A former Waikato chef who suffered so badly from dyslexia he had to get someone else to write his notes at school has cooked his way to a Michelin star.
Russell Pirrit, who is originally from Te Kauwhata, recently picked up one of the restaurant world's most coveted accolades for the restaurant 5 in Stuttgart, Germany on his first head chef gig.
The Michelin star system is the most widely recognised and respected culinary rating system in the world, and having even one star massively boosts the profile of a restaurant.
Mr Pirrit suffers from severe dyslexia but was was encouraged to be a chef by his family who noticed his flair in the kitchen and saw the career as one where his dyslexia would be less of an impediment. Having a reader-writer as assistance helped Mr Pirrit through both high school and his chef training at Waikato Polytechnic.
After a few years honing his culinary skills in New Zealand, Mr Pirrit ventured to Europe to learn the secrets of Michelin star restaurants.
Twelve years and 12 positions later Mr Pirrit is now fluent in spoken French, German and English, despite having difficulty reading or writing in any language.
Asked how he copes with his dyslexia Mr Pirrit says he avoids written communication where possible and he often asks people to read out things for him. When hiring kitchen staff he doesn't put too much emphasis on what's written in the resume.
Leading a team of nine chefs, Mr Pirrit doesn't allow his kitchen to be too serious.
"A high-performing kitchen doesn't need to be a hostile environment. My team knows that we have to deliver to the highest standard so I don't need to remind them" he said.
The team listen to music while they work and laughter and joking is allowed, which is uncommon in many restaurants in Europe - especially those with Michelin-star food.
At 6pm, before the dinner service starts, the team drinks a toast to "good service" as a sign of solidarity before the pressure goes on.
The restaurant offers up to a seven course menu with a vegetarian option. The menu changes every month, providing an added creative challenge.
Mr Pirrit described his cooking style as "fusion", since he takes his inspiration from kitchens and flavours all over the world.
His creations are often adventurous, with some of his dishes containing unusual cuts of meat such as chicken comb, calf cheeks and lamb feet. He doesn't like to waste any part of the animal, and so is always looking for new ways to incorporate parts of the animal other than the fillet into his cuisine.
Asked, what's next, Mr Pirrit hinted that two stars may be the next goal, although he would eventually like to return to New Zealand sometime in the future and open his own restaurant and raise a family with his wife Estera.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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