Elephant Hill's Ashley Jones considers himself one of the "lucky ones" for a variety of reasons. Not only did he discover his calling early on in life, he credits his culinary mentor for much of his success.
Here, we talk starting out, the nostalgia of food and why the dining experience should never cease to amaze.
Tell me a bit about your involvement with F.A.W.C?
Ashley: "Elephant hill has been involved in F.A.W.C from its launch, both in summer and winter. We are proud to be involved in such a successful event, showcasing the best Hawke's Bay has to offer. We try to offer events that differ from our regular experience, some aimed at a more casual event, right through to our degustation evenings in the owner's lodge."
For the uninitiated, what’s a typical dining experience like at Elephant Hill?
"That’s a difficult one, everyone expects something different. Our goal is always to provide guests with a memorable dining experience, encompassing great food, attentive and professional service and giving diners' the opportunity to try our range of wines.
I strongly believe that both food and service should be at the highest standard, to meet experienced diners expectations but not be too formal or overbearing. We want the restaurant to be approachable and comfortable for all guests."
How did you get your start in the industry?
"I think I am one of the lucky ones. From a young age I knew working as a chef is what I wanted to do. After completing school (and subsequent year slacking off) I began searching for a restaurant that would take me on as an apprentice.
"I was very lucky to gain a position at Jaspers Restaurant in Hunters Hill, Sydney. Looking back it really was a great start to my career. Jaspers was a well-established fine dining restaurant having held a hat for three years prior to my start and continuing to keep it for two more. The chef, Carl Ellis was great to work for and everything I needed to get my career started. The food there was ‘modern Australian’ and heavily influenced with English and French techniques.
This was before the molecular movement took over cuisine, where great produce and protein were handled in a more traditional style. Carl and my time at Jaspers is still a heavy influence in the food at Elephant Hill."
What does food mean to you?
"Food has given me great memories from a young age with my grandparents, aunties and uncles helping them in the kitchen with cooking and baking, anything they would let me do. They are great memories of interactions I had with them.
Food shared with family is such an important thing and more often than not is more about the time spent together than the food we eat. Everyone coming together to have a great time is so important to me. Shopping for food is something I love to do, going to vege stalls, butchers, fine food shops, delis to get the goods for a great meal is almost as enjoyable as preparing and eating the meal itself."
New Zealand food and wine is widely recognised as among the best in the world – how do you think up-and-coming chefs and winemakers can protect this reputation?
"I think this is something that is definitely evolving for the better. For many chefs and wait staff from New Zealand, I see there is an attitude to do your training and move overseas for better pay and experience.
As the level of quality and recognition for food and wine in NZ grows, so does the appeal to stay or come back to NZ, although I feel it is important for young staff to get out seeing the rest of the world."
Best street food experience…
"Thailand. I loved almost everything I ate there! The hustle and noise of the night markets was a great experience. I love to try all foods and it’s always great to peek into another culture eating foods that would not be available here."
Best fine dining experience…
"Being from Sydney, I was lucky to have so many great experiences in fine dining establishments. Est., Rockpool, Bathers Pavilion, Quay all comes to mind. When I was still living in Sydney these were great places to go with opulent restaurant fit-outs, over the top sleek and professional service and some of the best cuisine in Sydney, but by far, and I really mean by far, the best dining experience I’ve had in New Zealand since living here was at Meredith’s.
The use of textures, flavours and methods of preparation were amazing and I haven’t had experience to surpass that yet."
In your opinion, what should every home-cook keep in mind when it comes to food and wine matches?
"Keep it simple – start with the wine first, using a variety or blend that your familiar with. If you select a wine that you don’t like or unsure about it won’t matter what food you put with it. Unless you are comfortable or well experienced, stay away from acute and intricate matches, stick with bold, obvious flavours and matches."
Hawke's Bay Winter F.A.W.C will run from Friday, June 9 until Sunday, July 9. To learn more about F.A.W.C or secure your tickets to the event, see their website here.
Join us for five tasty weekends of food and wine with events vying for your taste buds attention.
"By far, and I really mean by far, the best dining experience I’ve had in New Zealand since living here was at Meredith’s."