By Dr Lindsay Neill
Jason Blackie is the Head Chef of Sails Restaurant in Auckland’s Westhaven Marina. Jason has been at the helm of Sails’ kitchens for the last 25 years.
He started his culinary journey studying at AUT’s School of Hospitality and Tourism while simultaneously working at a range of local Auckland venues. After traveling to Europe, working in Austria and London, Jason returned to New Zealand.
At that time he worked at The French Cafe alongside its Head Chef Kate Faye, (who is now part of the Sabato team), before joining Sails. During our interview Jason suggested his longevity at Sails Restaurant not only revealed the combination of his own enthusiasm and passion for food, but also reflected the ways in which the restaurant owners, the Littlejohn’s, created a sense of family and community for staff.
Working intergenerationally with Valerie, and her grandsons Zachary and Thomas, Jason realises his, and the staff’s, sense of family and community. Jason and the Littlejohn’s know that these are the elements that create long-term staff loyalty.
“Every morning Valerie and I make coffee for each other. It’s a great opportunity to touch base and to put the world to rights. Incidentally, I make the best coffee,” Jason joked.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, staff were the Littlejohn’s main priority. Jason noted that “we talked to the staff. We made sure that they were all right and had enough money to pay their rent and live.” After COVID-19, Sails’ business boomed; “People were sick of being at home, they wanted to dine out. Our regulars flooded back,” Jason shared. That came as a total surprise to Valerie Littlejohn. Valerie thought that “the restaurant would be flat, dead, but I was delighted that I was wrong.”
Jason’s menu inspiration comes from a number of places and sources. “In my early years with Sails I shared local and overseas travel with great friend and Sails owner, the late Bart Littlejohn. Together we experienced some great food, wine, and friendship.
“Now, I encourage creative collaboration with the young and talented chefs that have worked in our kitchen. Some of my staff now are head chefs of their own kitchens. Seeing their success is important to me. They are creating hospitality families and communities too.”
Jason also gets his menu ideas from books. His favourite culinary tome is Simon Wright’s French Cafe Cookbook.
“That particular text gives me a sense of how local ingredients are made fantastic. We are so lucky here in New Zealand, we have the best seasonal produce. I love food, and I love what we have achieved at Sails.”
Jason takes a grounded approach to Sails produce. He works closely with suppliers changing the menu to reflect seasonal local produce and its availability. “Suppliers keep me updated with produce coming in and out of season. Recent weather patterns have played havoc with normal seasonal produce. That means I have to think creatively,” Jason shared.
Considering his 25-year stint at Sails Jason concludes that “I can’t see myself going anywhere else soon. Sails is a big part of my life and I’m a big part of it. My advice for anyone wanting a career in hospitality, its that hospitality work is hard work. You must be enthusiastic and reliable. Hospitality and cooking are about teamwork. It can be the best career ever!”