Grant Allen and Giada Grilli – two diferrent chefs, two different directions.
Let’s take a look at the old and the new” said the editor. “What we were eating in New Zealand back in the day versus how that dish would look on today’s dinner table.” Giada Grilli is featured in this issue as a young chef worth watching so it was obvious that she should be the chef to recreate my nostalgic dishes.
I had to smile to myself looking at Giada’s props for our photo shoot. All her plates were of earthy tones with crafted textures and natural glazes. It took me back to the 70s when pottery dinner sets, wine beakers and salt-glazed platters crafted from Mother Earth’s clay were gracing our tables. As the 80s moved on, we felt we were mirroring our emerging sophistication by buying up Danish glass and cutlery, and plating on white, white, white German china. All very classic Scandi design and also very expensive, but in New Zealand we were living in flush times. For the photo shoot I had gathered up Hutschenreuther china, Georg Jensen cutlery and Holmegaard glassware from contemporaries more careful than myself. My Thomas dinner set had long gone, I was down to one Holmegaard glass and I could never afford Georg Jensen.
Giada and I had come together to cook: for myself, a 1986 dinner-party menu; for Giada, a reinterpretation of those dishes into 2020 style. As we cooked, we chatted about our various culinary experiences.
At just 30 years old, Giada is head chef at The Sugar Club and I so admire her tenacity. After years of training, working all over the world and fighting to hold her place as a young woman in the male-dominated hierarchies of ‘old world’ kitchens, she is part of an elite but small group – female head chefs. While the world of food exponentially changes there are, sadly, some aspects that remain stuck in the past.
My own food life had only just begun at the age of 30. I had bought a partnership in one of Wellington’s first BYO restaurants and came under the tutelage of my French business partner, Pierre Meyer. He was one of New Zealand’s restaurant pioneers and an archetypal temperamental, demanding French chef. Among the many things I learned from him, the truths I still hold are these: that excellent, seasonal, fresh ingredients are paramount; near enough is never good enough; and making food is about love and hospitality.
I had to pull our editor up a couple of times as she seemed to be throwing the word ‘old’ in my direction, (in a most loving way, of course). However, on reflection, I realised there was a 37-year age gap between Giada and myself. Quelle horreur.
As it is with all food dudes, we had a huge amount of common ground. We shared stories of then and now, talked of our cooking experiences, triumphs and disasters, our food approach and had a good few laughs. The kitchen had a great sense of bonhomie and this 200th issue of Cuisine becomes yet another special food memory for me. GRANT ALLEN