For Chris Pearce, becoming a chef enabled him to give an expression of himself to others through food. Now at Quench Restaurant and Wine Bar, Chateau Marlborough, he was previously co-owner of The Reef Steak & Seafood Restaurant in Dunedin and more recently at Wanaka Speights Ale House. To date, his biggest accomplishment has been helping set up the Wanaka Speights Ale gastro pub kitchen and front of house team, going from humble beginnings with agency staff to an entity that is now a must-visit gastro pub in central Otago. Rick Stein has had the biggest influence on Pearce.

“I love his organised style of cooking and not over-complicating what’s going on within the dish.”

Pearce has about 100 cookbooks at home, including food influenced from around the world, from traditional French gastronomy to punchy, fresh Asian styles. Pearce has recently researched Blenheim-area wineries for Quench’s wine list and other restaurants that provide excellent dining with regional food. As a young chef, Surf n Turf dishes were an inspiration for Pearce. Even now, his favourite dish is Angus eye fillet with a paua and crayfish component served as a Surf n Turf style dish based on local flavours.

“Proteins from land and sea can pair exceptionally well together given the right environment,” he said.

His favourite cooking technique is slow braise, curing, or confit. The dish on Pearce’s menu that will follow him wherever he goes is Affogato.

“You get a coffee, ice cream, chocolate and liquor all on the one plate.”

A trending cooking technique that Pearce has implemented is foams.

“Currently we use orange liquor flavoured foam with our panna cotta. I seem to be going through a citrus phase with sweets at the moment, baked cheesecakes in particular.”

Lately, an ingredient that Pearce has used is flavoured salts. They’re a great way of getting concentrated flavours into dishes with minimal additives, he said. His favourite ingredient is garlic.

“Fresh flavours rule the roost regardless of the ingredient.”

Pearce would love to work anywhere in New Zealand as long as it is either by the sea or in the high country. He stays educated about new trends through hospitality magazines, the Internet and “the good old grapevine.” To ensure the quality of the food going out to customers, Pearce keeps the team well informed of the standards required, making sure products are stored correctly to maintain the best quality possible while keeping it as fresh as possible, helping with issues that arise, be it training or getting slammed on an already busy night, being open to new ideas and sourcing good quality local products.

“I look for efficiency within the team but also a relaxed atmosphere whenever we can find the time, always with attention to detail and focus on the customer.

“I think restaurants have to keep pace with the style of food being offered within the region they reside. For me, it has been evolving from the gastro pub steak chips and salad to a more authentic dining style with good quality products, great fresh flavours, and simple yet elegant presentation. The end result needs to look colourful, and be excellent, product quality.”

Pearce trained a young Korean woman transitioning from pot wash/salad hand to the larder section in a large, fast paced kitchen. She is now an integral part of the kitchen team, running the section in that same kitchen, averaging 300 covers a night in peak season. Currently, Pearce is working on the design build for a new kitchen and refurbishment for Quench. There are another 34 new accommodation rooms being built at Chateau Marlborough and the new kitchen and restaurant facilities are to accommodate the expected hotel growth.

“There’s a fair bit to get through with the renovations and the new kitchen build at the Chateau, and moving forward I’d like to see Quench become internationally a Marlborough must-see destination.”