Nervous about going into a second interview at Homeland, the latest project by globally renowned chef Peter Gordon, pastry chef Petra Galler felt they needed to taste her food. So along to the interview she took a Basque cheesecake, a lemon polenta cake and a chocolate orange babka, and that’s what landed her the job. “I chose three cakes solely based on what I was loving to cook at that time. The burnt Basque cheesecake is something I had never seen in Auckland. It is up there with my absolute favourite cakes; it’s the best part of the cheesecake really – the gnarly, textural, rugged, burnishy bits – except that’s the whole cake. It’s pretty sublime. It also looks deeply sexy.” You can still find that Basque cheesecake on the menu at Homeland today.

Despite the kitchen being her calling, Petra came from an academic family, so when she was younger she never really saw food as a viable career choice. Feeling the pressure to take a traditional path, Petra attended Auckland University to study for a degree in psychology.

“My whole family is incredibly academic; my mother is a judge, Dad is a doctor and my brother is a lawyer. I mean, come on!” The pressure on kids to go to uni straight after school and to have a clear vision of what they want to do for the rest of their life is nothing new or uncommon. “I think my family doing what they do definitely added to that, but when I told them I wanted to drop out of uni they were over the moon that I was pursuing something I had a passion for. I remember being so nervous to have that conversation. I felt like I was the total black sheep of the family and they would just despair with my decision, but it was the complete opposite.”

Petra wasn’t sure what it was going to be like working with Peter Gordon, but after working with him for a while she has nothing but good things to say about her boss. “Peter Gordon is a big deal. I thought I’d be dictated to but he just told me to make whatever I want. Creative freedom is so good for the soul. He is the kind of boss that makes you want to work harder and go the extra mile – he’s kind and supportive.”

Recently Petra has started doing her own baking classes at Homeland and is relishing the human interaction. She is hoping to use her platform to inspire those considering a career choice in hospitality, especially with the current shortage of hospitality workers. “Hospitality is hard, and it’s so hard to get staff right now. How do we fix this? What are we going to do to make this better? I wonder if it’s reframing what a career in hospitality looks like. It’s framed like it’s not a career and it doesn’t take you anywhere. If you love it, you love it. If it’s right for you, it feels so good. Hospitality needs a rebrand.”

Petra’s philosophy is simple. “I think every morning, ‘What do I feel like eating today?’ Very selfish, I know, but that’s what I go on; what I like and what I think our customers will like.” For inspiration, she turns to her Jewish/eastern European background and the flavour profiles found in that part of the world. “I think my culture plays a huge role in my cooking and appreciation of food. Cooking for people really is a way of showing love, which I learnt from my grandma and father especially. As far as my cooking goes, more is more, with punchy and big flavours. It’s always got to have a bit of naughtiness. You’ve got to be like, ‘Yes, I’m eating cake’. If you’re going to eat cake, make it worth it!”.