I FIRST KNEW ABOUT HUMMINGBIRD WHEN I WAS AT UNIVERSITY. I WON’T TELL YOU WHEN BUT LET'S JUST SAY I MAY HAVE DANCED TO DARUDE'S 'SANDSTORM' AT SPORTS CAFÉ A FEW TIMES IN MY FIRST YEAR. I NEVER frequented HUMMINGBIRD BACK THEN, AS THEY DIDN’T HAVE $4 MUDSLIDE SHAKERS on a wednesday. Through no mean feat Hummingbird is still around13 years later and that IS A TESTAMENT TO JOHN COLEMAN, WHO RAN THE RESTAURANT FOR 12 YEARS. But THE REASON it is again the talk of the town IS BECAUSE LAST YEAR JOHN PASSED the Restaurant OVER TO HIS SONS DREW AND JOE, and they DECIDED it was about time to GIVE IT A LITTLE REVAMP. Surrounding themselves with the best they got A SWANKY NEW FIT-OUT FROM LAURA NICHOLL, JASON CLARKE THE 2012 Appleton Estate national cocktail champion and YOUNG FOOD GENIUS GLEN TAYLOR. AT 32, GLEN ALREADY has a FEW RESTAURANT openings under his belt, WORKED IN SOME of the GREAT KITCHENS AROUND NZ AND NOW HE HAS PUT HUMMINGBIRD BACK ON THE MAP AS A FOOD DESTINATION. The food seems simple on paper (no superfluous wording here) but complex in its flavours. It is Glen's slight twists on the normal that make this place a wonderful place to eat - Fish Tacos with Peas? Just trust me, those little morsels have been in my dreams ever since.
When did you start working at Hummingbird?
I was an exec at Pack at the time, living in Auckland but flying up and down the country every week. I had been doing that for three years and I’d almost had enough. I had heard there was going to be a refit at Hummingbird, we got in touch with each other - I took a bit to convince as it was something really different for me. It's the smallest place I’ve ever worked. It is a lot more hands-on, the other places I had 13 or 14 chefs working for me. So that was a big change but it’s nice to be on the stoves again.
What's your favourite dish on the menu and why?
We change the menus quite a bit so I don’t normally get stuck on a favourite. I like the sharing style, all our entrees are sharing plates and we always have one sharing main. At that moment it’s a huge prime rib. So that is fun, plating up a big platter of meat and when that goes out into the restaurant people are always like “holy crap, that is fucking cool.” It's just a massive amount of food in front of you.
What is your signature dish?
Probably the chocolate fondant. We have become known for that. We took it off a while back and people went crazy so we had to put it on again. It is so simple, just a chocolate pudding, salted caramel and some goat's cheese. I mean the goat's cheese is a bit freaky but people went mental for it.
Do you consider yourself a chef or a cook?
A cook. I don’t think I’ll ever reach chef status. Chef is the chief and there should only be one chief and I don’t think there is anyone in the world you can put down to be a chief of food. I’d put myself down as a cook, as you’re always learning, everything is changing – the environment, the consumers, the economy can play a big role in the way food changes. There is dramatic change right now with the economy with everyone going back to the perception of value for money, it has broadened up the scene so now you have fine dining and the casual eateries and we are spoilt for opportunity.
When did you decide you wanted to be a cook?
I wanted to do it since I was five. I started by being a kitchenhand at 12, for no pay. I grew up in Australia and you aren’t allowed to be paid until you are 14. I basically got paid by going in for dinner and not having to pay. Got my first jacket when I was 14, finished secondary education, got my first full-time job out of school at 17 and I’ve been going ever since.
Who influenced you the most?
My Grandma was always cooking - if you went over for a meal it was always spread out on the table and everything was always homemade. My job when I was five was to stir the gravy, old-school flour in the pan sort of stuff, you don’t see that much anymore. Then I was in charge of toast, then it grew from there. Mum and Dad couldn’t cook to save themselves, it was always steak, potatoes, grey beans and peas. Grandma got me kick-started and gave me that love for food.
Who do you admire in the industry?
I admire everyone in the Wellington food scene. I think it's great here. You have to admire Martin - and Adam Newell - they have been around in Wellington forever and still going. They are at the top of their game.
You have to admire people like Thomas Keller. He is just huge and has become a big brand now and I admire where he has gone with the business. You can't just be a chef these days, to survive you need to be a good businessman also. If they have succeeded for 20 years in one kitchen, that is success in itself.
Why did you decide to move to NZ?
My wife! I married a Kiwi - she is a chef as well. She was the sous chef at Capitol for 7 years. We met at a restaurant in Australia and she wanted to come home. I’d been overseas but never to NZ so we decided to move back and it was all downhill from there!
Are there similairites or differences between the NZ and Australian food scenes?
NZ has a very dramatic food scene, with even a difference between Auckland and Wellington. The Wellington food scene is really great, it's simple, it's humble, it represents Wellington, it's slightly edgy without being too clique-y and the Wellington food is a lot better. But Auckland is pushing forward and there are enough people who are willing to pay a bit more, which puts better food on your plate. Australia is spoilt for produce; their food is a lot lighter - a lot more of that pan-Asian infulience. They are a little step ahead, but NZ is creating our own food and have our own food culture. It is very young but it is getting respect, which is great.
Where do you like to eat out for dinner?
KC Café, it's cheap and it is what it is. Don’t look behind the doors and just eat the food and you will be fine. I love The Larder, Café Polo - those suburban places are turning out amazing food. I enjoy Matterhorn. The seafood is good at Shed 5.
My favourite place of all time was the Roxborough Bistro; back in the day it was the place to go.
What do you make for yourself on a day off?
Cooking at home brings back that thing that dining has lost - when you sit down at a family table, you create a conversation over food and sharing food. Dining lost a bit of that, that is why it's so great seeing the sharing plates come back again. So I'll fire up the Weber with natural fuels, big cuts of meat, slow-cooked, beers, wine, lots of cheese. Lots of sun, down the beach afterwards.
What ingredient can you not live without?
Butter. Bread and butter.
What would you have for your last supper?
Cheese, just cheese. A big plate of dirty stinky cheese. I’d be happy.
What is your favorite junk food?
If you could eliminate one food from the world, what would it be and why?
Whale meat. It is so ethically wrong. A long time ago, it wasn't, but things have changed and that just needs to be taken off the menu.
Do you have a favourite cookbook?
Got to love the French Laundry, that changed the cooking world, cookbooks, and food photography. The restaurant was popular in the US but after that book came out, the rest of the world was like, “Holy crap, look at this place," and it made the rest of the world take notice and kick-started that movement towards farm gate dining, growing their own herbs, which is now very en vogue. Everyone is foraging and going straight to the source now. It was a wide open book - kitchen photos, recipes, I respect that. If a customer comes in and asks for a recipe I’ll email it to them. You aren’t going to challenge yourself otherwise.
What food would you like to try but haven’t yet?
I would love to try the food at Noma. All those ingredients that they forage like sea berries and other ingredients that we can’t get. And I’d like to try 100% purebred Wagyu in Japan, you can get purebred Wagyu in Australia but it's not Kobe. My next stop will be Japan.
What is your favourite gadget in the kitchen?
The siphons we have at the moment. It’s an old-fashioned coffee siphon, basically. We are going to put in a clear mushroom consommé. It's just a bit of theatrics and a bit of fun. It is our entry in the Meadow Mushrooms Capital Grande Entree starting on the 11th of March.
What are your plans for the future?
At Hummingbird we have broken that honeymoon period, the test part, we have been going nine months. We have picked up dramatically in the last three weeks. I still have a lot to do here but the next step for me will be to one day open my own place.