As Executive Chef across the culinary offerings at The Hotel Britomart – kingi, kingi Private, The Libraries and in-room dining – Andrew aims to give guests a sophisticated bistro-style dining experience that reflects the hotel’s sustainable and local ethos.
THE HOTEL BRITOMART: Hi Andrew, what does your role here at The Hotel Britomart involve?
ANDREW LAUTENBACH: My role in the business is a lot bigger than what I thought it would be originally. On a day-to-day basis I oversee the culinary offering across the entire hotel, including kingi. My responsibility covers everything from menu creation, food costings, purchasing and cooking through to recruitment and team engagement. In short, I’m accountable for the food related performance of our business. I work closely with kingi’s co-Founder Tom Hishon to ensure our food offering reflects the best seasonal produce, maintains alignment with the original brand, service, and food concept – sustainable, locally sourced and simple but well-presented food to plate.
What’s your cheffing background?
AL: I actually cracked over the 20-year mark as a chef last year, which is quite scary. I’ve been in the industry for a long time but it has allowed me to experience a world of travel and cuisine. I've worked in France, I've worked in London. I’ve worked at Michelin starred restaurants, the same one in London as Tom, actually. I tried everything from fine dining to brasserie and bistro. All of it made me appreciate what we have at home in New Zealand.
What does New Zealand have that you can’t find overseas?
AL: New Zealand cuisine lets flavour speak for itself and really highlights seasonal produce. In the UK you don’t get excited about seasonal produce because everything is available all the time. One day you get asparagus from Italy, the next from France. Here, we wait for a small window for things to be available, but when it is, it's incredible.
What made you interested in food in the first place?
AL: I can't remember this, but my mother tells me I was always in the kitchen and just jumping in and helping her baking. I just didn't really see myself interested in anything else. I always gravitated to the kitchen. And I helped my father when he had a food caravan, back in the day. I think it was mostly just that I enjoyed seeing people's reactions to food.
What has impacted your career the most?
AL: The restaurant I always refer back to for inspiration, where I used to work, is the O'Connell Street Bistro, which isn't around anymore, unfortunately. I worked there for nine years over three stints. That's where I started to learn how to be not just a chef, but a person, a colleague and a manager. That’s where I worked with a chef called Stephen Ward, who has since passed away. He was a passionate chef, worked in the same place for 15 years, just cared about the people and cared about food and about the flavour profiles. He taught me to be disciplined about what I put on the plate, the flavour profiles, quantities and purpose of every component of the dish. You don't have to put too much on a plate and everything on the plate has to have purpose. No rosemary sprigs, no thyme sprigs, nothing wasted.
Is your consideration for sustainability something that has always been there throughout your career?
AL: At cooking school, they didn’t teach us anything about sustainability. The things we learnt in cooking school back then were very traditional, very classic. And as you go through the years of cooking, you learn not the fastest way, but the more productive and smarter way of doing things. Back in the day wastage wasn’t that important. Working at The Hotel Britomart has taken my understanding of sustainability to the next level. Here it’s not just a word, it’s common practice and everyday occurrence. In the kitchen we do it naturally, it’s become second nature. That’s a big thing that I try and instil in the younger chefs.
What are you trying to achieve from a big-picture perspective with your approach to food at the hotel?
AL: In the event space and the hotel space, we want to really showcase local New Zealand food, local producers, local suppliers. I like to work with smaller suppliers who are less well known, and really highlight their products in our dishes. Like, we've got French cheeses, but they’re made for us in Patamahoe by a French lady, Annabel. So, it's about not being afraid of New Zealand products and trying to keep as local as possible. We try to have a story with all our dishes.
You’re known for the amazing relationships you have with suppliers. How do you find these suppliers?
AL: These relationships take time and have been forged over my 20 years of working in the industry. Tom also brings his own supplier relationships. Most places only have a few suppliers, whereas we have about 20 to make sure we’re getting the best of everything. Having close relationships also allows me to choose what’s in season. I’ll text our produce supplier and ask what she’s got this week that’s good. Relationships are huge but that’s why we can get the best quality products. One of our suppliers always gets parking tickets because he always stays to chat for so long!
What's the thing on the menu that you are really enjoying at the moment?
AL: I’m thinking about five menus right now! I like what's in season now and what goes with that and what's local. So, a classic example is the Cambridge asparagus with French fromage frais, which is fancy ricotta. The flavour profile is amazing. So that excites me. Anything that's seasonal and clean, nothing too fancy. I'm about flavours and just using three or four ingredients with that. I want to keep things clean and allow the flavours of expectational ingredients to speak for themselves.
What do you like to eat when you're not cooking?
AL: I'm such a lazy home chef.
AL: Yeah. Anything with cheese and barbecue sauce, or cheese and mustard. I'm happy with a sharing plate with pickles and cheese, and charcuterie, and barbecue sauce on the side. That's pretty much me. And burgers. I'd rather go to a burger place than a restaurant, for some reason. And having kids, it's like there's no such thing as going out for dinner anymore.
Do you spend a lot of time experimenting, playing around with ideas?
AL: In my head, yes, but not really in the kitchen as much. I need to find more time for that. I enjoy doing experiments more with vegetables than meat. Veggies are a bit more exciting because no-one does it. How can you turn a celeriac into something special? If you cook celeriac skins for two hours, they go black. But if you salt a celeriac and cook it whole, everything just changes. I focus on one ingredient and then work from there, always a vegetable, not a protein.
That's an interesting way of looking at it, which works well with the local and sustainable ethos of the hotel.
AL: Yeah. At kingi right now, potato skins have been selling really well on the menu. So many potato skins! So, it encourages me to think, what do we do with the inside of the potatoes now? How can I incorporate the potatoes into other menu items. There's no wastage in the kitchen. It's a fun kitchen to be in, and I love seeing the younger chefs getting excited too.
How big's your team here now?
AL: Thirteen chefs. Which is, for a seven-day operation, quite small, but the most important people in the kitchen are our kitchenhands. They're the most important and underrated people in the business.
Where to from here? What does the future look like?
AL: Being a chef isn’t all about cooking, it’s what you can teach. I enjoy the personal side of being the head of the kitchen. I want to talk to people, not down to them. I try to be very approachable from a team point of view, I want to make sure they enjoy coming into work every day.