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Amano Restaurant. Photo / Supplied.

The Recipes That Made Me: Paul Patterson Talks To Amano's Andrew Hanson

From the hustle of hospitality to their fiery passion for good food, chef Paul Patterson serves up candid conversations with figures from the American Express Local Dining Collection restaurants

Returning home last year from a lengthy stint in Paris, it felt right to turn my eye to the Aotearoa food scene. Months of musing and hard work culminated in opening our new restaurant Va Bene last month. The food is simple with big, punchy flavours, and the fit-out came from missing France and Italy; Paris will forever be a second home for me so I wanted to bring a touch of the hole-in-the-wall dives, restaurants and wine bars where I lost track of time (days and, apparently, years) to Parnell. We want Va Bene to be a place where you can eat, drink, get lost in conversations with strangers. Conversing is something I’ve been doing a lot of lately, and with the start of this new chapter in my life, I sought out peers in the local dining scene (they can all be found at American Express Local Dining Collection restaurants) and caught up with them to reflect on our craft — waxing lyrical about the dishes that shaped their career, the challenges of hospitality, and what fuels their passion for food. First up is Andrew Hanson, executive chef at game-changing Britomart restaurant Amano.

What’s your approach to food?

Simple, honest and rustic. We try to keep the ingredients true to what they should be. We use a lot of bold flavours, lots of acid to balance the dishes to keep them from feeling heavy, and we only use New Zealand-grown produce and only when it is in season.

What made the restaurant so unique when it first opened in 2016?

I think having the bakery and restaurant all under the one roof and working together was great. Also, the ability to mill some of the flour for the breads and the semolina for the pasta were a real point of difference at the time. Add to that a beautiful fit out, a strong and uncompromising focus on seasonality and provenance, plus the fact that we print the menu twice a day to keep it changing.

Which dish defined that point of difference?

The burrata dish for opening was great. It ticked all the boxes using a great locally produced cheese, served with toasted walnuts and a pickled walnut split vinaigrette. Eating that dish with the sourdough baked in our bakery was fantastic. Simple and rustic with bold flavours.

How has Amano evolved since then?

As much as we do our best to remain true to the core values we set in place when we opened, we have had to make a few small tweaks along the way. Covid has really had the biggest impact on us like everyone else. We have needed to adapt and build an online segment of the business and be able to be ready to operate in as much capacity as possible during different alert levels. This has been a real challenge, but due to all of this we now have online ordering systems and are able to adapt very quickly and easily if needed.

Best meal you have ever eaten, and how long did you make yourself crazy trying to recreate it?

When I was younger I did a stage in a kitchen in Sydney called Becasse. At the end of my time there I booked a table for myself for dinner. Chef treated me to a nine-course degustation with matching wines and each course was amazing. I don’t know that I ever really tried to recreate any of it as I wanted it to be left as a mystery and an amazing experience.

What's your last supper meal and drink, and why?

I think I’d be happy with a really good burger and tasty ice-cold beer like a nice hoppy APA.

Executive chef at Amano. Photo / Supplied.

Besides your passion for food, what drives you to smash out a service day after day and why?

This is an easy one... My family! I push myself and work hard to provide for my beautiful wife and our two children. I want them to have great opportunities and for us all to be able to have great experiences together as a family.

Is Italian cuisine your preferred food to cook and if so where do you pull your inspiration from?

I do love Italian food and enjoy cooking it but I like to think we put our own spin on it. Inspiration is drawn from lots of different places from books, social media, memories, experiences and conversations. Having a good chat about food with someone else passionate about it is a great way to get inspired and bounce ideas off each other. A lot of the time that’s how we come up with the new dishes for the menu.

If you had to cook one dish to represent you, what would it be?

I can’t really pin it down to one dish but whatever I ended up cooking would be simple, wholesome and tasty to be shared with friends and family.

I've got that standard annoying question, what made you get into hospitality because it gets pretty rough mentally and physically, so why do you still do it?

Well, I was kicked out of school and kind of fell into working in a kitchen. I always loved food and cooking, so I tried to pursue it as a career as I didn’t know what else to do at the time. Turned out I really enjoyed it and just kept on going with it. Pushing myself to learn more and be better.

It can definitely be very rough both mentally and physically, and some of us have some tough times along the way where the pressure seems too much, but I love the fast-paced environment and working with so many great people.

What is your loosest service story as in funniest or weirdest kitchen yarn?

Long ago I was working with a good mate of mine and we wanted to get a little revenge on the maitre ‘d at the time, as he kept accusing us of stealing all his pens etc. Of course we weren’t... but regardless we took all of his pens, smokes, lighter, stapler, anything that he would go looking for and set them in red jelly. When he came in looking for them and asking us where we put them, we happily presented him with a large jiggly moulded jelly with all of his things suspended in it. We still laugh about it when we catch up all these years later.

How do you even yourself out with all the day-to-day stress of running the kitchen, and what do you think your biggest challenge is?

I try to exercise regularly while having some great metal music blasting away. Enjoy a quiet beer or two, play guitar or some video games, and of course spend time with my family where I can. I have a very busy mind so try to occupy my thoughts with something else. I try to not take work home, so I'll work longer days to keep it more peaceful at home. The biggest challenge is finding time to do these things and keeping my mental health in check.

Amano Restaurant. Photo / Supplied.

Where did you start in the kitchen and where is the best place it has taken you?

I started at the very bottom as a kitchen hand washing dishes. I think the best place it has taken me is where I am now. I’ve had a lot of great experiences and opportunities along the way and met loads of amazing people.

What makes Amano a trusted inner-city institution and why?

There is always a great atmosphere in the restaurant. The menu is generous, well priced and very approachable, so it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to have a great meal. We do our best to be as consistent as possible with both the food and service, and try to have each and every guest leave feeling that they have had a great experience with us. You can come in for a long lunch, catch up with friends or family, have a business dinner or just grab something from the bakery. There is generally something for everyone and I think that helps to keep us busy.

So, what separates you from all the other Auckland establishments and what do we have to look forward to coming out of your kitchen next?

We are generally always busy with a buzzing atmosphere and hopefully we stay that way. Regardless of how busy it gets, it still feels like a comfortable space to be in. We're an all-in-one package with the bakery, takeaway, and restaurant all in the one place.

The teams are always working on new products. There are a tonne of seasonal changes coming up. The pastry team are always busy creating new items for the sweet cabinet and dessert offerings, and the restaurant and takeaway options are getting a lot of new items in the coming weeks.

Why should people invest in dining out?

Let someone else do the cooking and sort the dishes while you enjoy some quality time with friends, family or loved ones. It’s a treat and an escape from the daily grind. It's also helping to support and sustain local business and so many people in an industry that is really having a hard time at present — particularly due to the changes with immigration laws and the borders being closed. Our industry relies heavily on migrants and there is not enough local talent to fill the huge number of vacancies opening, due to the immigration restrictions and lack of people coming back to New Zealand who are willing or able to work in the roles that are available in our sector.

I'm obviously coming into eat and everyone loves it but if you had to sell it to me what would say about Amano?

Come in for a great experience in a beautiful setting which won’t cost you the earth. Fussy eaters, no problem! Dietaries, no problem! Just have some good company join you for a great time and let us do all the hard work.

Head to Amano with your Platinum Card to enjoy the American Express Dining Credit offer — enjoying $150 back when you spend $150 or more in one transaction. Not a member? Sign up for an American Express Platinum Card at Amex.co.nz

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