The weird guy collecting seaweed and stones on Wellington's south coast is really, truly, one of Wellington's top chefs.
Samuel North, 23, the head chef and owner of Muse on Allen in central Wellington, has had his restaurant nominated as one of five finalists in the Visa Wellington on a Plate Award.
The finalists are announced today. He is up against Wellington hospitality royalty in the form of Boulcott St Bistro and Duke Carvell's, as well as the super-hip Little Beer Quarter and Ti Kouka.
Despite his age, North is going into the competition with form - he won the Wellington on a Plate Award last year.
The win had a huge impact on his business. Suddenly, customer numbers went from about 20 a night to 60-80 and he had to double staff numbers. "We found our niche, really. People didn't know what we were doing. People thought we were fine dining but we weren't - we have a really relaxed atmosphere."
For this year's competition he is serving "oysters vichyssoise" - a plate largely inspired by the Wellington south coast, where he lives. The dish involves seaweed, stones and pebbles, which he sources from Lyall Bay. "I walk to the beach to get a bucket of seaweed. People think I'm pretty weird."
Back at the restaurant he adds "sand" - made with egg whites - and dry ice. Then comes the crucial (and arguably most edible) ingredient - oysters in a shell.
He describes the entree as a "theatrical kind of food".
For the main, he is taking a creative angle on the traditional beef Wellington, using lamb.
Dine Wellington is Wellington on a Plate's centrepiece, and has almost 100 Wellington restaurants designing set-menu lunches and dinners showcasing the region's produce and suppliers.
The Wellington on a Plate Award is given to the restaurant with the best Dine Wellington menu. This year's finalists will be judged by top Australian chef Alla Wolf-Tasker, Wellington Culinary Trust chief executive Sarah Meikle and Mindfood editor-in- chief Michael McHugh.
The winner will be announced on August 11.
- The Dominion Post