New Zealand-born Nick Raitt has been a private chef to the royal family of Oman, cooked for the Queen, and has taken charge of the burners in top international and local restaurants including Melbourne’s Public Dining. He now finds great satisfaction working with artisan producers and an abundance of fresh ingredients on Tasmania’s pristine shores where he is head chef at Josef Chromy Wines.
What first drew you to cooking professionally, and what is it that you continue to love about your work?
My earliest memory of food is crayfishing with my dad on family holidays. I recall the smell of my mum poaching crayfish and serving them to family and friends in a little beach house on a summer afternoon. I was first drawn to cooking as a profession when I was boarding with a family during my schooling in Nelson, New Zealand. The father of the family was a chef and had plenty of interesting stories about travelling the world as part of his work. The moment I saw the structure and professionalism of a kitchen and front-of-house teams, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
You’ve cooked for royals and worked in acclaimed global eateries. What were some defining lessons that working abroad taught you?
Working for royal families was like nothing I could have prepared for. The expectations were exceptionally high, and the budget was irrelevant, which, coming from restaurants, was something I needed to quickly adapt to. Working in this environment also made me part of an entire operation, focused around the same goal of providing the very best, day and night.
One of the main takeaways from this experience, and working abroad in general, is to always ask questions, listen and keep learning. I also learned overseas that food can be lighter, and clean fresh flavours can combine with a fun approach to restaurant service to give a more modern dining experience.
From working in a variety of restaurants for the last 20 years, I’ve been able to find the type of cooking approach that makes me passionate. My food ethos is now based around very natural flavours. I try to make my dishes understated in presentation but with quality European cooking techniques behind them, which suits the Tasmanian produce well.
With direct access to farmers and exceptional produce, have you been able to reimagine your cooking approach since moving to Tasmania?
Tasmanian produce is always at the front of my mind for our menus. The quality of produce is always high, and very fresh. From mid spring until late autumn we have access to so many exciting vegetables, fruit and seafood, all at the highest quality and delivered by the farmer. However, the reduced availability in the colder months forces us to look at how we build a pantry of preserves, or reimagine what we can do in winter to get the best out of the produce. Most of our suppliers operate on quite a small scale and for a reasonably limited time, so we are all in constant communication to know when crops might come and go.
We try to grow most of our herbs on the property and also use whatever else we can from our gardens. We’ll soon be growing heirloom varieties that I haven’t been able to access in Tassie, but which we can design dishes around, and create a story with.
York Town Organics is an outstanding organic farm about an hour north of us. They grow a range of leaves, shoots, and produce throughout the year using totally organic practices. They’re family operated, and always willing to take you on a tour of their farm. Kyeema Seafoods, our local supplier, has taught me a lot about Tasmanian seafood seasons. The freshness and quality of the fish, and their filleting, is as good as anywhere, which wouldn’t be easy to provide in a smaller city like ours. Tasmanian Natural Garlic & Tomatoes provides quality produce and a warm, friendly service – the epitome of what’s great about Tassie farmers.
What are some of the most delicious food and wine pairings you have created at the restaurant?
We have some incredible aromatic wines. One of the matches I have enjoyed most was when I first put on some stunning midsummer tomatoes with a house ricotta. The match ended up as our Gewürztraminer. That wasn’t something I would have picked first, but the marriage was perfect.
We’ve previously had a fish dish on our winter menu, which was roasted pink ling with fermented tomato beurre blanc, grilled baby gem lettuce and bottarga, and was matched with the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a fish I wouldn’t have thought of using prior to coming to Tasmania, but it’s simply stunning. Again, when you have the two together, it’s magic. I think it’s also a really great use of a lesser-known wine from this region and a locally caught fish.
What has inspired you the most at Josef Chromy?
Joe Chromy is certainly an inspiring person to work for. His achievements in the wine industry have been built on hard work and trusting in the quality of the people who work for him. That continues through Jeremy Dineen, our chief winemaker, and is a strong ethos of how we approach our work every day. There is no doubt that Jeremy and his team’s approach to winemaking is on par with the best I’ve seen. The elegance and balance of all of their wines is exemplary, and something I judge myself against whenever I create something for our restaurant or cellar door menus.
Joe is still as hard working today as he has ever been, and his attention to detail is still always a step ahead of most. The ‘never-settle-with-your-success’ attitude that he brings to the business is something which has resonated with me and drives me to be better every day.
When is the best time of year to visit Northern Tasmania? In terms of produce, is there a season you most look forward to for cooking?
I think the best time of year is March when the weather is settled and warm, the sea temperature is about as warm as it’s going to get and the produce is simply amazing. During my first March in Tasmania we hosted Alain Passard for a lunch where he required at least 12 pristine baby vegetables for one dish. To my surprise, I was able to find many more than that locally, and they were all amazing. It was quite a sight to see and he was very impressed.
Nick Raitt’s pan-roasted fish with velouté sauce, orecchiette, peas and pickled onions
Pair this dish with the 2018 Josef Chromy Chardonnay. In fact any of the past vintages of this wine work well with the flavours in this recipe. The lifted acidity of the cool-climate Chardonnay greatly complements the cream-based sauce.
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
1.5kg blue-eye trevalla
50g white pickled onions, drained
200g snow peas, beans, or sugar snaps, string removed and halved lengthways
100g baby peas
1 punnet snow pea tendrils or
100g eschalots, sliced
10 black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
375ml sparkling wine
1.5l fish or vegetable stock
100g crème fraîche
juice of 1 lemon
40g table salt
TO SERVE: a few sprigs of your favourite soft herbs and crusty sourdough.
1 For velouté sauce, sweat eschalots in heavy based saucepan until soft and sweet, add peppercorns, bay leaves and sparkling wine and boil until wine has cooked down until about a quarter of the original volume.
2 Add stock and cook down further until it is around a quarter of its original volume. Add cream and cook until half of this volume.
3 Pass through a fine sieve, add crème fraîche and lemon juice, season with salt to taste then allow to cool to room temperature.
4 Cut fish fillet down centre and remove bones if necessary, then cut into portions of around 150g for a main course size. Pan roast fish in a non-stick frying pan on medium to high heat until you have a nice golden finish on one side, remove fish to an oven tray but keep juices in pan.
5 Cut pickled onions into quarters then, using your fingers, gently break pieces apart so that you can sprinkle it over the dish. Set aside until ready to plate.
6 For orecchiette, bring 2 litres of water to boil and add table salt. Carefully put pasta in and boil for 1 minute less than the recommended cooking time (it will keep cooking in the sauce later). Once timer has gone off, gently drain pasta and add to velouté sauce. Set aside.
7 Blanch snow peas and peas in salted water for 20 seconds, remove and toss with sea salt and good olive oil. Set aside.
8 Cook fish in oven until it’s white throughout, it will only take a couple of minutes to cook, and is something best done just before serving.
9 Once fish is ready, put sauce and pasta back on heat and bring to a simmer, stir occasionally to prevent pasta from sticking to bottom of pan.
10 Place fish in a shallow serving bowl and ladle over a nice amount of pasta and sauce (you still want to see the fish, and not overpower the dish with creaminess). Next, scatter peas, pickled onions, tendrils and herbs. Serve with crusty sourdough.