Nat Cheshire, Cheshire Architects delineator. Picture / Adam Bryce.

The Food Diary: Nat Cheshire

Discover how the influential design impresario dines

So you’re on the road this week. Tell me about where you’re travelling and what for, and what you’re eating.

I raced down to Wellington to speak at Webstock — a kind of super-charged tech conference I knew nothing about. Turns out it’s very special. I spoke after Harper Reed, Obama’s brilliant young CTO [Chief Technology Officer] for the 2012 presidential campaign, then leapt straight on a plane for Britomart’s 10th birthday party in Takutai Square, and the simultaneous opening of our new restaurant on Shortland St. I’ve been running on four hours sleep a night for the last week, so it’s just adrenalin and almonds at the moment.

Which are the Auckland eateries you’ve worked on?

Cafe Hanoi was our first restaurant, and I will forever love it like a first child. I tackled it largely alone; I was out of my depth. Our studio has long been filled with extraordinary people. After Hanoi had taught us about hospitality’s potentials, three of those people — Dajiang Tai, Emily Priest and George Gregory — have collaborated closely in the studio’s furious pursuit of special dining space.

In the four years since Hanoi we have opened the Britomart Country Club and District Dining and Xuxu and Miss Clawdy and Ortolana and The Store and Milse and Whites & Co and Mandarin and Food Truck Garage and The Esplanade and Orleans and Odettes and Better Burger and Burger Burger and Pilkingtons and many Mexicos. I’ve not ever written that list before. It’s kind of terrifying. The scary bit is that restaurants are only a tiny part of what we’ve been doing ...

Do you have a specific “way” of eating?

I don’t eat things that have eyes. Except potatoes. Don’t tell Al Brown. Sorry Al.

What are your most vivid food memories?

They are all of home. My parents threw wonderfully noisy dinner parties with their brilliant friends; as a small child I would prop myself up at the head of the dinner table in my blue dressing gown with the red ladybird buttons, and natter away with everyone. I just thought I was an adult who got sleepy early. I still love falling asleep to the sound of laughter and happy argument.

How creative are you when it comes to cooking?

I am obsessed with books, and cookbooks play a large role in that obsession. I treasure being able to follow the movements of masters, but the bigger gift lies in extrapolation and interpolation between them. I guess I am a cowardly cook emboldened by reading. Give me another decade and I may try and be creative.

What do you eat on a “normal” day?

I am obsessed with Ortolana’s quinoa granola with yoghurt mousse for breakfast. It’s incredible. Almost as good as my mum’s recipe, which we try and roast every weekend. During the day, a lovely young designer in the studio makes sure I stay alive by getting food and water to me, and I delight in both that kindness and its variety. Similarly the nights — we visit with those lovely restaurateurs that can make us feel human again, and revel in whatever they might want to feed us that day.

How about eating out — where are your favourite places to dine, and why?

Cruel. That’s like asking a father who his favourite children are. But if I exclude our own, I adore Coco’s Cantina for its ideology and backbone as much as its nightly street-party; those young guys Josh and Tom continue to do wonderful things at Orphans Kitchen; and Michael Meredith is just so damned, quietly, heroic. But this is Auckland — I could go on forever. We’ve just got it so damned good.

Favourite dishes — and why?

A great burger with a Lewis Road Creamery chocolate thickshake, a glass of Oban, my brothers around our old childhood table, and a long night ahead. Tattoos and global conflict and architecture and camaraderie like nothing else. One of my happiest places. For equal but opposite reasons, eating ramen with a weeping, heartbroken friend. This is what great food should be: the catalyst for sharing the highest and most terrifying moments of our lives.

Does an appreciation for food come into your plans? If so, in what way?

We have a profound appreciation for food and for space. Alone, though, they are just raw ingredients. It is our collective ability to shape these things into complete and totally immersive human experience that defines whether our collaborations with restaurateurs mean anything. If not, it’s just food and feature walls.

Do you host dinner parties, and if so, what are they like?

Late. Late and complicated and failed. I guess I apply Faulkner to all things: “I rate us on our splendid failure to achieve the impossible.”

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