When Michael Meredith was a young, aspiring chef, he never imagined he'd become one of the most innovative chefs and hospitality businessmen in the country.
Fiercely ambitious and boasting an appetite to learn, Michael's natural talent in the kitchen secured him an esteemed scholarship at the Culinary Institute of America, after which he spent time working and refining his craft in some of New York, Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland’s best establishments before eventually opening his own restaurant Meredith's, in 2007.
Today, Michael recognises better than anyone that experience is best gained first-hand, working alongside prolific chefs that have walked the walk long enough to know what they're talking about. Here, the renowned Kiwi culinary master dishes on his big break in the industry, why hard work pays off and why being an Ora King NextGen mentor was a no-brainer.
How much has changed since you started out in the industry?
"In the last 20 years the industry has changed immensely, recognised through the growth and increasing number of new restaurants opening alone. Food is now more focused on fresh ingredients, buying locally and sustainably.
Consumers are also a lot more educated and aware of what is actually on the plate. There is a higher expectation of chefs now and not just in the kitchen, there is a lot more consumer and media interaction expected of you."
Tell me a bit about your start in the industry, did you have a mentor?
"I was fortunate enough to work for chef owner-operators which taught me not only skills in the kitchen, but the business-side of the restaurant also. Tony Astle, David Griffiths and Simon Gault all taught me different facets of the industry, which gave me a lot of insight."
Why do you think programmes such as NextGen are so significant?
"It's important to pass on knowledge to the next generation of chefs. This not only betters the industry, it provides inspiration and insights into being a chef but also running and owning your own business."
What advice would you offer a budding chef, eager to get started in this industry?
"They must have discipline with a willing and open attitude to learn. I was never out to gain recognition, I was passionate about cooking and wanted to have my own business, I worked hard and, in turn, it has given me recognition. I am glad to be an inspiration to the Pacific Island community. Passion and hard work = success and recognition."
Do you think there are enough opportunities in New Zealand for young Maori and Pacific chefs?
"Absolutely, there are plenty of opportunities. We all need to believe in ourselves and have the willpower to work hard."
What do you think are the three most significant lessons you could teach your next mentoree?
"There are many lessons that any young chef will need to learn in cooking, but the most important thing is to start with is the right attitude, the rest can be taught."
This is the second year of the Ora King NextGen programme here in New Zealand. To learn more about this inspiring initiative, see here.
The Ora King Next Generation (NextGen) mentoring programme aims to nurture future stars of the culinary world. The programme will endeavour to provide New Zealand’s young chefs with the rare opportunity to work with some of the country’s most established culinary masters.