Meet the Chef: Kiran Ghate, Naumi Hotels Wellington

Kiran Ghate, the executive chef of Lola Rouge and Naumi Hotels Wellington, began his hospitality career as a food and beverage attendant for banquets with The Taj Mumbai. 

“After completing my bachelor in hospitality, I got a job as a culinary associate at the JW Marriott Hotel, Juhu, Mumbai in 2008. 

“A year later I moved to New Zealand to pursue my advanced professional culinary studies and have been working in Wellington for over a decade.”

Ghate described his style as inspired by his roots in Asian cuisine. 

“My specialities are Japanese, Thai and Chinese, so the menu at Lola Rouge is heavily inspired by this. 

“It reads like a travel guide through South-East Asia.

“Now I am in New Zealand, I also take a lot of inspiration from regional produce.”

The concept of Lola Rouge was devised by COO Chris McIntosh, who was inspired by a late-night and some red wine. 

“An exotic and intriguing story emerged from the ports of Saigon, encompassing the spice, food, flavour and excitement of the continent. 

“McIntosh’s vision was always going to be something very special as part of Naumi’s focus is creating trendsetting culinary experiences.”

Ghate said Lola Rouge had a few false starts due to Covid. 

“Our big launch night was planned for early September and then the lockdown hit. 

“After a few postponements, we finally opened the doors at the start of October. 

“We’ve had a great response so far, with booked out tables and lots of positive reviews.”

McIntosh was inspired by a story when creating the restaurant, but Ghate was inspired by sustainability when creating the Lola Rouge menu. 

“Sustainability is a big driving force for me as a chef. I want to be creative yet environmentally conscious for our future.”

Ghate found creating the Lola Rouge menu a fun and important challenge, creating a curated selection of plant-based options as well. 

“There is a big shift in trends in our industry, and it was very important that we offer plant-based options, and not just as an afterthought.

“We wanted the plant-based menu to be just as refined as the meat-based menu. 

“This is something we are very proud of and I believe it really sets the restaurant apart.”

Some of the dishes include Mori-nu tofu, vegan koftas, vegan chilli chicken, xo soba noodles and yakameshi, to name a few.

The menu is a medley of local ingredients, colour, flavour and texture that reflect the Asian influences of Lola Rouge, accompanied by an extensive menu of boutique wines, local craft beer, as well as cocktails and alcohol-free beverages. 

“We have a lot of special dishes on our menu, but the Torched Ora King Salmon is my favourite. 

“The salmon is a specific breed sourced from Te Waikoropupū Springs and is considered the Wagyu of the sea. 

“Our most popular dish is the Signature Tandoori Plate. To keep the flavours authentic, we have a tandoor in our kitchen in which the whole dish is prepared.”

To finish the experience on a sweet note is the Chef’s dessert tasting plate, which includes Whittaker’s dark chocolate cremeux, pandan Pannacotta, and dulce de leche Kulfi, which is always a crowd favourite. 

Although Lola Rouge just opened, Ghate is not unaware of the struggles the industry is afflicted with. 

“A shortage of skilled staff is a huge challenge. 

“Restrictions on internationals students, people leaving hospitality due to incompetent pay, work stress and lack of work-life balance are all hurdles we’re facing. 

“Our hospitality community needs to come together and work closely with locals and create more awareness; to illustrate how creative this field is and the opportunities that can come along if you put in the time and effort.”

Sometimes it might seem like nothing will come of all your hard efforts, but Ghate encourages young hospitalitarians to not give up too quickly.

“Success doesn’t come quickly, so give yourself time to learn, make mistakes and rebuild yourself as a better professional.”