and banana sundae. Alisdair and Wendy were telling me that smoking’s becoming a lot more of thing here so we’re doing our own take on smoked lamb ribs in barbecue sauce.
We’re also doing some interesting vegetable dishes: carrots cooked in duck fat with kaffir lime, some kale that's been dehydrated and crumbed so it's crispy. Alsoo a raw mushroom and sunflower root salad.
When did you first decide to become a chef?
I’m one of seven children, I’m right in the middle so there’s three older, three younger. My parents had enough to say here’s an allowance or anything. I was always interested in working, I always helped my dad. I always knew I wanted to do something with my hands. I got a job at a local restaurant as a busboy, clearing tables and pouring water.
One day I walked into the kitchen and saw this dude sautéing and went, 'What is that?!' That was the end of that. From there I was always taking jobs I couldn’t do, a sort of fake it ‘til you make it approach – I think that’s how it all happened.
Was the ultimate dream always to open your own restaurant?
Yeah – sometimes it’s more like the ultimate nightmare. I mean, it’s always good to be the boss but you never stop thinking about it. It encroaches on every little aspect of your life. There’s work-balance things you can do and the more we grow as a business the more I get a handle on how to do that.
Congratulations on your new book, Fried Chicken & Friends. How long has that been in the works for?
Two years, we got approached in August two years ago when my wife was 7 months pregnant – it’s basically taken my youngest daughter’s whole life.
Do you get much time to cook for your friends at home?
Oh all the time! It’s very important that we take care of people - especially family.