Find out what happens when you team master mixologist Mikey Ball with ‘One to Watch’ chef Zennon Wijlens at Paris Butter to create the ultimate bites and sips for entertaining.

There’s just one thing head chef Zennon Wijlens wants to know about a dish before adding it to the menu at acclaimed Auckland restaurant Paris Butter: is it delicious? That might seem a loaded question – what’s delicious to one person might not be so appealing to another – but for the Paris Butter crew it neatly captures their raison d’être. “Deliciousness is the number one thing in our kitchen,” Zennon says. “With all of our food, we not only focus on flavours but how it eats. Balance is key. When you’ve got the perfect mouthfeel it’s salty, sweet, slightly bitter, crunchy but with soft notes. When you can tick all those boxes as opposed to having five different components on the plate, that’s delicious. Everything has to be there for a purpose.”

Zennon has been refining his definition of deliciousness since he left school to become a chef at 16. He’s worked with a roll call of notable chefs in New Zealand and Australia in that time, honing his craft at places such as Etch by Becasse, Momofuku Seiōbo, Spice Temple and Cumulus Inc. He was at Hong Kong airport, on his way back to New Zealand after nine months of travelling (during which time he’d eaten at 34 of the World’s Top 50 Restaurants), when he saw a sous chef job up for grabs at Paris Butter.

Executive chef and owner Nick Honeyman wanted his traditional French bistro to evolve, and Zennon turned out to be just the person to help him do that. “I feel super lucky, because Nick is so supportive of everything I bring to the party, and even though he’s in France at the moment we are still bouncing ideas off each other every day,” Zennon says. “I’ve only been at Paris Butter for about two-and-a-half years, but the evolution we’ve had in that time has been amazing. We still have the same ethos; we use the best New Zealand produce and we use a lot of classic French techniques, but we use Japanese and Asian seasonings, which really speaks to both Nick and my food styles.”

Innovation is welcome in the Paris Butter kitchen – the team have regular sessions trying out new ideas and combinations through ‘Test Kitchen Tuesdays’ and ‘Staff Projects’ on Saturday nights. “It’s great for the guys to be creative and think outside the box. We take the approach that five minds are better than one, so we get everyone’s opinion. We take on everyone’s feedback and nine times out of 10, it comes back a better dish.”

That attention to detail and innovation extends to the drinks list, too. Zennon is full of praise for cocktail supremo Mikey Ball, a drinks consultant and regular Paris Butter collaborator who has developed cocktails to pair with the three favourite Paris Butter recipes shared in this issue.

“Mikey is amazing and his cocktails are very forward-thinking. In my eyes, a cocktail is very similar to a dish; there are a lot of creative elements. We have a great understanding; he’ll come to me with a drink idea and I’ll create a dish around it, or I’ll talk to him about a dish I’m creating and he’ll develop a drink.”

Mikey’s extensive hospitality career includes a stint as general manager at Paris Butter, where he says it was a privilege to help create the restaurant’s cocktail culture. “There’s so much creative energy at Paris Butter, which makes it amazing and really challenging at the same time,” he says.

“Bartenders and chefs think about ingredients and flavours so differently, so I love running things past Nick and Zennon. There’s a lot of nice R&D involved in a custom-made drink.” LUCY CORRY