Opening a new restaurant amidst a global pandemic is not for the faint hearted. There is a certain element of risk involved at the best of times but with Covid-19 hitting the hospitality industry hard this year, it was a real challenge for Beef + Lamb Ambassador Chef Tejas Nikam to take on.
However, a new challenge was just what Tejas was looking for and the excitement of returning to the Waikato and curating a brand-new menu using local produce has been the lift he has needed as a chef weathering the Covid-19 storm.
It has been a big year for Tejas – becoming a father for the first time, being named as a Beef + Lamb Ambassador Chef for the first time and just when everything was going to plan, the global pandemic hit. The hardest thing during the first lockdown was waiting for the levels to lift so he could make the move from Christchurch back up to the North Island, while keeping his family safe and looking for a new job.
It was not an easy time but with the support of family and friends and his contacts within the hospitality industry, he is delighted that they have ended up living back in the Waikato. Having lived here before while head chef at Zealong – it was like coming home for them.
Tejas loves the philosophy behind the new restaurant, titled Paddock to Plate Waikato. The new steakhouse will showcase the produce grown on the fertile land of the Waikato. As much of the ingredients as possible will be sourced locally including meats, dairy, vegetables and even some local wines.
The Waikato is becoming known as quite the foodie hub with many artisan producers popping up in and around Hamilton, which is good news for local chefs. Tejas sees this as an opportunity to champion and support local food producers, especially in these difficult times.
He feels confident that local people will come and support the new restaurant, especially as New Zealand moves back down the alert levels. Traditionally the Waikato doesn’t rely heavily on international tourists, and Tejas feels certain that the style of restaurant will influence locals to dine out again.
Tejas has always wanted to be at the helm of a steak house, where he can focus on the meat which sits well with his 2020 title of Beef + Lamb Ambassador Chef. Diners will know that they will not only get the perfectly cooked steak, but the meat suppliers are confident that their products will be presented to a very high standard, so it’s a win-win situation.
A stand out on the menu is the 18-hour cooked rib eye on the bone. Tejas says this is going to be a big seller and he has created a range of delicious sides to sit alongside this and other items from the grill menu. Diners can mix and match their own accompaniments to complement their steak which also helps to cater for people with special dietary needs.
He also recommends the lamb rump, which he presents as an entrée with flavours of beetroot and roast garlic hummus, harissa, tahini yoghurt and cucumber. Tejas says it has been exciting creating a new menu and settling his family back into the Waikato. Lisa Moloney, promotions manager for Beef & Lamb NZ asked him what kept him going through the tough times this year and he says it was being patient, staying positive and believing these times will eventually pass. He feels grateful that we have been kept relatively safe here in New Zealand compared to the rest of the world and for the support available for those in the hospo industry.