MEET THE CHEF: Volker Marecek

Volker Marecek is something of an institution, having held his position as executive chef at the Cordis Hotel in Auckland, formerly known as The Langham, for more than a decade. In that time, he’s guided the hotel’s food and beverage facilities through a complete rebranding process, won multiple awards for his afternoon tea services, and even served as a guest judge on Master Chef New Zealand.

Marecek has worked in some of the world’s leading hotels, including The Savoy in London and the Berkeley Court Hotel in Dublin. He’s held positions in Estonia, Australia, and his native Germany, but has long since decided that New Zealand is his home.

Cordis’ flagship restaurant, Eight, gives Marecek and his 60-strong team a chance to experiment, by offering guests eight different kitchens from which to choose their meal. It’s a mammoth, thrice-daily operation, and it’s just one of many strings on Marecek’s bow at Cordis, where his responsibilities include room service, high tea, and regularly catering to over 500 guests at the hotel’s banquet facilities.

With such a vast amount of work to be done, Marecek must trust his team, and delegate effectively. With fifteen different nationalities under his supervision, he encourages his chefs to draw on their own experiences to help keep the kitchen lively and the food authentic.

“I always tell my chefs to treat Eight as their playground. Here, they can try everything, and we can see if it works or not,” Marecek told Hotel Magazine. “I always tell them, ‘Use what your mother is cooking with, what your grandmother is cooking with.’ It’s important to get those different flavours in – we’re living in a diverse city, we should have diverse food as well, and I want to give them that freedom. But of course, at the end of the day, it’s my responsibility to determine what ends up on the menu.”

As well as being an effective way to distribute the workload necessary to maintain such an enormous operation, Marecek’s openness to the free flow of ideas is a testament to the acceptance and warmth underpinning New Zealand culture, something which Marecek believes he has benefited from.

“Kiwis are quite relaxed, and I think I need that,” he said. “Sometimes I can be quite German – if a barbecue starts at two, usually I’m there at five to two, and everyone else shows up at three.”

It’s perhaps this very contrast that encouraged Marecek to settle in New Zealand after many years spent moving from place to place, if there’s one principle underpinning his philosophy as a chef, it would be ‘hospitality.’ Simultaneously creative, friendly, and direct, his temperament is a perfect fit for the hotel sector, where food’s artistic and logistical spheres collide.

The Eight Restaurant

“We need to think differently here than we would in a restaurant,” he said. “I need to keep in mind that the people coming to eat with us are guests. For instance, we have a lot of Asian and Pacific Islander guests, and we need to cater to them. We need to look at what travellers from around the world will like – we need to have a burger, and pizzas, and a Caesar salad. So, we play around with how we can present these foods differently and make them better.”

As well as cultural sensitivities, the team at Cordis must also be aware of the many dietary requirements that guests and diners may have. Marecek estimated that up to 15 percent of guests are either vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or have other dietary requirements, and catering to all of them is important.

“If we have a vegan in Eight, we show them around and show them what they can eat. All our meat is Halal, and we have the option of cooking anything in the back kitchen so that it isn’t on the same grill as our pork,” he explained. “We want to make sure we’re looking after everyone, it’s very important. They’re paying money as well.”

Alongside his day-to-day responsibilities, Marecek also caters to numerous special events hosted by Cordis and sees such opportunities as a chance to showcase his more creative side. Recent experiments include a dramatic performance at the hotel’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony, in which Marecek’s team assembled an abstract artwork with layer upon layer of desserts for an enthralled audience.

An innovator through and through, Marecek is still serving his 20-ingredient house dressing, first crafted back in 1990, and recently created his own ‘vegan ham’ whilst helping out at the Langham Hotel in Sydney. By curing, garnishing, smoking, and roasting a whole peeled watermelon for hours on end, he was able to replicate the texture of ham precisely. “Eighty percent of the diners didn’t believe it was watermelon,” he proudly exclaimed.

When he’s not donning his apron, Marecek enjoys cooking at home as much as at work and loves nothing more than spending a summer’s day hosting guests around his backyard woodfired pizza oven or barbecue.

“I love to cook, and my wife could burn water, so I cook everything at home,” he said. “Over the Christmas period I made doughnuts, which I’d never made before – but my favourite food has to be pizza.”