“My passion is pastry… my creations represent my culinary soul”, says Callum Liddicoat, Executive Pastry Chef at Park Hyatt Auckland.
A culinary soul that for the Australian-born chef, “feels at home” at Wynyard Quarter’s waterside venue, one which uses only the finest, locally sourced ingredients.
“Park Hyatt has everything I’ve ever wanted under one roof” says Callum, “Onemata is a leading restaurant in Auckland, where I believe I can showcase my personality through my desserts, the ‘Living room’ – which offers a modern 5-course Afternoon Tea and “The Pantry” a café that showcases traditional kiwi delights and comforting treats that everyone loves!”
Creativity and inspiration would definitely be the sweetest of all ingredients that a chef can possess, and which Callum claims “are only limited by our own imagination”. Plus, two decades of learning and listening as he decisively progressed to new kitchens across continents.
Callum was born to be creative. “I come from a family of creative people – my mother being a dressmaker and sister owning her own florist shops.” After 21 years, Callum still believes there is so much more to learn and discover in the world of pastry, every day is interesting.
Hard work gets you to places
Back to day one… finds the young, aspiring chef growing up on the sun-drenched beaches of Queensland’s Gold Coast. It was here, at Jupiter’s Casino in Broad Beach, aged 16 and halfway through year 12, that Callum started his pastry apprenticeship under the first of many mentors, Merv McCoy.
“Merv not only helped shape the chef I am today but also me as a person. He saw my struggles in my early adulthood and with being who I was. He may not have said it but I felt it – I still think of those times today”.
Following his 3-year apprenticeship, Callum headed to Daylesford, Victoria and the highly regarded, 2-hatted ‘Lake House’ gourmet retreat, under culinary director and renowned ‘Produce Awards’ judge, Alla Wolf-Tasker. “Working for Alla – a true icon of the hospitality industry, says Callum – really instilled in me that hard work gets you to places. I was still young and going through a challenging phase. She taught me that practice makes perfect, with perfect practice getting me even further ahead”
Learning to love myself a little more each day
It was “learning to love myself a little more each day, to accept it’s OK to fail or not get something right and not beat yourself up about it” that saw Callum through his two years at Daylesford. Now followed a couple of learning curves in quick succession. Starting at the Hyatt Regency Sanctuary Cove then six months on the Island Princess CruiseShip (Alaska and Hawaii) before spending a year at Cradle Mountain Lodge, Tasmania.
“At the Lodge I worked with Jane Therese Mulry – Marco Pierre Whites first female head chef” where a true friendship was formed. “we were two very passionate people butting heads over what they wanted to do” culminating in a successful working relationship providing world class food. Callum would later go on to work with Jane-Therese at luxury destination, qualia Resort at Hamilton Island, Queensland, celebrated for its cutting edge, modern Australian cuisine.
Over the next three years at the Resort, Callum says he was “lucky enough” to work for the Oatley family. “It felt like family, who were pushing the boundaries and building this exquisite resort “Where we learnt to channel our ideas together with the Owners” and making Hamilton Island a real go-to destination (qualia being voted World No. 1 resort by Conde Naste in 2012). It was here that we put on the Great Barrier Feast weekends where we held dinners with the likes of Ben Shewy, Peter Gilmore, Justin North, Tetsuya, to name a few, along with hosting chefs like Shannon Bennett and Matt Moran for Audi race week”.
Honing his skills in the pastry kitchen at Lord’s Cricket Ground
It was now 2011 and just over ten years since Callum started his culinary career. With a restless energy and passion to learn more can be a recurring theme among young ambitious chefs. Callum was no exception.
First, he dropped into New York to take a molecular gastronomy course with chef Alex Talbot, then crossed over the pond on a 2-year visa to London, where he spent the first 10 months at the Michelin 2-star greenhouse restaurant, Mayfair London.
“It’s a chef’s dream – to head to London and work in a Michelin star restaurant”, says Callum, “Definitely, a bucket list moment – hard work, yes, but bloody rewarding!”
Callum spent the next 14 months honing his skills in the pastry kitchen at Lord’s Cricket Ground. “Never, ever was it on my radar to be working in such a large-scale environment but boy, working at Lord’s was fun. This was a full working pastry kitchen, with everything made in house, a place where organisation and being ready was the key to success. We’re talking 5-day test matches and 30,000 scones to be ready – and don’t forget the baking powder in the scones – yeah it happened!”
Themed afternoon teas for Disney New Zealand
Once his UK visa expired, Callum’s next venture was in Fiji to learn cultural cooking at its finest and it was here his experience turned him into the mentor, training and helping the local Fijians to strive to be the best. As Executive Pastry Chef for three years at the five Star, Hilton Fiji Beach Resort and Spa on Denerau Island, Nadi.
In 2017, Callum arrived in New Zealand to take position as Executive Pastry Chef at the Cordis Auckland (formerly, Langham Auckland). “Stand out moments during his 24 months at Cordis”, says Callum, “were the opportunities to perform pastry magic by creating fantastical themed afternoon teas on three movies for Disney New Zealand – The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Christopher Robin and Mary Poppins.”
Reaching the second decade in his career and noticing the Park Hyatt Auckland being “built from the ground up”, Callum was now determined to realise his next ambition.
“I said to myself, I need to open a hotel like this – where I can have everything, I want under one roof – a café, sweet shop, a restaurant, an epic living room for afternoon tea plus banquet spaces that would blow your mind”. He did it and it carried on achieving targets throughout the world experiencing a pandemic. Originally planned to be showcasing New Zealand to majority of internationals, with a full change of pace to entice local kiwi’s to dine and enjoy the hotel.
“I was opening up the newest, 5-star luxury hotel right here in Auckland – where I can showcase my personality and creativity through my desserts – and supported top to bottom by my amazing team”.
Always push the boundaries – know how and when to use the ingredients
If there’s one philosophy that continues to drive Callum throughout his career, it’s his passion for pastry. “I love creating new things and believe that we are only limited by our own imagination. I love anything fresh and I will do whatever I can to find the very best of it! It has to be modern, simple and natural and uniquely prepared to show skill and experience, and above all, imaginatively presented”.
Callum says the secret to an irresistible and sublime tasting dessert is balance. “And teaching your palate to know when to add layers of textures and flavours, and when to hold back. Less is more sometimes, but always push the boundaries – know how and when to use the ingredients”.
Particular favourites for Callum that have been on the Onemata restaurant menu are he’s take on a toffee apple and Onemata chocolate bar. (a crowd favourite)
“I love the apple dish. This dish is a take on the toffee apple that we all ate and loved as kids. We slowly cook the apple for 36 hours in a dry caramel powder, glazed in a sticky apple, parsnip and burnt vanilla caramel, then serve with a sage rosemary and parsley ice cream finished off with crunchy parsnip chips. But who can go past the Onemata chocolate bar with its dark chocolate from locally chocolate artisan “Foundry chocolate” – salted ginger caramel, hazelnut caramel Chantilly –a bitter honeycomb ice cream and salted potato chips – it screams “eat me!”
Callum is insistent on only using seasonal produce and constantly changing the menu. “I use the produce when it’s in its prime. The desserts in Onemata can be changed daily, weekly or monthly depending on the availability – this is why a relationship with farmers and suppliers is key to any successful restaurant. For Afternoon Tea its more the four seasons – spring, summer, winter and autumn menus showcasing the best of what the season has to offer – with a few special ones tucked in there, such as Mother’s Day and Christmas. As a Pastry Chef with a busy imagination, I’m forever coming up with new ideas for “The Pantry” cabinet so that’s more of a revolving door which keeps the creativity flowing”.
I have struggled for the better part of 20 years with mental health
Callum’s energy and passion for his profession is never far from the surface.
“There are so many things I love about the life of a Chef… that taste of the first coffee in the morning, the comradery with your fellow Chefs, the burns, the cuts, the pressures of service, the constant broken sleep
from waking up with crazy creative ideas, to those dishes that you absolutely nailed because you have dreamt and thought about them for a long time. The opportunities it has given me to travel, meet people, the collaboration dinners… honestly, it’s endless. “I just love what I do”.
Daily life on the pass also has its challenges, not least the need to manage the demands and stress of the kitchen. “Mental health is a big part of who I am”, says Callum, “I have struggled for the better part of 20 years with mental health”. It was a particular ‘scary’ moment about a year ago that led Callum to seek professional help.
“It was honestly the best decision I have ever made and one I wish I made earlier. Therapy has allowed me to accomplish so much in my career. With the weight lifted off, and the passion released, it is something everyone should be able to achieve”.
Time away from kitchen and recreation is always an important part of maintaining a work/life balance. Many Chefs have at least one physical sports activity which they love to indulge. Callum says he is a “big lover” of sport, adding, “if there is a tennis match on, I’m watching it, oh and swimming. I think I have listened to every podcast about the swimming at the Olympics this year and boy was I pumped! But when I say any sport, I mean any sport. I’m big on moving the body, keeping active and eating well so I’m in the gym 5 to 6 times a week. It’s the one hour where its music on, world off”.
Bucket list moments and developing skills
Looking back over his 20-year career travelling around the world, Callum picks out a few of his “bucket list’ moments, from, “eating out at places like WD-50, Eleven Madison Park, Corton (co-owned by Paul Liebrandt), heading to Paris, his weekends off getting lost in London seeking out the hidden gems, to just eating your way through the cities visited, a particular favourite being Copenhagen these days”
Most of all for Callum, “the best thing about my career is I’m still learning, still pushing and still believing I have more to give. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in one area of pastry but I have built my career around learning and developing skills in all areas of the pastry kitchen. Give me a challenge and the tools to run a multi outlet hotel and that’s when I’m in my element”.
Have a notebook and pen on you at all times
Naturally, Callum is keen to pass on his knowledge and experience to the next generation of young chefs starting out in the industry. “My advice is to be present in everything you do and focus on one thing at a time. Only make that mistake once – making it twice means you’re not learning from your mistakes! (Something many of his mentors instilled in him)
Every day, learn, listen and don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as possible. You’ll be a small fish in a large pond for a while but push on, you’ll eventually make it, persistence and perseverance will eventually pay off”.
Remember – have a notebook and pen on you at all times! A creative mind will wake you up in the middle of the night. I hate to think how many ideas I would have lost along the way.
Callum is excited about how he can directly help. “What excites me about the future here at Park Hyatt Auckland is getting to experience it with fellow colleagues that have now turned into lifelong friends.
To give back to the younger chefs what I have been taught throughout my career and to give the guests and customers a unique experience right here in our amazing venue”.