New Zealand chef Andrew Brown certainly knows what it’s like to climb from the bottom to the top. After “falling” into the cooking environment as a 17-year-old kitchenhand in a small West Coast restaurant, he has travelled the world and cooked for the likes of Hillary Clinton, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince William and even Metallica.
Andrew knew right from the start that the fun and high energy aspects to the job were for him. A 6,000-hour apprenticeship programme over three years at Christchurch’s CPIT gave him the experience he needed to begin his career as a chef. Though Andrew is adamant that “you can’t go far wrong with onsite training, so long as it’s an environment of a certain standard, or a place with a good reputation”.
After his seven-year stint as head chef at the George Hotel in Christchurch, Andrew moved his focus to running his own restaurants – Burgers & Beers Inc and the recently opened Dragon’s Den cocktail lounge – along with his business partner Tama Haas. While they are popular spots to eat and drink, Andrew says that opening new restaurants and bars is always a challenge. “You haven’t forged your own identity or your own brand when you’re starting out.”
The hours involved can be a killer too, with Andrew having done some 100-hour weeks. “That’s not the norm, but when you want to succeed you give it as much as you can.” The punishing restaurant routine of early starts and late night finishes is something he wants to break, however. Andrew tries to ensure his staff works a standard 40 hours: “Working too many hours doesn’t give the right working atmosphere.”
Commitment is still a big part of the job though, Andrew notes. “The new generation is full of multimedia kids with often short-term, ‘in the now’ attitudes. They don’t always fully commit to things. If you want to be a chef, you have to be able to give it your all and tough it out,” he says. That’s how Andrew achieved his long list of awards, medals and accolades – including Best Young Chef, Best Dessert, Best Restaurant and several of the
New Zealand Listener awards – through a huge amount of hard work.
On top of everything else, assisting in the selection process of contestants and post-production work for Masterchef New Zealand meant Andrew was able to appear as a guest judge on several occasions. He believes the show offers a great opportunity for people to get into cooking. “It shows a shift from packet food to actual cooking and that is a big motivation of mine.”
Andrew loves the idea of getting people back into the traditional way of cooking, rather than buying pre-made or shop-bought meals. “Packets are way too convenient! Cook a little bit! Incorporate something from the garden. I love cooking like that.”
Writing unit standards and training young chefs, is one of the ways Andrew sees himself giving back to the community. “Stretch them as far as they can,” he says. “They learn a lot more that way because you can only set your own standards through experiences. They can take everything I know, learn it early, get there faster and do it better than I ever did.”
Andrew has a message for young chefs just starting out and those contemplating the same path: “If you aim for nothing, you will hit nothing. Do what you love and love what you do.”