CHEF Ryan Tattersall recalls his mother packing him off to Waikato Polytech with a couple of staple recipes – spag bol, beef fried rice, that sort of thing.
"Stuff you can't go wrong with that's cheap as chips," he says.
These days Tattersall is producing dishes with a little more finesse. Head chef at Days Bay's Cobar Restaurant, he has just been named by Beef and Lamb New Zealand as one of its "Rockstar" Ambassador Chefs. He's one of five top chefs nationwide to receive the accolade – all chosen from 164 recipients of the 2014 Beef and Lamb Excellence Award.
Says Tattersall: "I remember being really impressed by a chef who was one of the Beef and Lamb Ambassadors who came in to talk to us when I was studying at Waikato back in 2002. He did a cooking demo and made these incredible dishes and I just thought 'Wow, this guy is at the top of his game. I want to get to his level'. So it feels pretty good to be here right now."
The 35-year-old started out studying music before being lured into the kitchen. During a stint dish-washing – or dish-pigging as it's termed in the industry – at a Hamilton restaurant the culinary seed was sewn.
"It wasn't a glamorous job. It was hot and dirty work but I liked the kitchen environment. There's a camaraderie in a kitchen that is unique. First there's all this intense prepping going on then customers come in, service starts, checks go on and the energy of the place just bumps right up. I liked that energy, I got a real feel for it.
"And I was tasting these chefs' food, this beautiful food. They'd hand me a pot with leftovers and they'd say 'try this'.
"I was tasting ostrich, raw oysters, peking duck – stuff I'd never tried before. I was seeing whole ducks and the process of them going from feathered whole creatures to meat sitting on a plate with a sauce. This was a whole new world to me and it felt right."
Tattersall ditched music for grub and moved on up the kitchen ladder. "I was being trained by really good chefs, working alongside them. I had this thirst for knowledge and I was constantly wanting to know more, more, more."
Beef and lamb have been on Tattersall's cooking radar for long enough to receive five Excellence awards and a People's Choice award. There's no limit to what you can do with these meats, he says. There are so many parts of the animal to choose from and so many different methods to prepare them.
As an ambassador, he'll be giving cooking demos and speaking with budding young cooks with their own thirst for knowledge.
"I'm remembering that chef who came to talk to our catering class all those years ago and the pure passion for cooking he instilled in me.
"I reckon if I can instil some of that drive and enthusiasm to cook really great food into chefs coming up the line then I'll be pretty happy."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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