Vaughan Mabee Cuisine Chef of the Year 2019/2020 presents a stunning epitome of Aotearoa.

In our opinion, in 2019 Vaughan Mabee was New Zealand’s best chef.

We have not yet earned a reputation in the eyes of the world as a unique culinary destination and, as much as we feel we deserve a look-in, perhaps we never will. And maybe, in these uncertain times when the restaurant industry worldwide has taken such a bashing, we should stop comparing our food and drink offering to those we can no longer taste or experience, and instead focus on cultivating what it is that makes us special. Vaughan Mabee is one of our unique New Zealand ingredients.

Amisfield in Central Otago is already on the radar of those in the know and widely respected as one of the country’s finest, an achievement that must be attributed in great part to the creativity and vision that Vaughan drives at this superb winery restaurant.

I once asked Vaughan if he could see himself on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and he replied, “You need to do something magical to be on that list. I’m just going to keep doing what I do…”. It was with this determination and steely focus that Vaughan led the Amisfield team to a place at the pinnacle of New Zealand dining at the 2019 Cuisine Good Food Awards, as one of only five restaurants to be awarded a coveted 3-hat rating – all of them at the top of their game.

An Auckland boy, a few stints washing dishes and working in kitchens as a youngster led Vaughan to apprenticeships in local restaurants, where he was firmly bitten by the hospo bug. Hungry for more, he headed to California and bumped around the States for almost nine years, reaching executive chef level in his mid-twenties. Jumping to Spain, he landed in Barcelona at Lasarte – a leading Michelin-starred restaurant – to soak up the knowledge and technique of renowned chef Martin Berasategui. An opportunity in 2009 to take an unpaid internship at Noma in Copenhagen took Vaughan from a place of comfort – cooking high-end classic flavours – into René Redzepi’s highly experimental culinary philosophy and his unique reinterpretation of Scandinavian cuisine. There Vaughan sensed the strong connection between food and place that can be made by foraging for unique and distinctive local ingredients. It’s a skill he has now honed to the point of perfection at Amisfield, where he hunts, gathers and curates ingredients that tell an authentic story of the Central Otago landscape, and where he is strictly hands-on working closely with a team of which he is immensely proud. You get the feeling that he is just as curious and excited now as he was on his very first days on the pass, and he is quick to credit the talent that surrounds him, including head chef Mathieu Lagarde, who has been beside him for five years. A genius move has seen Tony Stewart, celebrated Auckland restaurateur, join the team as food and beverage director, and the Amisfield pass now proudly wears the 3 steel hats that Clooney, Tony’s legendary Auckland restaurant, once showcased at its iconic entrance. They are a gift from Tony that unites these two intensely passionate professionals in their pursuit of excellence at every level.

The creativity and innovation that comes out of this kitchen is something to watch closely and be proud of. Vaughan is a master at presenting a dish within fragments of its natural state, and designs menus that take the diner far beyond a traditional structure.

For a venison Wellington he takes red deer backstrap rolled in 3-year-old ham and mushroom duxelles and cooks it on the deer horn within a brisée pastry; kōura – a freshwater crayfish endemic to New Zealand – is cold-smoked with mānuka and dressed with its own sauce; a glistening pāua salami – a first for New Zealand, if not the world – made from farmed abalone, takes pride of place in the impressive charcuterie selection; ice made from kawakawa leaves is shaped as a ‘toki’ – representing strength and power – sweetened with Lake Hayes honey and served with an edible necklace of plaited kūmara cooked in its own extracted sugar.

Through it all, you are connected to the season and place, and a stunning representation of Aotearoa. When we can finally let visitors cross our spectacular borders, Vaughan Mabee is ready to step onto the world stage and get the recognition he deserves… KELLI BRETT


The spring bouquet is made out of the first spring growth of different fresh plants, herbs and baby roots such as mizuna, asparagus, baby carrots, rocket, baby kale (both green and purple), cavolo nero, nasturtium, mustard and so on…

Blanch the asparagus for 20 seconds in salted, boiling water, then cool in iced water and peel. Wash the baby carrots, blanch for 30 seconds in salted, boiling water, then cool in iced water. The rest of the bouquet is completely raw, so cut the stems if they are woody. Arrange the veges and herbs into a bouquet, then spray with nasturtium vinegar. Serve with French sorrel mayonnaise and fermented chilli mayonnaise on the side.