When it comes to destination dining in Auckland, you wouldn't be the first to admit that Sails Restaurant had slipped off your radar.
Yet, the famed seafood stalwart boasting one of the city's best seaside views is in the midst of a well-earned revival. Here, we get to know Michelin-trained chef, Jeff Scott Foster, who explains that simplicity is key when it comes to reinvigorating a tried and true Auckland institution.
How did you get your start in the food industry?
"I think I was born into this business. My dad was a good artisan baker, my mother cooked amazingly, my grandad was a top chef in one of the top swanky hotels in London, and decorated amazing cakes right up until he was over seventy years old. Without even realising it, I was brainwashed at an early age to love and respect the art of cooking and just being together around food."
What do you love most about food?
"The complexity and the simplicity of cooking, the way it contradicts itself and makes you think, in order to get the desired results. The passion and love used to create amazing things for others. To have this feeling of freedom when you're playing with flavour. The rush of adrenalin when creating something new and the reaction of others when you hit the right tastebuds."
What do you think sets the culinary and hospitality industry apart here in New Zealand?
"The amazing diversity of culture and the amazing products that are available and the openness of the population to try something new. The wine industry and its passion to be the best in the world is second to none. The encouragement to make something of yourself is also very apparent. There is a raw energy and spiritual aspects of the country."
In your opinion, what sets Sails apart?
"Sails is a special venue, it's very modern and elegant, classical with its food, with top wines from all over the country. Sails is always looking to evolve and to create a special perfect dining atmosphere. But all restaurants can say that and it is nothing new or special. What really sets sails apart is its host, Bart Littlejohn, and his philosophy and passion. And the continuity of a stable knowledgeable crew, who work diligently to create the Sails experience and respect the long revered history it has on Auckland's destination dining scene."
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received, when coming up through the ranks?
"Haha, the best piece of advice I have never taken – 'get out while you can', I was told when I was young. My dad told me that, along with 'you will work eighty hours a week, and you will never experience Christmas or birthdays again'. But I was a rebel and I did it anyway, he also said 'whatever you choose to do, do it with passion and be the best you can' I have taken that to heart."
How does your Nordic cuisine experience influence the way you cook?
"It has helped evolve my philosophy and brought me back to basics. The respect for the product and nature itself. The simplicity of local sourcing and the elegance of the finished dish. Luckily, it took me away from the crazy molecular cookery style where we foamed everything that moved, and if it didn’t move, we foamed it till it did. Foraging gives you a sense of self-satisfaction and a respect for what is around you. It brings back the respect and the love for the product on the plate."
What advice would you offer a young chef looking to make a start in the industry?
"If you are going to do it, give it 100 per cent and do it properly. Think humble, learn quickly, cook passionately. Be patient, creative and respectful. It’s a challenge, but if you have ambition and the fire in your eyes, then you will be successful."
What’s your favourite dish to cook and why?
"Hands down – desserts. The science, precision and perfectionism required is another level of cooking."
Describe your love of food in three words:
"Passion – Creativity – Possibilities."
Best street food you’ve ever experienced?
"Bangkok – Tom yum ghai."
Best fine dining experience?
"Without a shadow of a doubt, NOMA. Both times. People were knocking it, saying it might be a case of the emperor’s new clothes. But here you feel the passion through the food, the taste, the service and the creativity. Simply can’t get better than that."
There are very few views in the world that capture the essence of a city better than the one from Sails Restaurant.
Over the last three decades, the restaurant has forged its reputation as one of New Zealand’s top restaurants through an uncompromising belief in using only the freshest ingredients, the most talented chefs and professional waiting staff.
"Foraging gives you a sense of self-satisfaction and a respect for what is around you. It brings back the respect and the love for the product on the plate." –Jeff Scott Foster.