French chef Arnaud Mallet only arrived in New Zealand earlier this year. Last year he was travelling, visiting his family in France where he went to the Michelin star restaurant, Restaurant de Lauzun, which he remembers for its outstanding crab.
“Whenever I go back home I put on at least 5 kilos a week. My partner and I went to China last August and the Peking Duck there was amazing, so were the dumplings and the street food.”
Now Arnaud Mallet is showing off his talents at the Vintners Room Restaurant at Heritage Collection Marlborough Vintners Hotel in Blenheim.
From a very young age, Mallet knew he wanted to become a chef. He loved helping his mum cook, and eventually took charge of the home kitchen for making the family’s dinners.
As a young chef, Mallet learnt a lot from reading books from great cooks.
“Being a Frenchman, I would say the late Paul Bocuse was an inspiration. He represented all the techniques of French cooking like quenelle. A couple of years ago I did a menu with some of his most famous dishes.”
“Christophe Barjettas told me a lot about spices and how to work with the fresh fish we got straight from the boat in St Barth. He used to work for Jean George for years and he opened my eyes to different flavours.
“Rene Gate used to be the head chef at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in England and took the executive chef position at the Hallion club in Edinburgh. Working with him was always pushing my limits to be better, faster and respecting the product.”
These days Mallet keeps up to date with new trends in the kitchen by staying in touch with chefs he used to work with, as well as scrolling Instagram and going out for a meal whenever he can.
One dish that will always be on his menu wherever he travels would be slow-cooked lamb in coriander seed, star anise and vanilla.
Mallet tries to source his ingredients locally and do as much as possible from scratch. His favourite ingredients change depending on the season, but at the moment he’s enjoying using scotch bonnet chillies from a local farmer in Blenheim.
“I haven’t seen them since I left the Caribbean so that’s pretty exciting for me.”
Fresh broad bean leaves is another trending ingredient that he’s been using lately.
“Having our own garden gives me the opportunity to use the young and tender leaves.”
Being the middle of winter, Mallet is particularly inspired to cook game, as well as Cassoulet and “anything linked to cheese”.
Mallet has worked in restaurants across the world, such as Bon Ap’ and Bistro Flor in Melbourne, The Wine Underground in Adelaide, Hallion Club in Edinburgh, as well as the Guanahani Hotel in Saint Barthelemy, Brazil.
Working as a chef in New Zealand is completely different than working in any other country. The produce in New Zealand is not the same as anywhere else, and neither are the customer’s expectations.
“The aim for me is to make my customers happy and have a great time. Accomplishing that in every country is slightly different. Some will expect spicy food, some expect three-course meals, some expect degustation – finding the balance is key.”
To him, the most significant accomplishment of his career was when an executive chef in Adelaide had tears in his eyes while eating the rabbit dish Mallet had made, telling him it reminded him of this grandmother.
Currently at Vintner’s Room, Mallet and the team are currently working with a local brewery, Golden Mile, to produce food to match its Crank Dark Ale brewed on-site. They’re also working on a high-tea twice a month and preparing a degustation menu with wine matches.