Against the avalanche of decor driven dining rooms and large budget wineries within the Hawke’s Bay landscape of destination tourism and media hype, there is a quiet revolution taking place. The revolutionaries are thoughtful, intelligent, passionate career chefs. Cooks that are not buying into the elitism of competition, ladder climbing and kissing butt.

One such revolutionary is Jeremy Rameka of Pacifica restaurant. I recently spent some time with him in his restaurant. He and wife Rebecca own and operate their own dedicated dining room on Marine Parade in Napier. Jeremy, like many of the line cooks that I know and love, is driven–driven to perfect his cuisine in a town that generally overlooks the small establishment.

At Pacifica, an inspired chef cooks to a controlled audience of 34 with 4 cooks, rather than 4 cooks trying to feed a crowd of hundreds in three hours with hit and miss results. And guess what? Jeremy wants more cooks, so that YOU, the diner, will have better food. He doesn’t want your praise or accolades. He’s the sort that doesn’t want to be led around by a ring in his nose by people in organisations that stand for terribly important things. He doesn’t want to cook in your home or on a stage in a ballroom, doesn’t want to go to dinners and hang out with the “it” crowd. He wants to cook his wonderful cuisine in his restaurant, with his wife and staff to pamper you. He and his staff want to take you to their place, their table, because that’s what it’s all about. That’s all it’s about!

I wonder why it is so hard for people to understand that great cooks wake each day to please their diner. These cooks want to delight and amaze you with their craft, and take you away, just for an evening, to their vision of your happiness. This is Haute Cuisine and the culinary arts…not friggin wedges and nachos with bottled sauce.

Jeremy starts his day at 6.30 am and, like all great cooks, wants to be in his kitchens early. That magical time of the day when his bench is spotless, shined from the midnight cleandown the night before…and all is quiet: no phones, no interruptions, no people.

Make a cup of coffee, read the morning paper, all the while imagining the perfect menu for tonight. Fresh ingredients gathered, prepared, cooked and consumed by the day are a hallmark of great cooks. They don’t want the mindless humdrum of repetition, plating the same dish in the same way for weeks. They–and certainly Jeremy–want to see the seasons splash day by day against the plates going happily to delighted diners.

By 8 am he’s on the rounds of his suppliers…looking, tasting, smelling, bargaining and pleading for the very best…purchasing the local ingredients for the dinner this evening. On my rounds in the morning I will catch sight of Jeremy and sometimes bump into him in various locations…time for a quick chat and each of us eyeing the other’s goodies. So it goes on.

Back to his kitchens, he will lay out the provisions and prepare a rough mental note of the day’s plan, briefing the staff as they assemble. Coffee, maybe Danish, and a good chat about the dishes of the evening, a general thrust of an idea, but the dishes are never really finalised in earnest until seconds before the diner arrives. This is cooking. This is being a chef-your servant-and Jeremy is happy to oblige.

Come evening, with its chaotic, speed-chess game of not enough space, time and hands, this restaurant delivers: perfection of thought and ingredient melded seamlessly and served up to the client-you lucky buggers sitting in the chairs. Slowly the last souffle rises, the service winds down and the kitchen cleanup begins. Waiters start the polishing of glassware and, generally, Jeremy has a beer and reflects on his day and looks forward to the day to come.

For this is the revolution, and Jeremy is the Ché Guevara against the tide of mediocrity and sameness: kitchens that prefer the safety and security of repetitive cookery, and establishments that favour decor over service and convenience over the craft.

I sent Jeremy a Q &A sheet and here are some his replies.

Philosophy:

“Simplicity and feeling are the basis of my cooking. I aim to preserve the best of each ingredient and complement them together in flavour, texture, and appearance.”

“The greatest challenge in cooking is the marriage of ingredients. For example: bread & butter are a simple, wonderful match. Two completely different ingredients which, when matched, elevate both to a new level. It is a simple concept…people never think about how & why it came together; they simply take the entity for granted.”

“The difference between a good chef and an outstanding one comes from the sensitive or spiritual side of cooking. Like music. Everyone has a personal touch or feel. Some musicians just read notes and play while others actually feel what they are playing. The same with chefs. The resulting dishes will undoubtedly taste different because of the feelings, techniques, and mana that go into the food.”

Top three things on your dream list:

“Three more chefs in my kitchen.”

“To change people’s attitudes toward food, and focus on food as an art, craft, & pleasure rather than just fuel.”

“To sleep better.”

Impressions of dining in Hawke’s Bay

“Overall, the dining should be better. The whole culture of dining here does not demand better service or food. We have some of the best fruits, vegetables, & seafood available in NZ. Not enough chefs take advantage of these fresh local products. Furthermore, chefs are governed by the owners of the establishments. They cannot fully realize their imagination and passion.”

Who is in charge of the dining experience: the dining room, the kitchen or the diner?

“Our restaurant is our home . . . we treat our guests as if they are visiting us because they want to see us and what we are doing. The chef determines the menu for the night, the waiters make sure that the expectations are set in place and interpret the chef’s view of the food, and the maitre d’ looks after everyone’s needs from start to finish. When a diner chooses to come to our restaurant, he or she puts their faith into the staff and trusts that we will spoil and excite their senses.”

Your favourite all time dish:

“Egg toasties”

Viva Jeremy. Viva La Revolution.

Pacifica Restaurant

Owners: Jeremy & Rebecca Rameka

Chef: Jeremy Rameka

Manager: Rebecca Rameka

Open Tuesday through Saturday from 6pm until late.

Closed Sunday & Monday. Closed 1 month each year for staff holidays (June 2008)

Address: 209 Marine Parade, Napier

Postal Address: P.O. Box 589, Napier

Phone: (06) 833-6335

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