Paula's recipe for success

23:26, Jul 10 2013
 Paula's Plate
SISTER ACT: Paula's Plate co-owners and sisters, Jo Kilkelly, right, and Paula Saengthian-Ngam outside their new restaurant on Hardy Street.

"Why is it so fancy, Mum?" is just one of the questions MasterChef NZ runner-up Paula Saengthian-Ngam has had to field prior to her cafe's grand opening on July 23.

Paula's Plate seats 30 and is located in the former Pomeroy's premises on the corner of Rutherford and Hardy Streets in Nelson. Mrs Saengthian-Ngam and her sister Jo Kilkelly first inquired about the building in February and took it on as "a shell" before fitting it out with a brand new counter, a lavender espresso machine and an eclectic assortment of interior flourishes.

"We just wanted a place that was spacious for a start, welcoming, comfortable and a little bit different."

Mrs Saengthian-Ngam said her children had been impressed when they came to visit the renovated site. They looked forward to the grand opening and already enjoyed dropping in after school to help themselves to the odd hot chocolate.

She declined to talk about her recent split with her husband, but told the Woman's Day last month that her time in MasterChef had helped her see she needed to end the marriage.

Mrs Saengthian-Ngam said neither she nor her sister had professional experience in the kitchen, but she was confident the experience she gained from participating in the MasterChef show had prepared her to step up as head chef in her own establishment.


"I've definitely got high anxiety about it but I'm quite excited," she said. "I definitely think I've got what it takes."

The sisters will both cook and share management duties. They have hired two front of house staff and hope to be joined by a barista and a pastry chef.

The new cafe will be open from 8am to 4pm, emphasising counter food over a "very small" breakfast and lunch menu. Mrs Saengthian-Ngam said after the first two weeks she would try to change the menu twice a week, saying customers would have to wait until later this year to try the crispy duck salad that was awarded a perfect score by MasterChef judges.

"It's light and fresh and I think it would be really nice with a glass of wine, but we don't think we'll get licensed until the summertime."

She said gaining a liquor licence typically took around three months. Although customers have not been allowed to see inside the premises, the sisters have already received inquiries about booking out the whole cafe.

Ms Kilkelly said the cafe was "a gamble" but she believed the profile boost and experience from MasterChef would help Paula's Plate on the road to success.

"We believe in Paula," she said.