Jinu Abraham is group executive chef at CPG Hotels in Auckland. Anyone who has always been interested in New Zealand should not miss this great interview.

 

You currently work as Group Executive Chef at CPG Hotels in Auckland, New Zealand; with a great chef career so far. Tell us about how you got started as a chef. Why did you decide on cooking professionally?

When attending hotel school, I wanted to be a front of the house person. Part of the course was to attend a compulsory six-month training in a five-star hotel of your choice, engaging in all the four major departments. I spent more time in the kitchens because I was hooked, engaging with the complexities of mise en place, a la carte and conferencing. At the end of the training, I really knew I had to be in the kitchens.

 

Which culinary school did you attend?

Institute of hotel management, Ahmedabad, India.

 

What will you never forget about your first year as a chef?

Hotel school and real kitchens are different. Pressure was real.

 

Every career starts with hard moments when you think about giving up. Were there such moments in your career, and how did you overcome them?

Building a foundation takes time, I have had my moments where friends in other vocation were earning much more and partying hard, but nothing came close to the creativity in kitchen for me. Everyday was different, and learning happened every day since then.

 

What is the best part of being a chef?

The delight of a guest having had a meal created by you.

 

What is the most difficult aspect to be a professional chef?

The long hours.

 

How would you describe the soul of New Zealand’s cuisine best?

Unadulterated & honest.

 

Did you find any similarities with the Indian Cuisine?

Basics are similar, but cooking techniques are different. NZ cuisine is by and large for western palate, but being multicultural, the food does adapt with variations of different cuisines.

 

Which ingredients, recipes and cooking techniques reflect the soul of New Zeeland best?

Seafood , beef and lamb are big. Hangi is technique of cooking in a pit called umu with heated rocks. Summer calls for barbecues! It all comes down to the seasonal and amazing ingredients which provide the flavours for simple cooking.

 

Modern New Zeeland cuisine, what does it mean for you?

Working with artisan suppliers, promoting food from New Zealand.

 

How would you describe your own culinary style today?

Simple but interesting flavour pairings, working with seasonal produce, cooking techniques.

 

As Group Executive Chef at CPG Hotels in Auckland, New Zealand today, what is the culinary direction/ set up there?

The culinary direction is based on concepts that we evolve for each food & beverage outlet, thoroughly researched and rigorously tested with recipes for both food & beverage. I believe that big kitchens are not needed to make amazing food, small kitchens are akin to an artist workshop or atelier.

 

Can you share a signature dish with us?

Cured Ora king salmon.

 

 

Can you share one of your last creations with us?

Same.

 

What are some of the lesser known spices and vegetables you use?

I love using cardamom as it is a sweet spice comparable to vanilla. Has a lovely favour profile and can be used to get some interesting flavours such as espresso & cardamom mousse? Leaves such as Amaranth, purslane (grows like weed here) used in salads.

 

Which unique cooking technique have you mastered?

A difficult one to answer, but apart from techniques what is required in a commercial kitchen, at home I am good with making relishes and preserves with produce from my garden.

 

What are the current trends / developments you see in Auckland’s culinary world?

More tasting plates but with a fine dining twist. Less elaborations but more food stories are being told.

 

What does work mean for you?

Something that I look forward to, always keeps it challenging & interesting.

 

As a chef, you never stop learning: Curse or blessing?

Always a blessing. Keeps me thinking and newer possibilities with food.

 

The profession as a cook today offers more opportunities than ever before. But unfortunately, fewer young people want to become chefs. What can you do to make this great profession even more interesting?

To make it a career, culinary professionals should mentor students at an early age and have them intern in kitchens at an early age. Surely some won’t like it but the ones who like and love it will stay. Better pay and work conditions could be looked upon, kitchen is usually considered a place as a last resort in career as it is easy to get in.

 

The kitchen has become so international and is always bringing new trends, themes… to the fore. Hand on heart; how do you always get along as a chef with this?

Adopt & adapt. I would try and understand why a trend was started, and whether it is relevant for my work to enhance it.

What motto do you have for your work as a chef?

Make the best!

 

What situations have helped you the most in your development as a chef?

Kitchen have taught me under pressure, you either fold or focus and I am glad I have gone on to be the latter. Being thrown in the deep end along with some sound guidance from my senior chef mentors have helped me on the path to success.

 

What do you do if you want to treat yourself to something special to eat?

If I cook for myself then something, I love doing is do my own salmon sashimi, avocado and seaweed rice. Can’t get simpler than that. If I am going out, then I keep trying new restaurants!

 

What is one of your favourite local street food/ simple outside eat dish/place in Auckland?

The white lady burgers during the evenings. It’s a food truck and they have been here 70 years! Barilla dumplings on Balmoral road is great for dumplings!

 

There are lots of trends in the international culinary world. What are the real important developments you see and would like to become more important?

I love innovative trends, such as trendy breakfasts, plant-based meals which are more than salads and stews, vegetable forward menus. Waste free and sustainable food is also a relevant food trend for all of us. Worst one I have seen, freak shakes…freaky at all levels.

 

As an innovative chef you need honest and hard feedback. Where do you get it from?

This has become easier, paying guests are more than happy to give feedback either verbally or using the latest technology.

 

What makes you happy?

As I said, a delighted guest!

Did your career as a chef change you as a person and if so, how?

Not really, subtle changes maybe but not a lot.

 

What do people often misunderstand about the job of a chef?

Often most people understand the glamour but not the real hard work that goes about in kitchens.

 

Any place in the world you would like to work as chef one day?

Spain.

 

If you would have the time to write a cookbook, what would it be about?

A day in the life of a hotelier and recipes!

 

Lots of cooks are interested to work in Auckland. Do you have any tips or recommendations for them?

It is a lovely place to live in and work, and some awesome restaurants here.

 

Did we forget anything about your work as a chef and great chef career?

Will always be thankful for getting into this profession and my mentors over the years, never intended to get into culinary when I got into hotel school as culinary theory never interested me much, but once in to a hotel kitchen, it just took my fascination.

 

Thank you very much Jinu! Do you want to read more from Jinu? Check out his recipe.

 

What is your plan for your future as a chef?
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