Portrait of Jorg Penneke

Sometimes the calling to become a chef can be simple. Jorg Penneke always loved cooking, growing up he was constantly offering to help his parents in the kitchen. When his mother fell ill, the responsibility then fell to him to cook for the whole family. Ever since then he’s pursued the life of a chef.

Penneke has travelled extensively, going on a journey almost every chance he gets. In years prior, his work revolved around constant travel. “I used to work for a cruise company in Asia called Haimark Travel between 2013 and 2016 and launched seven river cruise ships in Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and India. During that time, I travelled between those countries constantly to create menu cycles featuring local cuisine with Western influence.

“Then, between 2016 and 2018 my career took me to Europe to work for Avalon Waterways. It was my responsibility to look after 16 river cruise ships which allowed me to travel across Europe extensively,” he said.

Jorg Penneke is now the executive chef at Left Bank Café, in Sofitel Queenstown Hotel and Spa. “My belief (is) that working in the kitchen should be fun. Therefore, I am dedicated to creating an atmosphere of respect and teamwork where all ambassadors thrive. My team and the pride they take in their work is very important to me as it cultivates a strong and highly enjoyable kitchen environment.”

Keeping the kitchen spotless is also important. “I know my team love it when the kitchen is well-organised, they look very happy.” The life of a young chef is relentlessly challenging. From one day to the next, everything in the kitchen consistently changes. “As an apprentice, I was challenged in my first 2 weeks to make homemade 18 different types of ice cream.” Intense work like that has made Penneke the chef he is today.

Penneke stays up to date with recent trends by browsing the internet, reading magazines and visiting other restaurants. The rise of superfoods like kale, chia, and sago and the wider appreciation of healthier foods are two trends he’s noticed recently.

Ensuring only the highest quality food goes out to his customers takes two steps, “It starts with the purchasing as I only use finest and freshest products available. Also, teaching my team correct cooking methods and maintaining high operational standards in the kitchen,”

Steak is a dish that will be on Penneke’s menu wherever he goes, especially ribeye, sirloin and beef tenderloin cuts. His favourite way to serve steak is to marinate the meat with herbs, then wrap it in caul fat with apple cider sauce, wilted kale, garlic and crushed potato mash.

In the future he plans on moving the rest of his family over to New Zealand, maintaining a positive work and life balance, and staying healthy and active. He has an abundance of projects coming up in the short term. With new seasonal menus on the way at Left Bank Café, Penneke has busy times ahead of him.