Chef's got a flash feast for Waitangi Day

16:00, Feb 05 2013
 Cameron Petley from The Nash Restaurant and Bar in Cambridge.
WAITANGI ON A PLATE: Cameron Petley from The Nash Restaurant and Bar in Cambridge.

When asked to define Waitangi Day on a plate Waikato celebrity chef Cameron Petley cooked up pork on puha with a port jus combined with komokomo and kumara.

"Pretty flash, eh," he grins, from behind the grill of The Nash Restaurant and Bar where he has been head chef since late last year.

Petley, 33, is from the Ngai Tuhoe tribe whose traditional roots are firmly planted at Mt Uruwera, but he admits that for him Waitangi Day is "just another day".

Which means cooking up a storm for customers at the busy Cambridge restaurant, where the menu is inspired from his love of the land and philosophy of "good-quality, honest Kiwi food".

Petley leaves the kitchen to sit and dwell on his sudden rise to fame following a berth in the top ten of MasterChef season two.

"I didn't even win - I came 6th - but I think I've had one of the bigger profiles of any MasterChef contestant," he said.


The unassuming ways of the quiet Maori boy from Putaruru won the hearts of MasterChef viewers, who voted the former Ingham chicken worker as the people's choice on the show.

"I think it was because I was so relaxed, nothing really fazed me."

That is, until he came face to face with a tower of decorated cupcakes that led to a sticky exit for the show's "hunter-gatherer".

But rather than melting back into his old life, Petley used his MasterChef profile to carve a formidable cooking career. He completed a recipe book, took on multiple media engagements and landed a plum job as head chef of the Masters Table in Putaruru.

"The people of Putaruru were pretty crushed when I told them I was leaving late last year, but I needed another challenge and I have found it here in Cambridge," he said.

Petley arrived with young Tokoroa chef Nathan Arnell in tow. "Nathan has worked with me for a while and he is very capable of taking over when I have other commitments," he said.

Like his guest appearance at the Great Easter Bunny Hunt in Alexandra next month.

He said it's the kind of thing the next generation of MasterChef contenders should get used to as they prepare for the start of season four of the hit Kiwi cooking show this weekend.

"If there's any advice I can offer it's to get as much sleep as you can," he said. "The schedule can be really stressful but it's important to keep a clear mind and to focus."

That focus paid dividends for Petley, who wouldn't change his new career for anything.

"I get up and love going to work every day."


1. Picnic at the Point, Ngaruawahia, at the Domain between the Waipa and Waikato Rivers. Following an opening ceremony at 2.30pm there will be entertainment including a magician, children's entertainment and bands from 3pm until late.

2. Children's act The Funky Monkeys do a free show with Hamilton Plunket at 10am at Fairfield Park.

3. Nitro Circus perform at Waikato Stadium in the evening.

4. Hamilton City Council hold a Waitangi Day Civic Ceremony at 7am in the Civic Square (outside the council's Municipal Building).

5. Family fun event. 11am-2pm at Cambridge Community Marae cnr Bracken St & Pope Tce Cambridge Ethnic food (gold coin donation) bouncy castle, face painting, games, live entertainment.

6. Join the Nationwide Haka against Youth Suicide tomorrow in Tokoroa. Tokoroa Youth Park, from 11.30am. 12.30, there will be a world record attempt.

Waikato Times