Having had seven months off following a fire at O’Connell Street Bistro, head chef Mark Southon has had time to design the new kitchens, new plates with Holly Huston and develop the menu for the establishment’s grand reopening in September.

Travel is high on the list when it comes to inspiration and developing a menu for Southon. From a young age, he discovered his passion and love of food while watching his mother cook and tasting new flavours when they travelled overseas. On a recent trip to Singapore, he was lucky enough to get into a hawker stall and cook with the chef to create a traditional chilli crab dish, which is one of his favourites.

“I still remember going to Heston’s Fat Duck 15 years ago when he only just opened and was starting on his culinary revolution,” said Southon. “The food was amazing and still some of the best flavours that I, even to this day, have tasted. I got to meet him after the meal, and he was so passionate and full of ideas – a true inspiration.”

When it comes to cooking techniques, there are so many that Southon has used in his time in the kitchen but for him, it always goes back to classics, like cooking in a pan from raw and finishing and basting with butter and herbs.

“I don’t think I could have a signature dish, and I am always creating and modifying dishes to improve and enhance the menu. We sous vide a couple of items on the menu to get the best textures to enhance the produce, like Ora King Salmon, it does just melt in your mouth.”

Ingredients always cycle in trends and seasons, but Southon knows that New Zealand has great seasonal produce so heading into whitebait season, he has created a take on a classic, a whitebait Arnold Bennett.

“It’s hard to pick just one ingredient to be a favourite, but I do love truffles – who doesn’t? In season, I love Jerusalem artichokes. An ingredient that is inspiring me at the moment would have to be Chinese black vinegar. I love the flavour, and it reminds me of eating a dumpling on Dominion Road.”

Following working in some of the top restaurants around the world like Hambelton Hall (1 Michelin Star), Vue De Monde (Three Hat) and The French Café (Three Hat), Southon has brought his wealth of knowledge and expertise to O’Connell Street Bistro to run a kitchen that he describes as educational, fun and rewarding – especially to those who really give it their all and work hard.

A highlight for Southon has been to work at Vue De Monde for two and half years, and he hopes to bring in some accolades and some hats for O’Connell Street Bistro in the coming years.