Ian Harrison of Sugo restaurant in Tauranga packs layers of flavour into these dishes for your winter table.


When Ian Harrison popped home to see his Mum and pick up some laundry, it proved to be a very short story. The backpacking Brit had gone back to Cheshire, England, where he’d grown up and gone to chef school. But love got in the way, and in no time at all Ian had turned around and returned to the place that had grabbed his heart. It is to our benefit that his comeback ended in Tauranga. This is where the proprietor/owner of Sugo – the Wharf St Italian restaurant that’s going gangbusters – has now happily settled. He’s got a wife and baby to further ground him.

The road to Sugo is peppered with international credentials. Ian has worked with ‘Marco’ [Pierre White] and ‘Gordon’ [Ramsay]; Heston Blumenthal too. He knows both sides of the business, having spent his first couple of years in New Zealand waiting tables before completing a patisserie course and then getting back into the kitchen properly.

“Working on the floor changed me as a chef. It made me more flavour-driven,” says Ian. It also earned him the Lewisham Outstanding Waiter of the Year award in 2012, one year after coming back to the place he now calls home. He credits Des Harris of Auckland’s Clooney – where he worked first on the floor and then in the kitchen – for instilling in him the importance of flavour. You can see it in his Sugo menu – which includes a full plant-based component as well as an extensive Italian- inspired selection – and in the dishes he made for Cuisine.

“The vegan menu is something like a quiz; it keeps my brain sharp,” he says, explaining that a lot more thought goes into composing a complete vegan dish than to, say, steak and mashed potato. And it’s proved a big success. “Customers love it. Some days we sell more vegan pasta [portobello mushroom bolognese, vegan tagliatelle, cashew parmesan and onion ash] than meat bolognese.”

Ian says he loves talking about himself. As far as his food goes, it speaks volumes. Consider, for example, some of the recipes featured in this issue. “The carrot cake is my Mum’s – but I’ve edited it; the idea of the burnt butter comes from Des [Harris]. The mandarin conserve [on the cheesecake] comes from Sean Marshall [ex-Matterhorn].”

The point is, he says, that none of the recipes are exclusively his. “It’s places I’ve worked at, or people I’ve admired and things that I’ve picked up along the way. To me, that’s how I identify.”

Even on Ian’s days off he doesn’t stop cooking. His six-month-old daughter is developing a sophisticated palate, thanks to her dad. “I make my own baby purée,” he says with the same pride as he would of many of his award-winning restaurant dishes.

She has already become a critic in her own right. “I gave her a kale, broccoli and spinach purée, and her face was, like, ‘eeewww!’. She spat it out.” But he has had more luck with his “yummy” carrot, banana and date purée.

“She’s definitely in a food household. I want her to understand the value of food. And I expect her to be a complete food snob by the time she’s five.” By then, Tauranga may well be the go-to destination. “It’s definitely getting on the culinary map of New Zealand.” GERALDINE JOHNS