Celebrate Matariki with Abhijit Dey of The Sugar Club as he explores Kiwi classics.

 

Fish and chips Abhi-style take the shape of deep-fried whitebait with a kina emulsion and an ‘L&P’ kombucha to boot. The whitebait is from Coromandel and the kina is sustainably farmed and flown in from Tora Collective in the Wairarapa. And the kombucha? “It’s a lemon and passionfruit one that I make from scratch myself,” says Abhijit Dey, aka Abhi, head chef at SkyCity’s The Sugar Club restaurant.

And so the story continues. “We’re doing a New Zealand food story with traditional dishes, but in my own way,” says Abhi of the menus now on offer at The Sugar Club. “We use only New Zealand ingredients, from the deep south to the far north.”

Born, raised and schooled in Kolkata, India, Abhi has ample international culinary experience, including Michelin-starred Gaggan in Thailand. Since arriving in New Zealand a decade ago, he has added Orphans Kitchen and Clooney to his CV.

He is now a true New Zealand convert. That means when he’s not perfecting his kitchen efforts on the 52nd floor of the Sky Tower, you might find him out west on Auckland’s Piha beach. It’s here the dedicated surfer heads to hit the waves in his free time. It’s also where he goes foraging for kelp and sea spinach, which he picks and dries before using it on his menu.

For Cuisine Abhi has plucked another item from his current tasting menu: a boil up for you to try yourself. The recipe is part of the restaurant’s recognition of Matariki, which also includes a hāngī dish. At The Sugar Club, you can get both in either plant-based or conventional form; for the boil up given here, he uses ham or pork plus chicken. The dish is evocative of one of Abhi’s first New Zealand taste sensations from when he arrived in 2012.

“Most of these dishes have an emotional attachment with people from when they were growing up,” says Abhi. “You don’t get these things much these days, so we’re trying to replicate those childhood memories.”

If you try his boil up at The Sugar Club, chances are you’ll meet its maker. That’s the kind of guy Abhi is: he doesn’t hide in the kitchen. “Normally I visit two or three tables at the end of the night and ask what they thought of my dishes. It’s a constant learning curve.”

Be assured, every dish will have had to pass the scrupulous Abhi taste test first. “I don’t want to do something that I don’t like – that’s what keeps me alive. If you don’t do anything that is significant and new, then you’re not motivated enough.” GERALDINE JOHNS