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CHEF David O’Leary

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A number of my colleagues see meals served at weddings as a lesser form of the culinary arts, but I’m determined to show that doesn’t have to be so,” says the new head chef at West Auckland venue Tui Hills.

“Wedding meals don’t have to taste like they’re mass-produced with lowest common denominator ingredients – they certainly won’t be here.”

With a head full of recipes from New Zealand and around the world, the 41-year-old who’s cooked in restaurants in Britain, Australia and Hong Kong says he’ll be serving meals restaurants would be proud to have on their menus.

“To maintain quality, we’re getting in the best organic, free range and local ingredients and getting the food in fresh just before each wedding or event. Almost everything is being prepared on site from fresh raw ingredients and we’re not cutting corners on quality for the sake of convenience.

“Too many of the hotels and venues out there doing big functions are just defrosting things. The only things coming out of our freezer will be our soon-to-be-famous Lavender Hill dessert, made of lavender, white chocolate and honey frozen parfait, and of course ice cream for the kids.”

He’s honed his skills at eateries such as Firevault in London, Frites and Mrs Jones in Hong Kong, Babington House in Somerset and the Red Brick Kitchen and Bar in Auckland. He’s even worked at the world-famous Victor Churchill Butchery in Sydney, which doubles as an occasional restaurant for VIPs.

It was there that he cooked for international TV chef Anthony Bourdain for the Travel Channel show No Reservations. “He ate our whole charcuterie meat menu, and two types of wagyu steak – a lot of food for anyone – and then he called for extra black pudding. He loved the food and the place so much he named it “the most beautiful butcher shop in the world”.

Pork belly with pumpkin puree

At Tui Hills, David has put together three new menus aimed at showcasing the best New Zealand ingredients and meeting a range of budgets.

“They’re a combination of some of the best restaurant dishes I’ve cooked over the years and the insights and ideas of the team at Tui hills with their experience in the execution of quality weddings. We’re using as many fresh local ingredients and Kiwi suppliers as we can.

“The three quality levels offer something for everyone’s tastes and wallet. The approachable, casual, and straightforward Kiwi menu. The more elegant and colourful Tui menu that also features a gourmet BBQ section utilising free range meats and award winning Westmere butchery sausages. And the modern high-end decadence of the Kereru menu, with premium First Light wagyu beef, Te Mana lamb and Freedom Farms’ pork making an appearance alongside local octopus and oysters.”

Looking at his career to date, David identifies plenty of highlights.

“I worked as a group executive chef in Hong Kong and built three restaurant brands from the ground up. Working for the exclusive Soho House group in Somerset taught me a lot – cooking a new menu each day and using hyper local ingredients like lamb and rapeseed oil from the farms next door and vegetables and herbs from the walled garden.

“Right now, though, I’m really looking forward to this season at Tui hills, we have great menus, a great team and some really interesting events and weddings lined up. I can’t wait.”

To get a feel for David’s love of cooking, all you need to do is visit his Instagram page @chefdavidoleary where a flair for plating creates a feast for the eyes as much as the palate.

Shannon & Morgan

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