Tutoring another adventure for chef

19:32, Sep 09 2012
Cooking school: Whitireia tutor Martin Russek, shows students Gaelene Harness, left, and Loan Dinh how to make tasty chicken liver.

A passion for food and travel has taken Raumati South chef Martin Russek around the world.

Now a tutor at Whitireia's Kapiti campus, setting up the polytechnic's new culinary programme is another adventure, he says.

Originally from Auckland, Mr Russek completed the internationally recognised City and Guilds certificate in food preparation and culinary arts at Auckland Institute of Technology in 1989 (now Auckland University of Technology).

In his final year, he was one of six students chosen to represent New Zealand in the World Chef's Olympics in Toronto, Canada.

He made two main courses, earning a silver and bronze medal. The team finished fourth out of 30 countries, but after 36 hours straight cooking, he decided a break was in order after his return to New Zealand.

Having an international qualification provided a great incentive for Mr Russek to work overseas.


Getting himself a Kombi van, he found a job in an English pub and saved enough money to travel, coming back to work when the money ran out.

Later he worked in restaurants in North England, Scotland and Dublin, until it was time to open his own back in New Zealand.

"There gets a point when you've been working for so many years, that you've got so many ideas in your head that you just want to see what they're like and you just want to take that risk."

He had saved $30,000, but spent it all travelling through Africa and India.

Mr Russek opened The March Restaurant and Cafe in Martinborough in 2000. He said it was an exciting time in which he learned a lot, and harder than he expected, with the tax department and staffing particular challenges.

"Small businesses I think are treated pretty harshly in New Zealand. They have the same penalties as a large business, but you can't spread the responsibilities out as you would have in a larger corporation with more personnel.

"Opening my own restaurant opened me up to the fact that you . . . have to very quickly learn how to wear many hats, not just the chef's hat.

"You have to learn how to put on your little accountant's hat, sometimes a cleaner's hat, you have to be the manager and everything, really, that's involved in the trade."

After two-and-a-half years, Mr Russek sold The March and leased another restaurant at Murdoch James Estate Vineyard in Martinborough. His friend owned the vineyard, and introduced Mr Russek to his future wife, Rosie, at a wedding. She was working as a sign language interpreter in Wellington at the time.

Eventually tired of the travelling, Mr Russek moved to Wellington, and became a cooking tutor at Weltec in Petone, before he received the position at Whitireia in Kapiti. He said he has the best job in the world because he can cook and show off at the same time.


Roast venison with mushroom sauce, serves four

800g venison fillet or denver leg

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Fresh thyme, to taste

30ml canola oil

150g button mushrooms, quartered

125ml brandy

250ml beef stock

250ml cream

1 Tbsp chives, finely chopped

Lemon juice, to taste

Cut the venison into 200g portions.

Rub with salt, pepper and thyme leaves.

Seal portions in a hot pan and place in roasting tray

Cook at 200'C for 8 to 10 minutes or until medium rare

Remove from tray and keep warm.

Add mushrooms to roasting tray and saute until lightly coloured.

Deglaze with brandy and flame

Pour into pot and reduce by half

Add beef stock and bring to boil

Reduce by half.

Add cream and bring to boil

Lower heat and simmer until a coating consistency.

Kapiti Observer