Remix chats with Chef Vaughan Mabee of Amisfield

Remix recently had the honour of chatting with world-renowned Chef, Vaughan Mabee on his career, his success with Amisfield in Queenstown, what we can see next from their award-winning restaurant and winery, and where he draws his inspiration from. This is what he had to say...

You've worked at some amazing restaurants around the world. What made you want to come back to New Zealand and settle down here? 

I originally went overseas to learn. That's why I left New Zealand when I was a teenager and it just ended up being so long, I was away for like 15 years. I guess after seeing how some of the world's best restaurants operate I had it in my mind that I really wanted to do this at home. A lot of the chefs that have inspired me over the years, they're cooking where they're from, and I think that was something that resonated for me. I felt like I had learned enough to come home and try to do something on my own soil.

What has been the biggest inspiration that you've taken from your travels and brought back here to the Amisfield kitchen?

I think one of the biggest inspirations that I learned was that some of the best things that I ate were always from where I was standing, no matter what part of the world I was in. I think that really inspired me to figure out what tastes good. I use that inspiration at Amisfield a lot, we utilise the food from around us, and we're very seasonal. Another inspiration I brought back from my time in some of my favourite restaurants in Europe was the drive, the way the team was just so driven. I think that I took a lot from that, and I try to train my staff like that. So we can all be in the same groove.

Amisfield has won multiple awards. What is the secret recipe for being such a successful restaurant? 

We're in a good place down here, where the restaurant is, it's a beautiful area. That’s one thing, but the other thing that makes it so consistent is how it is ever evolving and getting better, and the strong relationships we have with everyone that gives us product. Whether it's the fishermen or foragers we work with, or the people growing our vegetables. I've been here for a decade now, and most of the people that I work with, they're like my family. It's that kind of relationship where they feel how passionate we are about what we do, they put the passion in on their end, and provide us with something that's very special to use. 

What is your process for matching the dishes with the wines?

Well, it goes both ways. Hyperseasonality is our focus at Amisfield. I let the seasons dictate the tastes in my dishes - whether it's something that's just come out of the ground, such as the zucchini flower or a  vegetable that's just come into season. While we’re creating, we're always thinking, what wines are we going to match with it? Let's say we’re creating a fish dish which needs a more acid to balance it, we know the notes of stone fruits and blackcurrant in the Amisfield Fumé Sauvignon Blanc will complete it beautifully. Sometimes, when there's an amazing wine, I'll also think about what wouldn't work with it - you’ve got to do it from both sides because if you really look into it, it's actually quite a hard job to make sure that the dish works with every wine. We are constantly trying to improve to make sure that the wine elevates the  food, and the food elevates the wine so that together they hit the maximum palate. 

You've had a pretty exceptional career. What would you say personally, have been your proudest moments? Is there a defining moment where you think - I’ve really made it in my career?

I think, for me, myself, my happiest moment in life was when I got married in January to my lovely wife, Julia. Professionally, I like that we've won the best restaurant in New Zealand a couple of times, as well as other awards. It's very humbling to win those things. But, my target has always been since day one when I came back here is to evolve and be in the best of the world platform. And I think that I'm very proud of this year, being nominated as one of the new top 100 best chefs in the world. It's cool for New Zealand to be on that list with so many famous Michelin three-star, world's 50 best restaurants.

What’s next for Amisfield?

We’ve got a lot of collaborative events happening around the world this year which we’re excited about - taking New Zealand’s unique cuisine to other countries. We’re being noticed from the very bottom of the globe by renowned international restaurants, collaborating with world-famous chefs to create stunning food and wine menus together. We just had an amazing time being in Melbourne for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, and recently have returned from Singapore, cooking in a “Worlds 50 Best Restaurants”  collaboration dinner. It’s safe to say that our wine and food is on a journey. It truly is Amisfield meets the world.