Peter Gordon’s wild west(end) adventure
By Stephen Jewell,
Kiwi superchef Peter Gordon claims he’s now known as much for his entrepreneurial ability as his cooking. The London-based 47-year-old’s ever-increasing portfolio of restaurants includes The Providores and Tapa Room on Marylebone High Street, Dine and Bellota in Auckland, and Changa and Müzedechanga in Istanbul. Now, he and partner Michael McGrath have embarked on their most ambitious venture yet: teaming up with fellow expats Brandon Allen and Adam Wills, founders of UK-wide Gourmet Burger Kitchen, to open Kiwi-themed restaurant Kopapa in the heart of London’s ultra-competitive West End. How will they sell that? And didn’t Gordon get the memo about food miles?
You first worked with Brandon Allen and Adam Wills as a consultant for Gourmet Burger Kitchen. How did you come to join forces with them on Kopapa?
Through The Providores, we’d been working on a few potential new restaurant sites over the years and through various landlord nightmares, one in Spitalfields and one elsewhere, they’d all Peter Gordon’s wild West (End) adventure ended up falling through. Adam and Brandon knew about those frustrations. They suggested doing something together that combines their expertise at managing multi-sites with our expertise at food and beverage and service.
In Maori, kopapa means a crowd or a gathering.
It depends on who you talk to. Another friend said it’s almost like a whare kai, or food storehouse. We’ve asked a few Maori linguistic scholars and some of them have never heard of it.
Our business partners in Providores loved it as a name. But they also liked rimu, totara and kauri, which would have just sounded weird.
Will Kopapa be more ‘Kiwi-flavoured’ than The Providores?
Where we are [in Seven Dials near Covent Garden] there are a lot of tourists and theatres, so it’s got to have a broader appeal. Our wine list is going to be 30 to 40 percent New Zealand wines and the rest will be French, Italian and South American. At Providores, the wine list is 100 percent New Zealand; it’s the largest New Zealand wine list in Europe. But in a way, Kopapa is more Kiwi than Providores. There will be coffee and platters of muffins and scones, which is very New Zealand.
From old establishments like Flat White to new arrivals like Allpress, more and more Kiwi cafes are opening in London.
The British don’t really ‘do’ cafes. They do chains, which are fine, but they don’t do individually operated cafes that offer fair-priced dining and good service. It’s definitely the Kiwis and Aussies who have introduced good coffee to London. If it were left up to the locals, they never would have done that.
You’re the creator of fusion cooking, which combines culinary elements from different cultures. It’s now widespread through Britain and the world, and emulated by big-name chefs like Jamie Oliver.
Not a lot of people will admit that. It’s everywhere now. People still pretend that it wasn’t what we were doing when we first started out, but food has definitely changed since then. I admire Jamie. He’s a really good business guy. He’s got more of a team supporting him but he’s really driven.
London is much more of a cultural melting pot than New Zealand.
If you were in Wanganui, you’d probably have two ethnicities, Pakeha and Maori, working in, and going to, your restaurant. Over here your kitchen, floor staff and customers will all be so multinational. It’s brilliant; it’s the great thing about being here.
Dine has just celebrated its fifth anniversary and Bellota is now four years old. Is it difficult splitting your business interests between New Zealand and Britain?
Managing the people is important. If you’ve got a good formula, running the business is pretty straightforward but it’s the personalities and the key staff that matter the most.
“The dollar now drives New Zealand’s heroes. It used to strive to be non-discriminatory and inclusive but the old ethos has been whittled away. When I go back home now, it’s like the country’s gone haywire. I hear stuff on the streets that I didn’t think I’d ever hear”
You’ve been a critic of Britain’s food miles policies in the past. Has the situation changed recently?
People are now more interested in animal welfare and sustainability. Food miles are one aspect of that, but it used to be that it didn’t mean anything more than that. If you’re freighting a tomato from Spain on a boat then the miles would be the same as on a plane, but they would be more sustainable. From a business point of view, it’s less important to know where your food comes from.
We keep reading that fusion food and imported food is still a bit weird, but Providores is packed all the time. There’s enough of the public who have their own opinion but big marketing and newspapers that have a political agenda keep trying to channel people’s beliefs in certain ways. If you read the Sunday food mags, it’s the same people over and over again, but London likes variety.
The Conservative–Lib Dem coalition government has put new restrictions on skilled migrant workers. Are Kiwis hurting because of it?
They should be bloody glad to have us over here and should keep giving us twoyear work permits. I find that frustrating because when we were advertising for chefs for Kopapa, there were none around. There are all these Kiwis that have come over here on one-year work permits and once they finish, they have to go. We employ 40 people at Providores and will probably employ a similar amount at Kopapa. It’s not like we don’t want to employ Kiwis—because they’re brilliant in the kitchen—but they have such short visas. I understand that if the foreigners are taking all the jobs then the locals won’t get them. But if the locals aren’t applying for the jobs then companies should be allowed to employ foreigners who want to work. It’s one of those things that happen in the grand scheme of things that doesn’t work properly.
Do many staff members move from New Zealand to London?
A few chefs have done it, but any waiter that has ever gone from Dine to Providores has turned out to be awful. They’re such a nightmare that we actually refuse to employ them, although they’ll probably read this in New Zealand.
Should New Zealand concentrate on promoting individuals or the country as a whole?
In New Zealand, you’re often told ‘isn’t New Zealand wonderful?’ But what part of it? Is it the New Zealand that has P addiction running rife and chopping people’s arms off and killing their babies? Is it the New Zealand that appears in The Lord of the Rings, or is it the New Zealand that conquers the world at sport? Sometimes I feel a bit over that. New Zealand is the most beautiful wilderness country, but sometimes New Zealanders are too obsessed by the country rather than focusing on what specific people are doing. Americans over-promote achievements, which can be too much. But unless you’re a sportsperson, New Zealanders hate to promote their own.
New Zealand isn’t the egalitarian society that it used to be.
It’s the dollar that now drives the country’s heroes. It used to strive to be nondiscriminatory and inclusive but the old ethos of New Zealand has been whittled away. When I go back home now, I don’t know what I’m seeing; it’s like the country’s gone haywire. There’s a strange racism that goes on. Now that there’s a lot of Asians living in Auckland, I hear stuff on the streets that I didn’t think I’d ever hear, stuff that you’d hear over here during the Brixton riots. For all New Zealand’s good points like its natural beauty and nuclear free policy, there’s been a change in society and I don’t know whether all New Zealanders are aware that it has happened. A lot of New Zealand feels under threat from migrants but not so long ago everybody’s parent was a migrant.
If Kopapa is a success are you intending to open more branches?
This is the first business we’ve done as a joint venture and so far there have been no hiccups, dramas or clashes. It’s been really good seeing business through Adam and Brandon’s eyes. The team that we’ve got is a good merger of different talents. There’s no reason not to look at other sites once we’ve got this one off the ground. It’s going well so far.