Home' The Wellingtonian : April 12th 2012 Contents 14 THE WELLINGTONIAN, APRIL 12, 2012
Intimate dining for party of 20
Last week I was lucky
enough to get an invite to
the Sam Pope taste experi-
ence. It was run as part of Living
this City and about 20 of us were
treated to a three-course meal.
Sam Pope is one of Wellington s
top chefs. He has worked at Logan
Brown, Nikau Cafe and Ambeli.
Last year he went out on his own
and became Wellington s first per-
Radio talkshow host Steve Joll
was our MC for the evening, pro-
viding a little bit of light-
heartedness and breaking that
sometimes awkward silence that
happens when 20 strangers are
Our first course was smoked eel,
roasted beetroot and horseradish
with kumara frites. Each plate
was also wine matched, and we
started with a glass of 2009
Escarpment Pinot Blanc.
The colours of this dish were
very appealing. Not only were the
flavours amazing but the texture
of each element added a whole
new dimension. We were curious
to see if the next course could
By this time, everyone at our
table of six was chatting away like
old friends which made the whole
night that much more enjoyable.
As can only happen in Wellington,
the six degrees of separation
was in full swing.
The main course was a slow-
cooked Moroccan-spiced lamb
neck with organic Bulghar tab-
bouleh, matched with a 2009 Red
Metal Merlot/Cabernet Franc.
Absolutely divine! The lamb
was unbelievably tender, which I
suppose is what five hours of slow
cooking does. For a dish with only
a few simple elements, it was
Dessert was, for me, the best-
presented and best-tasting dish of
the evening -- a yoghurt panna
cotta with neptune plums and
tuile wafer. It looked too good to
The menu originally planned for
black doris plums, but owing to a
late harvest we had neptune
plums, which were just as good.
The wine was a 2009 Staete Landt
The flavours were stunning. It
was sweet, without being over the
top, and the yoghurt was a nice
change to cream.
The night itself was fantastic.
Sam Pope talked us through each
course, telling us why each wine
matched, and gave us a little his-
tory as to why he became a per-
The idea of a personal chef is
You get to enjoy good food, wine
and company in your own home,
and someone else comes and does
all the hard work of cooking and
It would be a perfect idea for a
significant birthday, or just
because you feel like a treat.
A restaurant cook in your own home
By EMMA BEER
Coming out of the kitchen: Personal chef Sam Pope enjoys getting to
see people's reactions to the food he has prepared. Photo: EMMA BEER
Ever wanted to throw a dinner
party but fear you are unable to
produce the right kind of food?
Now you can have a restaurant
meal in the comfort of your own
Sam Pope is Wellington s first
personal chef. Over 20 years, he
has worked in some of Welling-
ton s best kitchens.
The idea for a personal chef
came as he was looking to take the
next step in his career, he said.
I was coming to a natural leav-
ing point [at Ambeli] and I started
looking into whether I wanted to
open a place.
About the same time my wife
got pregnant and I thought if I
was to open my own restaurant,
more than likely I d throw every-
thing I ve got at it.
It would be three years of hard
work and I ve never see my daugh-
ter. So for me it was trying to
work out something a bit more
Pope said he and his wife used
to entertain a lot, and guests often
commented on his demeanour.
They would point out how good he
was at showing what he was
So as well as doing dinner par-
ties, I offer lessons and interactive
dinners. I show them what I m
doing, and then they eat it.
Although personal chefs are not
uncommon in Europe, they are
new to New Zealand.
The idea stuck and it felt quite
right. It ticked all the boxes.
His business has been running
for about a year and he said it was
I ve got quite a lot of repeat
clients. The biggest obstacle I ve
had is people thinking I m a
I m quite different from a
caterer. I do restaurant-style food
in people s homes. I don t do big
groups or weddings, I could if I
had the infrastructure. But I like
it -- I m doing the stuff most
caterers won t touch.
The first step of the personal
dining experience was to visit the
clients, Pope said.
I will go and look at the
kitchen, meet the client, have a
consultation and find out what
their likes and dislikes are, diet-
ary requirements, what the
occasion is. Then I ll go and put a
menu together that I know I can
do out of that space.
People were often surprised at
what he could produce in an aver-
age household kitchen, he said.
People think commercial or
restaurant kitchens are these big
flash things, like Masterchef.
They re not. Ambeli was only 12
square metres, so I m very used to
putting lots of food out from a con-
He was able to provide plates
and glassware, or even wine
match, he said. However, he often
found people had a nice set of din-
nerware they needed an occasion
to use or some vintage bottles of
wine they had been wanting to
As well as getting to spend more
time with his baby daughter, Pope
said he loved that he was able to
interact with the people he was
As a head chef, you take on
more of a management role. You
don t necessarily cook everything.
[Personal dining] is lovely because
I do every single part of it. I am
the whole restaurant.
He had chosen to call himself a
personal chef because that was
what he was.
You book me and you get me. If
you go to a restaurant you might
eat my food, but not what I ve
I love people and I ve been
locked in a back room for years
and years. One of the nicest things
has been being able to deal with
people directly and seeing their
reactions to the food.
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