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Mr Morris kitchen team. Photo / Anna Kidman.

The Recipes That Made Me: Paul Patterson Talks To Michael Meredith From Mr Morris

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

Michael Meredith is one of the most influential figures in Aotearoa’s restaurant industry. From his fine-dining establishment Merediths (which he closed in 2017 after a decade of business) to his groundbreaking new spot in Britomart, Mr Morris — which recently took out Viva’s recent Top 50 Restaurants 2021 — Michael has been a trailblazer and an inspiration. I wanted to talk to Michael because his name was always present in the New Zealand hospitality scene, right from when I started in the industry. Whenever chefs would sit around after service discussing food and chefs his name always came up, and to be honest I don't know too many chefs from a Pacific Island background like myself, so I jumped at the opportunity to interview him.

Everyone has different ideas about what they think brings people back and keeps a place going. For you, what do you think is the key to having a successful restaurant like the ones you have opened?
From a chef’s point of view, the food plays a big part for sure, but more people are dining out regularly, and it’s a combination of ambience, service and food — everything plays a part in creating a memorable experience including the dining space and energy levels in the room. At Mr Morris, it’s the food, the chef’s bar, the fire element in the kitchen, the team, and the service – everything comes together to create the full experience.

What is your biggest day to day challenge in the kitchen?
Keeping the momentum and the level of intensity is a challenge at times.

How do you keep yourself sane inbetween the long hours?
My family gives me that sanity. They also keep me grounded.

Besides your passion for food, what makes you want to come in to do a service every day?
When you belong to a restaurant it’s like an extended part of your family — the energy and camaraderie bring everyone together, being part of a team creating something special and memorable. It’s also an addiction to pressure and stress; the pressure keeps me on my toes and that’s what keeps me motivated.

Chef Michael Meredith. Photo / Anna Kidman.

What is your preferred food to cook?
Seafood. I grew up in the Pacific with an abundance of seafood and here in New Zealand we have exceptional kai moana.

If you had to cook one dish to represent yourself what would it be?
I would be diving into my heritage for inspiration — something that I grew up with that reminds me of my upbringing.

What is your last supper meal and drink?
A glass of Champagne and some fried chicken.

What’s the best meal you have ever had?
There are turning points in your life where you think “wow, that’s incredible”. I have to pick four. The French Laundry, Napa Valley, USA; I remember some of the dishes even from a decade ago, the dishes Thomas Keller created were so simple and delicious. Mugaritz, Spain; the flavour combinations of the dishes were so memorable. Also, we had a soup that came in a mortar and pestle, all guests were given the bowl and dry ingredients to grind before the broth was poured into them. With everyone in the dining room grinding in unison, it made a really holy sound — the inspiration behind that experience was genius. Also the apple and foie gras — the combination was so simple but I’ll never forget it. Noma, Denmark; the use of fermentation because at the time, that Nordic taste was new to me — and some of the ingredients René Redzepiwas using, including ants. Attica, Melbourne; Ben Shewry’s potato dish. So simple but it highlighted New Zealand culture with the potato cooked in the earth. It was so elevated but reminded me so much of New Zealand.

Pain au boudin noir. Photo / Anna Kidman.

What is the one country you would love to cook in for one year?
Japan. I love Japan, it’s so entrenched in food history and there is so much to learn. The way to begin to learn the Japanese culture is to immerse yourself. I love the food and the way they eat, it’s simplicity at its best.

If you could start again would you pick a different career and if so what would it be?
If I were to learn a new craft I would maybe be a tattoo artist, I love tattoo art.

If you could give any advice to young Pacific Islanders looking at hospitality as a career what would it be?
Be prepared to commit because it’s a career that needs commitment and then more commitment. You need to be passionate about the industry. For you to get any benefit you have to be fully in, not half hearted, because you will work long hours and you will have to make sacrifices. Set timelines for progression and have a long term goal for your career. You will find mentors along the way. Choose to work in places that will teach you a lot more than just about the food. That comes with the job along the way.

What's the main thing you're excited about that is going to be coming out of the Mr Morris kitchen?
Of course, it’s always exciting to change out menus and work with great ingredients, but I’m more excited about seeing young chefs develop, improve every day and want to do this job as a career.

Head to Mr Morris 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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