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Renowned Chef Mark Southon On The Paddock-To-Plate Ethos Of His New Venture Ethereal | Artisan Kitchen

The DoubleTree by Hilton Karaka's signature restaurant has access to incredible local produce right on its doorstep.

Mark, your CV is impressive, having worked for The French Café and O'Connell St Bistro, and appearing on TV3’s The Cafe. Why did you want to take on this new challenge?
I always like to challenge myself and upskill where I can. I wanted to open my own restaurant a few years back but Covid came and put an end to that. I got to help design and create the Ethereal | Artisan Kitchen restaurant; it’s been a great experience. Hotels are a whole lot more to manage than a small restaurant, it’s been a learning curve but fun and challenging

How would you describe the menu at the Ethereal | Artisan Kitchen?
Paddock to plate. We are all about showcasing local New Zealand products especially those sourced a stone's throw from the restaurant. We are located near some of the best growing dirt in the world, so I have been told!
We’ve got a variety of potatoes called moonlight, sourced locally from Pukekohe, as well as Asian veges on the menu. We have Clevedon just up the road where our oysters come from. Our buffalo products from Clevedon Buffalo produced by Richard and Helen are amazing. We use their yoghurt, salted curd and mozzarella, and the buffalo milk and walnut gouda, which are also amazing. We also have local beef from Karaka, as well as First Light wagyu and Wakanui scotch all from New Zealand. For breakfast we feature Pokeno bacon, chipolatas and black pudding (from the village where I live).

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There’s a notable French flare and technique infused in the menu — why are you drawn to that style of cooking?
I have trained in many Michelin starred restaurants in the UK and Europe, so this is the base of my experience and knowledge. Spending a few years at Vue De Monde [a fine dining restaurant in Melbourne] taught me to reinvent the French classics with some cool fun elements.

How have you designed the menu at Ethereal | Artisan Kitchen?
I have created dishes around the produce. I pay homage to O’Connell Street Bistro by bringing in a few classic dishes and putting them on the bar menu, namely the crispy squid, people just love it!

Were you inspired by Karaka’s beautiful farmland for any of the dishes?
Inspiration is all around us in the country/south Auckland. I love going to farmers’ markets and visiting local vege growers to get the best produce for the menu. We have also put two beehives on the property so we can produce our own honey for use in the restaurant.

Why is using local produce important to you?
It’s very important to support small local suppliers. They have had it very tough the past few years and we need to keep supporting them if we want amazing produce like cured meats from Salash delicatessen and bresaola and IPA salami from The Lady Butcher.

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What kind of produce and ingredients does New Zealand excel at, and which are your favourites to cook with?
Aotearoa has amazing seafood. Some of the best comes from Lee Fish. Troy and Claire from Tora Collective have the freshest crayfish and most pristine paua I have ever seen. Olive oils are also amazing from New Zealand and there are so many great regions that produce olive oil with different characteristics, My favorite region is Martinborough, and Olive Black is my go-to, multi-award-winning olive oil. The black garlic-infused olive oil is great with crayfish! We have just done a collab where I got to blend three types of olives with different flavor profiles together to make my own olive oil, soon to be on the menu and available to purchase at the restaurant.

There are a few house-smoked items on the menu, such as salmon and venison loin — what’s your smoking technique and what appeals to you about those smokey flavours?
I love a bit of smoke here and there. Salmon is always good but lightly cold-smoking venison with juniper and thyme takes it to the next level.

Can you tell us a bit about the meat locker and how that works?
We have a great dry-aging fridge on display at the restaurant. We hang grass-fed Speckle Park sirloins on the bone for a few weeks to firm up and enhance the flavour and Wakanui grain feed ribeyes come out amazing, rich and full of flavor. I have a space on the menu reserved for the aged guest cut. It gives me flexibility to try new products, especially from very small suppliers that could not supply large quantities that are needed for a busy restaurant. The Heritage Berkshire pork loins come out especially good.

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Can you highlight a couple of your favourite dishes and tell us why they’re special?
I do love a good steak. Every time I plate one on the pass, I think I could just eat that now with a nice glass of red. The wagyu rump cap is such a great cut, super tasty and has a nice bit of fat on top that melts in your mouth. Pair that with some beef fat hollandaise and a pepper sauce and you are in heaven. Sometimes simple things are the best. The dessert trolley is also very cool (only available on busy nights), created by my head pastry chef Whitney. There are all kinds of sweet treats on there — filled eclairs, macarons, ice cream sandwiches, seasonal fruit tarts and hand made chocolates.

What can people expect from a night at the Ethereal Kitchen?
A great night full of great food, wine and hospitality and the feeling of being in the country. It’s more relaxed and fun, come and see us soon.

Ethereal Artisan Kitchen, helmed by executive chef Mark Southon, is located on the ground floor of The DoubleTree by Hilton Karaka, 8 Hinau Road, Auckland. Phone (09) 296 2002 or visit Hilton.com to make a booking.

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