The new executive chef at Portlander, the award-winning, upmarket Wellington steakhouse – Tim McClay-Talivai – shares his inspirations and his motivations with Hospitality Business.
How did you become a chef?
I did a trial with Heni Siliman at Manuels in Taupo, the manager of the NZ culinary team at the time (1989), to see what a real kitchen was like. At the time I was applying for a catering course in Hamilton. Two weeks later Heni rang and asked me to come in for an interview. The rest is history.
What are you known for? Do you have a signature style/dish?
A dish, no, but I learnt from European chefs and spent a lot of time there, so I have a very strong traditional French background which has taught me to cook with what I have and find the best way to produce great food from basic ingredients. To take what you have and turn it in to an amazing dish.
What excites you most about being a chef?
Watching new chefs have their first full service. After 25 years, it’s the service that keeps me coming back. When everything comes together and we work as a team, it just flows. It’s magic.
What’s your golden rule when cooking?
I have two. If you would serve it to your mother, then it’s good to go. The other is (and most of my chefs are sick of hearing it) “hot food, hot plate”.
Describe a career success …
Me: being here at Portlander. For my chefs: being better, being faster, being happy. Chefs don’t do this for money, we do it for the love and the passion for great food.
Describe a lesson learnt in your career…
Service is a war. You don’t go to war without your big guns. And 2) hot soapy water – always be clean.
Your secret weapon is …
Kitchen hands. Full stop. They carry us as chefs because kitchens are built from the bottom.
Who is your hero?
Where can you be found when you’re not working at Portlander?
Sharing a big roast meal with the family: two or three meats, five or six veg, roast potatoes (with butter, don’t tell my daughter) sitting at a big table, just having fun. Or diving for paua with my brother-in-law and cooking them from their shell.
Describe the funniest situation you’ve encountered as chef?
I have a trainee chef in the kitchen at the moment who in the middle of service was asked to get an ice burg lettuce from the cooler. He came back with a cabbage. He is now known as Cabbage, not Michael.
How would you like to be remembered as a chef?
“Tim always had fun even in the middle of service. He was always there to help and explain what was needed, and to offer better ways of getting the job done.”
Pictured, The Portlander Team: L-R, Executive chef, Tim McClay-Talivai, sales executive Rhiannon Beavan and operations manager Antonio Abbate.