It’s a great distance from Livingston, Scotland to Poronui, New Zealand – and Canada was very nearly the beneficiary of Steven Paterson’s passion for purity and perfection in food. But happenstance brought Steven to join the Poronui family, where he instantly felt at one with the outdoor environment, and the strong sense of pride everyone who works at Poronui brings with them every day.
Steven comes from a family where cooking has always been more than simply putting food on the table. His mother and brother are both chefs, and family dinners were a culinary battleground as they competed to make the best lasagna, or the most inspiring way to serve meat, potatoes and two veg. There was always a pot of soup on the stove and an experimental dish to sample.
Steven’s first job was working in his brother’s kitchen and he expanded his knowledge and love of food by travelling and working through Europe, Asia and Australia before coming to a halt in Alderney off the coast of France. It was here Steven decided he needed to make a bigger move, and take himself to live in another country on a more permanent basis.
Canada and New Zealand were on the short list, and luckily for Poronui, Steven and his partner Marie came to New Zealand first, looking for roles that combined cooking with an outdoor lifestyle. Steven fell in love with Poronui in August 2015, the moment he drove through the sentinel pines leading down to the Lodge – the spiritual centre of Poronui. While the outdoor environment was attractive, Steven was drawn as much by the very same elements of the Poronui experience that lead guests to fall in love with it. Everyone who comes to Poronui has a passion for being there. Guests are genuinely excited about what each day will bring, and are truly appreciative of everything the team at Poronui do. No two days are the same, but they all end with guests gathering around the bar in the Lodge, sharing stories of the day’s adventures and sampling some of the canapes crafted in Steven’s kitchen with a glass of fine New Zealand wine in hand.
While the dining experience at Poronui has always been first class, Steven has been tasked with taking it to another level. To him that means getting back to basics. He wants to show the best of what New Zealand has to offer in his menu, which means getting to know the people that produce the ingredients – from the orchardist responsible for the locally grown figs or sweet plums, to producers of cold pressed virgin olive oils. From wagyu and lamb producers to artisan cheesemakers, to vineyards in Hawkes Bay with their robust peppery syrahs and sublime sauvignon blancs. Steven has embarked on his research with gusto, visiting local producers and farmer’s markets in the Hawkes Bay and further afield to Auckland and Wellington.
New Zealand has short seasons for fruit and vegetables. Steven wants to identify seasonal produce and develop menus showcasing those flavours when they are available. Al Brown has been a great source of inspiration, having hosted Food & Wine weekends with his Poronui family for over ten years now. Steven has tapped into Al’s extensive local knowledge, his connections with local suppliers and his shared philosophy of food.
In his first season at Poronui, Steven focused a great deal on logistics. He has built an amazing team who are committed to the journey with him and being part of the Poronui family year on year. He is getting a handle on ingredients and where to source them. With a stable staff and suppliers behind him, he has now turned to the menu, developing recipes and menus to match the incredible dining locations at Poronui.
Depending on the time of year and your length of stay at Poronui, you might find yourself enjoying a rustic open fire meal streamside at Safari Camp, fine dining in the atmospheric underground wine cellar, or a relaxing family style meal at the outdoor barbeque area or around the communal table in the Lodge. Steven’s vision is matching the recipes and ambience to the location. This could be as simple as the waiter wearing a denim apron at the outdoor barbeque, and pressed white linen in the Lodge. It could mean presenting the food on an eclectic mix of slate, wood and brass at Safari camp, or classic white porcelain in the wine cellar.
It also means when lamb season hits using the same cuts but with a different spin to fit the location. For example, a lamb shoulder can be slow cooked at Safari Camp, then charred on the open fire and smeared in a sticky Asian glaze and accompanied by a tossed radish and coriander salad. That same shoulder could be served as a confit in the wine cellar, with fennel and anise, thyme roasted château potatoes, elements of parsnip and a mint jus. And at the Lodge, it can be butterflied and rubbed with manuka honey and wholegrain mustard, and served with roasted seasonal root vegetables, minted potatoes and a mint sauce.
Steven works with Grant Petherick, Poronui’s sommelier, to match local wines to each dish.
Food is memory, and Steven is adding unforgettable dining options to the Poronui experience. With his empathy for the stunning variety of outdoor environments, and his passion for perfection and authenticity of flavour, we think Steven has captured the essence of Poronui in his menus. And given his love of the location and lifestyle in New Zealand, Steven will be part of the Poronui family for a long time to come. There’s no going backwards on the journey to the next level!