“Putting as much flavour on the plate, using classic techniques of sweet, salty, sour, bitter… and umami”, is, says Andrew Tranter, “definitely” his food philosophy. Adding with a flourish, “Adventurously interpreted with a modern influence”.
Andrew is Head Chef at Crockett Restaurant and Bar, Christchurch New Zealand, where a Josper charcoal-burning oven plays a central role in exploring the eatery’s contemporary food techniques.
Refining his classical cooking knowledge with latest culinary methods has been a constant journey of discovery for Andrew. It eventually led to a prestigious nomination for young chef of the year – but Andrew’s story begins back in the family kitchen of his childhood.
“My first food memories, were spent in the kitchen, helping my dad making homemade chips, pizza, cutting onions and whatever else I could do to lend a hand”.
The knowledge these chefs had… really blew my mind
At the age of 14, a combination of sibling rivalry – his twin brother had received a job offer – and Andrew’s determined nature saw him going through the phone book and making around 100 calls – but with no luck. Then the culinary fates stepped in and Andrew was suddenly speaking with Martin and Cindy Weiss at award winning restaurant, Rotherhams, in Christchurch, NZ, a leading venue at the time.
His first job was washing dishes but Andrew fell instantly love with the restaurant kitchen, “Observing the chefs – especially my boss Martin – and listening to them talk. The knowledge these chefs had about produce, food and technique really blew my mind”.
According to Andrew, “this was the moment that the spark was lit and a knew I wanted to be a chef”.
The restaurant owners clearly saw something in the young man waking up to his true vocation, and took him under their wing. Over the next five years Andrew completed his formal CPIT chef Qualification at Christchurch under the guidance of Martin Weiss, “my mentor, without whom I certainly wouldn’t be the chef or person I am today”. The sudden passing of the restaurant owner in October 2013 “hit me hard”, admits Andrew.
Biggest step in my career… to work at Michelin starred restaurants in London
It was also a deciding factor for the aspiring chef, now aged 20, to head to Australia, to continue his training and career development. Working overseas is a move that many a young man will take to broaden their culinary skills and kitchen experience when starting out in the industry. For Andrew, it was to be quite the learning curve…
“I spent 6 months cooking in a small town called Roma in Queensland. I then headed to Melbourne and worked in numerous top end restaurants for the next 3 years. Melbourne gave me the foundations I needed to make the biggest step in my career, and make the move to work at Michelin starred restaurants in London”.
Andrew’s first London job was working under ‘wunderkind’ chef Tom Sellers at his innovative, high-concept one Michelin star ‘Restaurant Story’, opened in Tooley Street London Bridge in 2013, and just awarded its second Michelin star in 2021.
Andrew reckons his first month at the venue, was the hardest of his career. “The standards, execution, professionalism, the push for excellence and the calibre of chefs was something I had never seen before”.
One of the signature dishes was a beef dripping candle, lit at the table, which melts to become a dipping sauce for sourdough bread.
Working 17/18 hour days was very demanding, according to Andrew adding, “I learnt so much during that time, which made everything worth it as you are constantly learning”.
I refined my knowledge of classic food
After 12 months, Andrew moved on to work for chef, Adam Byatt at one Michelin star, Trinity Restaurant in Clapham, which serves modern influence dishes in a stylish monochrome dining room.
According to Andrew, “working with Chef Adam and the team at Trinity was the best decision I made while in the UK. Adam is one of the most respected chefs, and during my time there, I refined my knowledge of classic food, which has been a big influence on my classically based cooking style.”
While working at Trinity, Andrew was one of ten young chefs to achieve the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts Annual Awards for Excellence, 2018.
In the same year, Andrew decided after five years away for home, he would return to New Zealand.
San Pellegrino Young Chef 2019/2020 Competition Final
Back in his native Christchurch, Andrew worked as sous chef under chef Ryan Henley at his two hat Pescatore Restaurant in the George Hotel.
It was with Henley as his mentor that Andrew was one of 135 young chefs from around the world to be picked for the San Pellegrino Young Chef 2019/2020 competition. He reached the Australasia final, held in Sydney, along with 9 other young chefs.
Despite not winning, Andrew says. “it was an amazing experience, and such an inspiring few days cooking for the judges, Dan Hunter, Peter Gilmore, Christine Mansfield and Jock Zonfrillo.
Andrew continued as chef de cuisine at Pescatore until deciding to help open up Crockett Restaurant and Bar, and where he is currently Head Chef.
Importance of “having a good work life balance
Those formative years working in different kitchens have continued to be a guiding influence on Andrew and informing his food philosophy. “Working closely with my suppliers and forming a good relationships is really important to me, and using local produce as much as I can”. Sustainability and supporting local producers is an ethos that many of today’s chefs share.
Andrew also has his take on chefs working in high-pressure environments. He believes one of the most common causes of stress in the kitchen is, “not having enough time away from the pass” and highlights the importance of “having a good work life balance, and to have some down time”.
For Andrew this means, “at least one day off to completely switch of from work, giving my chefs two days off in a row and where possible, 4 days on with three days off”. It’s a roster concept he thinks will be more commonly used in the years ahead.
As for his own downtime, Andrew says he eats out as much as he can. “As a big sports fan – especially of the all blacks – I tend to watch a lot of sport on my days off, along with fishing. Hanging out at the local pub is a favourite, that’s for sure!”
Passion is vital if you are going to have a good crack
The Crockett head chef – with a wealth of hard-earned cooking experience in his tool kit – also has invaluable words of advice for younger chefs starting out in the industry.
“Always ask questions, constantly write notes and build up your recipes as you go” Andrew advises young chefs to, “Go work for the best chefs, put your head down, set yourself goals, and always keep focus. Knowledge is power. If you work hard your time will come, and being ready and prepared as you can be, you can end up killing it.”
Andrew firmly believes, “passion is vital if you are going to have a good crack. A career as a chef means you have essentially chosen a lifestyle”.
When we went into lockdown I used this time to launch a new menu
Looking back over the extraordinary times in the last 12 months, Andrew is optimistic about the future of his own career and the industry he is so passionately loves.
“When we went into lockdown, we had only been open a few months. I used this time to launch a new menu and refine a few things on the menu. Definitely hasn’t been an easy year but I think the main thing is adapting but also being confident in what you are trying to achieve, and really backing yourself”.
Andrew says he hopes one day to have his own restaurant, “and to mentor the young chefs coming through, and try to pass on my knowledge. The biggest goal I have is having my own restaurant within 5 years”.
In the meanwhile, taking care of the Crockett kitchen and cuisine is uppermost in Andrew’s immediate thoughts. “With more and more competition by the day, the most important thing is staying relevant and trusting the processes we put in place”.
A classic yet totally modern view indeed!