Peter Gordon is a living legend in the food world, both in the Antipodes and the United Kingdom. So I was pinching myself hard as I stepped into his restaurant to interview him at his flagship, The Providores, in Marylebone.
Peter Gordon is often credited as the 'godfather' of fusion cuisine. He is known for pushing the boundaries of where one national cuisine starts and another stops. "Fusion can create the most stimulating meal you'll ever eat," he says. "It's fun and it's playful. It's simply one of many cuisines, and it happily sits amongst them like a magpie, borrowing from them all."
Renowned for his unique culinary philosophy, influenced by his extensive travels around the world, Peter has restaurants both in Auckland (Bellota, in Federal Street, SKYCITY and The Sugar Club on level 53 of the Sky Tower) and London (The Providores and Tapa Room).
Not one to laze around, he has written eight cook books, the most recent being SAVOUR: Salads for all Seasons, and contributed to more than a dozen others.
On meeting him, he seemed less intimidating and more like someone who you might end up opposite at dinner, and enjoy speaking to the whole night, agree to get a drink sometime at a small wine bar he knows, but have forgotten to ask his name - before realising you knew his face from somewhere. This isn’t to say most people wouldn’t know Peter Gordon - its just he’d never rub it in your face and I can’t imagine anyone not delighting in his polite but laid-back company. Such is the way of the Kiwi…
I couldn’t imagine a more perfect person to finish my Kiwis in London series, so instead of babbling on, pull up a chair and a glass on Pinot and join us at The Providores as we talked about starting his career at Air New Zealand, travelling abroad, his Wellington restaurant and working to raise awareness of and researching funding for Leukemina.
Lucy Revill: Where were you born?
Peter Gordon: Castlecliff, Whanganui, in 1963.
LR: What did your parents do?
PG: Dad had a little structural engineering company called Bruce Gordon Engineering, and my mum worked in a pharmacy. When I was four, they divorced and mum moved up to Auckland. I stayed living in Whanganui with my siblings, but we used to go up to Auckland three times a year to see Mum and my then step-father.
LR: Do you have any memories of food from your childhood?
PG: Yeah, Mum loves to tell the story that when I was four, she came in and I was cutting recipes out the of the Woman’s Weekly, making a cookbook, a scrapbook with recipes, and she thought, ‘That’s a bit weird.’ Then they divorced and I have no idea where that scrapbook ended up. Then a year and a half ago, my father phoned – he still lives in the same house in Whanganui that we moved to when I was four – and he said, ‘Pete. We were clearing out the garage and we found this recipe scrap-book that must be yours because who else would have done it?’ He sent it to me and I’ve got it at home in East London. I was obviously eight when I did it, because the newest recipe in it was from 1971. There are photos in the scrap-book that I remember really well. Like, my whole life I have remembered these black and white step-by-step photos of how to make a passionfruit crêpe soufflé omelette.
A few years ago a New Zealand friend and I were arguing about who makes the best bacon and egg pie. I said, ‘My stepmother Rose does,’ and Kim said her mother does, so we had a cook-off. Kim’s was best for immediate eating, but Rose’s was better the next day – it contains sliced tomatoes. For dessert I made ‘my recollection’ of these passionfruit crêpe soufflé omelettes and they were pretty good, it was a soufflé mixture baked in a folded crêpe. However, when I got the scrap-book from Dad I realised the recipe doesn’t actually have a crêpe in it – the soufflé is shaped just like an omelette, folded in half.” So yes, lots of foodie memories from way back then. When I was seven I burnt myself really badly. I pulled a deep-fryer on my head, chest and left arm when I fell off a stool. I lost probably all of a school year over three hospital visits for skin grafts and stuff. I was actually helping cook and making biscuits and cakes from the age of four and a half or five, and helping do things like deep fry when I was seven. I have always cooked – always, always.
LR: That’s amazing. I love that idea of being so small you can’t even quite reach the stove.
PG: I was a midget as a kid, like, a real midget. I stood on a wobbly stool, and I know that it had one of its little rubber stoppers missing. I was helping dad and everyone was in the living room, and then I snuck back out, stood on the stool, and fell off and grabbed something, which happened to be the pot. So that was all a bit tragic for the family; but I still love deep-fried food and it didn’t put me off cooking.
LR: Where did you go to high school? Did you go to Wanganui Collegiate?
PG: No. Just like Jerry Mateparae, a Castlecliff boy, I went to Castlecliff Primary, then Rutherford Intermediate and then Whanganui High School. I did seventh form there and then went to Massey University to do a Horticultural Science degree to become a winemaker. I left in my first year at uni because someone said, ‘Actually, if you want to be a winemaker you should go to Roseworthy College in South Australia.’ So I dropped out of uni, worked for my father to get some cash together and then moved to Melbourne. I got a job in a restaurant as a waiter. In our family we didn’t do restaurants; we didn’t really have them in Whanganui. I saw all these chefs and I thought, ‘Why am I going to study winemaking when all I’ve ever wanted to be is a chef.” I only turned to wanting to be a wine maker because I’d applied to do an apprenticeship with Air New Zealand but I wasn’t accepted. So that’s why I went to uni.
LR: Was Air New Zealand doing apprenticeships for winemaking?
PG: No, for cheffing. The options that I saw were you either went into the Navy to do an apprenticeship, or you went to Air New Zealand. Both would offer food and travel, and I thought that would be good because we didn’t have restaurants, really, in Whanganui; so it wasn’t as though I could have gone to a restaurant and said, ‘Can I do an apprenticeship with you?’
LR: Start at the bottom and work my way up?
PG: I was one of those young ones who went to university when I was 17. I was in the seventh form at 16, and the fifth when I was 14 and then became 15. I didn’t know how else I would learn to cook because my family simply didn’t go to restaurants.
LR: That was the only way you could get that education.
PG: If we lived in Wellington, I probably would have applied to, say, the Abel Tasman Hotel, or a big hotel. It would have been – the James Cook Hotel is in Wellington, isn’t it?
PG: If I lived in Wellington, my folks probably would have said, ‘Why don’t you go to the James Cook and try and do an apprenticeship that way?’
LR: So, you find yourself in Australia at age 19 or 20?
LR: And once you got into the waiting game, how long did it take you to get a role as a junior or trainee chef?
PG: Well, I was lucky and unlucky. I had two sisters living in Gippsland, 3 hours from Melbourne, and I had a cousin living in Melbourne who I didn’t know very well at that time. I found a place to live and got a job as a waiter in Fitzroy. It was in a restaurant I didn’t know of course. I didn’t realise that it was one of the most famous restaurants in Melbourne, and Mietta O’Donnell, who owned it, was one of the most famous restaurateurs in Australia’s history.
So, I went along and she took a gamble on me, this Kiwi guy who didn’t know anything about anything, and she took a big risk. I said I wanted to be a waiter because I thought, ‘Well, I need to earn some money to get myself to Roseworthy College and put myself through university there.’ Then I said to her a week later, ‘Look, I’m really sorry, but I’ve just been looking at all these chefs and I really want to be a chef, and would you offer me an apprenticeship?’ She said, ‘At the end of your shift tonight you can leave. I never want to see you again. You’ve wasted my time; I took a chance on you.’ So that was a good lesson for me, really, but I was devastated.
LR: No one likes to be talked to like that.
PG: She was quite stern. She was Italian; an amazing woman. I saw her years later and we laughed. I had arrived with very little money, I think maybe $800 in those days. I found a flat, got a job and suddenly I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve got a room. I can start paying rent,’ and then I became unemployed. Then a cousin, Rae, she helped me. A friend of hers was waitressing in a restaurant called Sardi’s, which was opened by Bette Midler and Liza Minnelli. There’s a Sardi’s in New York, and it was this Australian version owned by the Mushroom Records people. My cousin’s friend just happened to be working there and she said, ‘They’re looking for an apprentice chef. Is he any good?’ and so I went along, and I got a job. So I began a four-year apprenticeship purely by knowing someone who knew someone, and it was amazing.
LR: I love that you still count that first misstep as kind of a defining curve in the road.
PG: I look at the way young people behave in kitchens now, and I think, ‘I was one of those ones.’ It's just like, ‘Oh my god!’ But it was a good lesson, you know: don’t waste someone’s time.
LR: What happened next?
PG: Through that apprenticeship, Sardi’s was quite fun, but it was kind of a really dysfunctional restaurant. It was like celebrity hang-outs-ville, so it was really interesting from that point of view. All of these super-duper famous people would be passing through the doors; anyone who was in town performing would be there. It was the first time I had really worked with a lot of gay male (and a few gay female) people, and I was like, ‘Ooh, this looks sort of appealing; what’s this going on?’ So, suddenly I was in this whole circle of people who I hadn’t really associated with before. I actually have three lesbian sisters, and we’re known as the ‘Gay Gordons’ because the four original kids of mum and dad are all queer. But, suddenly there were a lot of gay men. So I was learning to cook, I was dealing with ingredients I had never seen or heard of before, dealing with wine from Italy and wine from Australia – it was amazing. It was like being a kid in a toy shop and it was so exciting.
At that restaurant I met a woman called Suzanne Raidal who was opening a restaurant called Kew’s in High Street, Kew, and after a while I thought, ‘Sardi’s is just going to implode; it's full of mad people.’ So I went and worked with Suzanne for a couple of years, and then in the final year of my apprenticeship I went to another restaurant called Rogalsky’s. I was the head chef in the kitchen for the last 10 months or so, but I was also an apprentice. I went through Willian Angliss College. In the course there were probably 25 of us in the class, ranging in ages from 15 to 20. One of the students in my class was John Torode, who is the UK Masterchef judge; we went through college together. I would argue all the time with the teachers and was often threatened to be expelled or have my apprenticeship annulled. I was going off to a Japanese restaurant or a Thai restaurant or Moroccan or something, and I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, these flavours are so much more interesting than what I’m doing in restaurants,’ which was all quite Frenchy-European. I was discovering ginger and star anise and sumac and pomegranate, then I would go to college and the tutors would say, ‘This isn’t real food. The Japanese don’t cook; they just eat raw fish,’ and all this stuff.
I had been to a restaurant called Kunis and tried fresh silken tofu, a cube of it, and it was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten. EVER. It was so amazing and so subtle. I went to the college and said, ‘Can we please do something with tofu,’ and the lecturers were like, ‘No, it's just rubbish.’ So I was finding myself getting really frustrated because no one could teach me. In the final year, at graduation, I was awarded the top theory student of the college and I was given the Larousse Gastronomique – this kind of culinary bible by Larousse – which was to me, at the time, a huge insult. It was just like, ‘I hate all this French stuff. This isn’t what I find interesting, and of all the books you could have given me, you could have given me Stephanie Alexander’s book, or you could have given me something from some famous Asian chef.’ That would have shown that they took an interest in me.
LR: Not just putting you into a box with everyone else.
PG: Yeah. Then, about six months later, I left my job and I went travelling through South East Asia. My cousin Rae, who helped me get the job, she and I had this plan that we would meet in Bali or in Rajasthan. I didn’t actually know where Bali was or where Rajasthan was, but I knew one was sort of Indonesia and one was somewhere in India. She couldn’t join me in Bali, but I bought a one-way ticket to Bali and on my first day I felt really intimidated. I felt like everyone was ripping me off. Even though I had lived in this multicultural hub, this amazing Melbourne that I knew how to get myself around, it was the first time I had been in a foreign country where English wasn’t the first language. On day one I just felt everyone was scamming me and I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Day two I was thinking, ‘The food is really good.’ Day three I thought, ‘Actually, this is amazing.’
My plan was sort of two weeks in Bali and then going to India, and then coming to London to work in the Savoy – that was the big plan in 1985. I ended up travelling (mostly hitchhiking) through South East Asia, Nepal and India for a year. I taught myself Indonesian. I just had the most incredible time. I suddenly realised that all these foods I had been tasting in Melbourne restaurants, I was now living this food. I suddenly became aware of how cultural identity of food changes through different regions, different seasons, and different religions. If you’re in southern Thailand, it's sort of Muslim-Thai hybrid food, and if you’re in the north it's a whole different thing. Crops don’t grow everywhere due to climate. There’s no coconut in the North, where it's much more arid, and so sticky rice is what you have, and in the south it's Jasmine rice. That was the best year of my life, really, just discovering how food works.
LR: That’s amazing. What a story. I feel like I still need to go on that kind of trip.
PG: I think everyone should. We often have young folk in the kitchen and I’m always the one saying, ‘You just need to go travelling. You need to get out there and experience. You should go and explore all these places when you’re young,’ and if you’re interested in food, you don’t need to go to Thailand: you could go to China, Japan, Italy or anywhere. I just think anything that opens one’s mind is great.
LR: Absolutely. So, then you finished this great year of gastronomy. The plan, did you say, was to go to the Savoy?
PG: Yeah. I left India about 12 months after I’d arrived in Indonesia, and I had travelled through Indonesia - Bali, Java and Sumatra - Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Burma, Bangladesh briefly, Nepal which included a four-week hike through the Annapurna mountains, and then India for three months. Then I arrived in London going, ‘Right, here I am. I’m going to work at the Savoy,’ because that was the sort of place I thought one should go to: a nice big hotel and all that.
Then I got a call to say my dad was really crook and was in hospital and might die, and could I come home? A couple I didn’t know were opening a restaurant in Wellington called The Sugar Club and they needed a chef, and they’d pay my return airfare and give me some money for 10 weeks work. I thought, ‘Perfect. I’ll go and set up their business.’ So I went to do that and fell in love with Wellington and stayed there two and a half years. Dad – although, weirdly, he’s just gone back into hospital for something else – he survived that; but he’s a bit crook at the moment. That period at The Sugar Club when I was able to put all of this fusion stuff that I do into practice.
LR: Where was The Sugar Club in Wellington?
PG: On Vivian Street, near Taranaki.
LR: That’s so cool.
PG: So that happened in ’86, and then the owners (a couple called Ashley and Vivienne) and I decided that we were going to move to London and open a Sugar Club here. We all headed off in ’89 to London. The first Sugar Club in London didn’t open until ’95.
LR: Do you remember much about the vibe of Wellington at that time? Obviously it's a lot different today.
PG: But also similar. I think Wellington works really well because it's a limited area of land. I mean, you can’t go into Cook Strait, and there’s only so far up the Hutt Valley you can go. It's a wonderful city because there’s a hub. Like, I love Auckland, but Auckland is just so spread out. Wellington, even then, was an amazing foody headquarter, amazing coffee. It had the Wellington Film Festival which was something I’d not experienced before. It was really fantastic, as it still is; but at the time it was just incredible. I think in those days Auckland was seen as being a bit vacuous, really. Central Auckland city had no one living in it, whereas in Wellington there were cool restaurants, apartments and funky things, and there was Petit Lyon, the restaurant doing dégustation menus with no choices, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, where’s this come from?’.
It was amazing, but in those days when we opened The Sugar Club, I couldn’t get sundried tomatoes anywhere, so we dehydrated our own tomatoes. I couldn’t really get goat cheese, so we were making our own goat cheese. We were making our bread (which was unusual for restaurants in those days), pickling, bottling and doing all sorts of stuff. It was kind of ahead of its time. What we were doing then is now hugely commonplace, but in those days it was seen as quite quirky. The food – this fusion of Asia, Europe and all the rest of it coming together – had never been seen before. We found that a lot of the westerners, the Kiwis, were enjoying the mix because they’d never experienced it. It's hard to believe, but it just didn’t exist. It was just a brilliant time. It was fantastic.
LR: So, you come to London early ‘90s?
PG: I came in ’89 and I had a job cooking for a family who owned a village down in Wiltshire, as their weekend cook, and helped set up First Floor on Portobello Road with Margot Clayton (now Henderson), who is married to Fergus Henderson of St. John. Do you know St. John Restaurant? There’s a book called Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus.
LR: I have heard of that, yes.
PG: So, I came and did lots of stuff. I did lots of different jobs, all sorts of things, and I was slowly getting to run kitchens. I ran the kitchen of a private members club in Mayfair called Green Street. That was the first time I ever got a review in my name. Because it was a private member’s club, I was getting really bored and frustrated because although I had done all this work who knew about it? So I spoke with Orlando who owned the club and said, ‘Can we open for lunches to the public because it would be really nice to feed the public, and also to get more customers in.’ It was just off Oxford Street in Mayfair and we got great reviews. Everyone was going, ‘Oh my god, what’s this stuff this guy is doing, this sort of fusion thing?’ Fay Maschler called it ‘Pacific Rim’, someone else called it ‘Modern British’.
All of this was beginning to bubble away, and the club was really interesting. It was where you would go up to the bar and Leigh Bowery would be painting Damien Hirst, who sat naked on the bar, as a clown and then dressing him up, while Lucian Freud was buying you a whiskey. It was all this kind of mad London, wonderful, wonderful…
LR: If I could pick one time in history to live, and it's probably a bit boring, but I have always had a bit of a fascination with the ‘90s Britpop, like new Labour optimism. I think probably just because I was a kid when it was all kind of taking off, like the Spice Girls and everything. I’ve watched a documentary called Live Forever, which is about the rise and fall of that period of time, and it just sounds like it was amazing.
PG: It was amazing; it was so positive. It was great. It was a good time to be in London. The young British art group were coming up – Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. All that stuff was kicking off. It was fun. Then my sister Tracey was diagnosed with leukaemia in ’94, and it was another family emergency, so I shot back to Melbourne where she owned an organic grocer with her partner. Then it turned out that I was a bone marrow match, so we knew that at some point Trace might decide to, or not to, have a bone marrow transplant. Eventually in ’95 she decided she would. So I quit Green Street and moved to Melbourne and worked in their café in their grocer for a while. We did the transplant and then I came back to London thinking, ‘Fuck, what do I do?’
At that point, Ash and Viv (who had The Sugar Club in Wellington) had found a property on All Saints Road, which is where the band All Saints takes its name from. They said, ‘Look, we’re going to open The Sugar Club. Do you want to come in as a partner?’ I said, ‘I just don’t know that I do: my sister is really crook, but I’ll set it up and let's see what happens.’ Tracey is still alive and well. We were communicating last night.
I came back. The restaurant wasn’t ready to open. I did my first cookbook. It was for Keith Floyd. I don’t know if you know Keith Floyd: he was the first kind of British TV chef who went on location, post Fanny Craddock of course, and he always seemed to be drunk. Check him out; he’s hilarious. He’s really old fashioned and his food is all old fashioned French, really. He’s funny. He kind of got Rick Stein started and stuff. Keith Floyd was a legend, but slightly bonkers. He produced many cookbooks, and one of the books was The Best of Floyd. I was the home economist on that, my friend Jean Cazals was the photographer, and that was when I first discovered what it was like to do food for a book. But in those days, the food we did was highly stylised; you couldn’t eat it afterwards. It was not shot with natural light. It was quite an interesting experience.
The Sugar Club opened. Rave reviews. It was around the time that Patsy Kensit and Liam Gallagher were on the cover of Vanity Fair, and it was called Cool Britannia and that was all kicking off. It was amazing and The Sugar Club became the favourite restaurant for Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Madonna, Elton John, and George Michael. I do find that interesting because you look at it as an observer, and I always find myself going, ‘Shit, I’m from Castlecliff and look at what I’m doing.”
LR: Do you know what? I love that. I’m very fortunate to know a woman in Wellington called Margaret Hema who fell into working for some amazing people because of The Lord of the Rings being done there. I’m very fortunate in that I get facials regularly from her. She sends Liv Tyler product regularly, and Liv will email her a photo of her and Orlando Bloom from his recent show (which we actually went and saw). Margaret always says, ‘I’m the little girl from Taita.’ I love that because she’s 72. But it's fascinating, in a way, to be kind of removed from the scene, but also embraced by it. I suppose you must have felt like you were part of the hurricane.
PG: As an observer, but kind of intrinsically involved in it. I find it hilarious, but I find it enjoyable and it's quite fun. So, that all kind of kicked off and then I got asked to write a cookbook. Felicity Rubenstein was my agent for many years and the publisher said, ‘Who is going to write your book?’ and I said, ‘Well, don’t I write the book?’ They said, ‘No, chefs don’t write books; we’ll get a ghost writer and you’ll put your name to it.’ I said, ‘My grandmother would be horrified if I put my name on a book I haven’t actually written.’ I had never used a computer in my life. I had barely used a typewriter. I sort of bluffed my way through. When I did School Certificate, which was an old exam that no longer exists, I got 50 per cent for English in the fifth form. So I wasn’t great with English, but I thought, ‘I’ll give it a go.’
So I went and bought an Apple computer, as they were known them. A friend of mine, Franny Laing, taught me how to cut and paste and use capitals. Honestly, I knew nothing. Then I put forward a pitch to the publishers and they loved it. I have now released nine cookbooks and contributed to loads of others. So, that was another little nice thing to have done. That book did really well, and that led onto other books. The Sugar Club led onto more things and it just kind of snowballed. Then we moved The Sugar Club into Soho, in ’98 I guess it was. Ash and Viv said, ‘Come on, let's be partners in this,’ and I said, ‘I just don’t know; I feel like I want to go and do something by myself, so why don’t I do this for a year and let's see how we go.’ At the end of the year I said, ‘Look, I’m going to leave,’ and then I took two years off to do other stuff because I just worked my arse off. I was exhausted, really. Towards the end of those two years my partner at the time, Michael, and I joined up with two other friends to open The Providores and Tapa Room in 2001. So this is now been going for more than 17 years, and it’s led to other things as well, currently including The Sugar Club and Bellota in New Zealand at Sky City, Crosstown Doughnuts in London, and all sorts of other stuff.
LR: Do you have a favourite of your current restaurants and enterprises that you love to work on?
PG: I really feel at home here at The Providores. The kitchen is tiny, I mean, it's really tiny. Deliveries come through the pavement hatch. It's a typical London kitchen: there’s no view; you’re below ground. Heather [Kaniuk] has been cooking in a likely lovely spacious kitchen in The Shard, but generally in London you tend to be in a basement most times because it's the least desirable place for the customers. So, this should be a kitchen that is really undesirable, but I just love it – it's tiny and cute. The Sugar Club in Auckland is amazing because it's on the fifty-third floor of the Sky Tower. That’s an amazing kitchen, but it's quite a long, narrow thing. We don’t have a lot of storage space for everything, so that’s tricky. This is physically the best kitchen to work in, but the worst views. As in ‘no view’.
LR: When you have a rare day off to yourself, what do you like to do to spend some time refuelling your batteries?
PG: I like to cycle. I live over in Hackney in East London and we’re not far from the Olympic Park, so that’s a great place to go swimming. It's good. There’s a local community centre just down the road from where I live. It's a 100-foot pool and it's really fascinating because there’ll be a couple of lanes, and then there’ll just be all the local people – and the local community is Somali, Bangladeshi, Eritrean, Turkish – so there’ll be these families all splashing around having a hilarious time. You’re just in your lanes which is really nice. I probably don’t eat out as often as I should; although, last night we ate at Cornerstone (a newish restaurant in Hackney Wick), which was fantastic. Movies. Bits and bobs. I like walking. I’ve got a tiny garden in my house. It's got lots of Lancewoods and tree ferns and New Zealand natives, and a feijoa tree that has produced four feijoas in seven years. The garden is lovely; it's lush and overgrown.
LR: Do you feel more like a Londoner or, because of your connection to Auckland still, do you feel like you’ve kind of got two homes now?
PG: Two, yeah. I go home to New Zealand, and I come back home to London. I have lived here for 32 years. Is that right?
LR: I’m 28 and I was born in 1989. I turn 29 soon.
PG: When did I come here? In ’89. So that’s maybe 29 years, yeah. Is that right?
LR: Yes. I’m 29 in September.
PG: Okay, so 29 years here. I lived in New Zealand until I was 18 and then I went back just for two years. I have lived in New Zealand for 21 years maybe, I’ve lived here for 29, and lived in Aussie for five. I’ve lived here longer than I have lived anywhere, but I am a total Kiwi. I was with some people the other night – one of the guys from Google, who’s a New Zealander, and his wife – and they said that they have a similar thing: they go home to New Zealand, and they come home to London. I think there comes a point where that is just what it is. I’m never going to be an Englishman or a Brit. I’m just not; I’m a Kiwi.
LR: Finally, are there any particular ingredients or methods or anything at the moment you are enjoying or experimenting with? I imagine you go through phases where you might get a little bit into something at a particular time of year.
PG: This year I will go home to New Zealand five times. I will be going back for most of October, which will be my fifth trip. I go all through the seasons. I went back at one point to do the big dinner for Barack Obama, which was amazing – you know, being asked to go back and do that, that was kind of cool. But I will be going from here, in late autumn, into summer and spring. So I do get a bit jumbled up sometimes. There was a period where we were smoking lots of things, in the old days when we were serving foie gras (before we stopped serving it), and smoking cream and coconut milk and all sorts of stuff. Pickles way back in The Sugar Club days. Fermenting I haven’t really quite got into, but I feel like I should. I feel like, ‘Peter, why haven’t you got into this?’ So, that’s a desire. Baking I love to do. I mean, I’m just open to everything, really.
My partner Al and I went off to Greece and we stayed for a two-week holiday on Hydra, this amazing island where there are no vehicles. I haven’t really had a two-week holiday for ever and ever. I was feeling bad because I have been in New Zealand so much this year. I was taking a two-week break from The Providores, and my business partner Michael looks after this while I’m away, and I was feeling slightly guilty at my numerous times away. Then on about day six I just woke up and had so many dreams about food, and I realised that actually resting your brain is super important. So I came back to London and I came back in the kitchen on the Monday, and by the Friday we changed probably 60 or 70 per cent of the menu. I was just like fizzing with new ideas. That was a really good lesson that you can’t just keep going at 90 miles an hour.
LR: Yes, I think that’s a good lesson for all of us living in this time.
PG: One of the other things we were talking about is some of the people who have passed through the kitchens; it's this lovely whole whānau thing going on at Providores. We did an alumni dinner for our fifteenth anniversary three years ago. There’s a chain of New Zealand restaurants called Caravan, and that’s run by Miles, Chris, and Laura. They all used to work here. We sponsored Miles’s work visa which meant he could live here. We have had the Caravan family go off; and Anna Hansen was our business partner who’s got Modern Panty; and Heather [Kaniuk] came through our kitchens in New Zealand and also here; then Brad Farmerie, who used to be at The Sugar Club, who then had PUBLIC in New York, and they’re opening something in Auckland next year. So part of what we’ve been most proud of are these various things of nurturing talent, often New Zealand talent, and that’s what we feel quite proud of.
Then the good side of my sister with leukaemia is that I set up an event in London twenty years ago called ‘Who’s Cooking Dinner?’ It's raised almost 7 million pounds. It's an idea I came up with, where we get 20 chefs in one kitchen, and they would design a four-course dinner party, and then we would get 20 groups of ten people to come into this ballroom and the chefs would be up on a stage, and then draw a name out of a hat. It's called, ‘Who’s Cooking Dinner?’ because no one knows who is cooking their dinner.
LR: I love it.
PG: We’re about to do our seventh one in Auckland on 13 October. It's a similar sort of thing, and we raised just over a million dollars in New Zealand. It's that thing of trying to do something creative through adversity that has had a huge impact on leukaemia, really.
LR: That’s a fantastic venture.
PG: The one here is amazing. The chefs we’ve had involved in that have been incredible – and the guests. It's just raised shit loads of money. That’s probably the proudest thing I’ve ever done.