Foraging for Roots
For most restaurants longer opening hours means a more successful business, but at Lyttelton’s renowned Roots Restaurant the reverse is true.
Celebrated Chilean chef and owner Giulio Sturla and his team of seven staff are so passionate about delivering an authentic, locally-produced product that they’re closing for an extra day each week to research, forage and connect with growers.
Giulio and his wife, Christy, have never seen Roots as a business. “This grew out of passion and a relentless commitment to deliver the best of New Zealand ingredients, native, wild or farmed, but the best,” says Giulio. “It will continue to do so.”
They’ve been making waves since they opened the now highly-acclaimed restaurant in late 2012. The focus is on creating beautiful food from what has been foraged in the wild or farmed locally. Giulio first made the amazing discovery about what was readily available all around Banks Peninsula when he lost his job after the 2011 Canterbury earthquake and, with a pregnant wife, began foraging for food.
The restaurant was opened the following year and the vision has remained the same all that time – a tasting menu with no descriptions as guests are taken through a journey that begins in the Roots Restaurant garden. Many ingredients come from that garden, including Roots’ own honey produced from the restaurant beehives. There’s never a menu. Chefs create with what is seasonal and foraged from around Lyttelton.
It’s proved to be a successful concept. By 2015, Roots was named Restaurant of the Year and it’s maintained ‘three hats’ status in the Good Food Guide since 2016. Giulio was also named Chef of the Year by Cuisine Magazine this year.
From the start of 2019 Roots will be open four days a week instead of five, from Wednesday to Saturday dinner service and Thursday to Saturday lunch service.
It may seem like an odd move, but Giulio says if he’s to stay true to his ethos, it’s essential.
“We have a lifestyle restaurant. We don’t feel like we’re going to work. It’s a life experience for us, so we need to open up more to the world and create relationships with like-minded people…to be more creative,” he says.
“We’re not wanting to work less, but to create more.”
“We’ve created a successful restaurant, but that hasn’t left much time to invest in us as humans,” he says. “We’re missing that one on one, that creativity that comes from keeping in touch with our food producers and farmers.”
It’s only 12 hours less a week but that will enable the team of eight to get out and forage, learn, share information and connect with the local food community. “It’s necessary if we’re going to continue to develop better food systems for the wider community,” says Giulio. “For our team, continuous education is a must. We’re dedicating our time to creating relationships with creative and free thinking people in fields aligned to our industry.”
This is all aimed at creating a new Roots – a consolidation of the team’s life experience, he says. Everybody from the waitresses to the chefs forage for the restaurant.
Anything from elderflower, kawakawa and parsley to samphire and seaweed can land back on the plate, depending on the season. There’s a big emphasis on organic and biodynamic, with the wheat produced by Milmore Downs, a biogynamic farm in Canterbury.
“Everything is made fresh on site. We make all our own sourdough and kombucha,” says restaurant manager Emma Cowley. “We also make pan de yuca – a South American cheese bread, true to Giulio’s own roots, using two-year-old Barry’s Bay cheddar cheese. We make our own butter, mayonnaise, and ice creams, like kiwifruit sorbet, using kawakawa and meringue.” Spent beer grains from down the road at Eruption Brewery don’t go to waste and paua garum – the ancient method of making fish sauce – makes the perfect accompaniment.