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“Don’t play with your food.” Otahuna’s star chef, Jimmy McIntyre, takes this mantra seriously. The renowned chef is all about simplicity. “My style is rustic, simple, and yes, delicious,” says Chef Jimmy. “I like it real.”
And real it is. I caught up with Chef Jimmy in February – New Zealand summer – where he was knee-deep in Otahuna’s lush organic gardens.
“Right now I’m all about sweet corn and tomatoes – a match made in heaven,” he smiles. “We’ve also been pickling. We make all of our own chutneys and relishes. And yesterday, we made a huge pot of plum jam, amazing. Of course it doesn’t get better than wild zucchini blossom flowers, stuffed with goat’s cheese, fried Italian style and crunchy. So beautiful. And served alongside tomatoes, with olive oil and fresh basil,” he pauses, closes his eyes. “It’s just gorgeous. The best dish.”
Mushrooms – porcini and shiitake – he informs, will be ‘popping up any day. “Pure magic.”
A native New Zealander, Chef Jimmy grew up around food. “My step-father was a chef, so from an early age, I was in the kitchen. After school, I went straight to work, but for two years, I wasn’t allowed to cook. I washed dishes. But in that environment, I gleaned knowledge. I watched, listened. Charlie Trotter was my absolute idol, a genius. Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver were also huge influences.”
“Food needs to speak for itself. I don’t play with it. I don’t do smears on the plate. I love the flavor of fresh food – and work to make that shine. I like it real.” – Chef Jimmy McIntyre
Jimmy came to Otahuna nearly ten years ago, before owners Hall Cannon and Miles Refo painstakingly restored the estate’s gardens to their present-day wonder. Today, Otahuna spans 30 acres of fruit orchards, flower and vegetable gardens and nut (hazelnut, almond) trees. And Chef Jimmy is over the moon – in summer utilizing up to 90 percent of the food grown onsite. He also cures meats – makes his own salami, prosciutto, sausage – and sources local New Zealand lamb, farm-raised venison and ‘beautiful beautiful seafood’ to round out the proteins.
For vegetarians, “I pride myself on giving the same quality – of creating really special, amazing dishes straight from the garden,” says Jimmy.
He’s also passionate to share his knowledge, offering one- and three-hour cooking classes. “Guests are often surprised how simple it is to make really tasty dishes,” he says, noting that at home, on ‘his night to cook’ for his wife (also a chef) and three small children, he stays true to form.
“We’ll make a pizza – really simple, with basil and fresh tomatoes. We eat a lot of basic, seasonal food.”
In April for example, as chile peppers make their debut, the menu will shift. “Then, I’ll do Mexican-type dishes – crayfish, corn quesadillas,” says Jimmy. “It’s all about the season. And what’s rustic, simple, and yes, delicious.”
Insider Tip: The one tool Chef Jimmy can’t live without? “My zester – I zest my citrus, add peels to salads. It’s the simplest tool – and creates the boldest flavor.”
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