15 minutes with … chef Ben Batterbury

The Rees Hotel,Lake Wakatipu, Ben Batterbury

Q. You started at The Rees Hotel Queenstown in 2009. What inspired you to make the move from Europe to NZ? I had previously worked with general manager Mark R0se in Scotland and he invited me to come. It had always been an ambition of mine to work in New Zealand, so this seemed like the perfect way to do it.  |
Q. What was your vision for the restaurant ? We always had a vision to promote local produce and try and to do modern New Zealand food. For me, working with small local producers is also a no-brainer. If you visit a region you want to see and taste the local produce. As for how our food has evolved, it’s just the plating; the passion for produce has stayed the same.

Ben Batterbury, The Rees Queenstown, True South Dining Room, Best eats in Queenstown

Q.  You won the 2017 HM Award for Best Hotel Chef and the 2018 ‘Beef and Lamb Excellence Awards’ for the fourth consecutive year. Is there anything you would do differently on the road to achieving those successes?  I would travel more to absorb more cultures and food knowledge.
Q. You are passionate about ethical eating and celebrating local producers. What excites you right now in terms of ingredients and producers? It’s the end of winter now and like an animal that awakes from hibernation you go in search of greenery. For me the biggest symbol that marks the end of winter is new-season asparagus. We are lucky to have really amazing asparagus grown here in Gibbston Valley at Nevis Gardens and even my little boy gets excited about the prospect of going to the asparagus farm!

True South Dining Room combines local produce with sophistication and elegance. Image: Supplied.

Q. What are the newest dishes you are developing for True South? Spring is here and we are looking forward to making lighter more sunshine-y dishes. We have just changed head chef too so we are now working on an updated style but the backbone will stay the same.

Q. Who inspired you to go down the path of being a chef? I was good at Home Economics at school and I really liked cooking. I had numerous excursions to France including visits to my pen friend’s house where his mother would turn out incredible food in the middle of the week, which was quite incredible to see. Food is inspiring, but it is the event of eating that makes eating enjoyable. So many people treat it as ‘refuelling’ and overlook this simple pleasure.

True South Dining Room, Ben Batterbury, The Rees Queenstown, where to eat in Queenstown

Q. You have worked alongside Michelin-starred chefs and made cameo appearances on shows such as New Zealand on a Plate. What do you most enjoy about having a profile as a chef?It doesn’t really matter what you do in food it seems we are all quite similar and it’s great to meet all the different arms of the industry but find out we are all kind of similar like a cult! (without the mass genocides!). It is also amazing to be able to share our food finds with others and showcase the small producers who care so deeply and really appreciate the exposure you give them.

Q: What local produce excites you? The main nature of our region lends to fruit and veg so most of the really local producers grow things. Nevis Gardens in Gibbston Valley has amazing asparagus and so many other awesome veg and they are awesome people, too. Double Rock in Cromwell have amazing berries through summer too, probably some of the best raspberries and blueberries I have tasted.

True South Dining Room, New Zealand's best eats, Ben Batterbury

Q. How has the restaurant scene in Queenstown changed since you have arrived? With the huge growth in travel and tourism there are now so many options now available. The multicultural nature of the town has also brought with it many different cuisines and there is a real melting pot of options around.

Q.On your night off, what do you like to eat? [And who cooks? Strangely I like cooking at home as there is no pressure and you just have to cook what is in your fridge or what you want to eat. I am generally quite a plain eater and like things separated rather than mixed in a dish. I am very much a meat and two veg guy. I love things to taste natural.

True South Dining Room, Ben Batterbury, Where to eat in Queenstown, The Rees hotel

Q. What’s in your repertoire for Sunday lunch with the family? Our kids are still very young so can be quite tough to organise a civilised Sunday lunch that doesn’t turn out to be a chimps tea party. Every now and then we pull out a good old-fashioned Sunday roast that goes down well with all but usually in warmer months a BBQ is the way forward as it is social and a crowd-pleaser.

Q. You love French/English cuisine. How have you incorporated that into your menu/cooking?French/English cuisine celebrates the flavour of good produce and keeping it natural. Most of the flavour combinations we use today come from the classics. Most modern food is just a variation on a classic dish.

True South Restaurant, Must-eat Queenstown, Ben Batterbury, Best restaurant in Queenstown

Q: If you were to cook a dish that nods to nostalgia from your upbringing in Bristol what would it be and why? My gran’s apple pie. She had her own Bramley apple tree and we would go to her house for Sunday lunch and eat an over-indulgent lunch followed by her famous pie.

Q: If your life had a soundtrack, what would it be? It would definitely be eclectic! My dad was a Jazz pianist and loved classic music. My mum loved country music and the Stones. I grew up in the rave era and was born in the home of drum and bass! The influences go on. It would definitely include some classics like The Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, Glen Miller, Carter the Unstoppable, Sex Machine, some Madness thrown in for fun and  Goldie (from my home town).

The Rees hotel Queenstown,Lake Wakatipu, Ben Batterbury

Q: What has been one of your most memorable meals? It’s a toss-up between the Fat Duck and WD-50.
Q: What’s your sorry, not-sorry pantry secret? Frozen peas, tinned tomatoes, cheese, tea and Dijon mustard.


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