Celebrity News

Simon Gault’s tea break

Before heading to Sri Lanka to judge an international high tea competition, the Kiwi chef spoke to Delaney Mes about his favourite brew, sugar, and reality TV.
Simon Holt, kiwi chef and Master Chef judge is moving on to judging Dilmah High Tea Challenge, in Sri Lanka.

Simon Gault has established himself as a central figure in the New Zealand culinary scene.

The owner of nine restaurants nationwide, including the recently opened Crab Shack in Auckland, the former MasterChef judge also has a deli, has penned three recipe books and put his name to everything from saucepans to stock.

The dad-of-one’s latest endeavour is getting on board with the reinvention of the high tea – by becoming a judge in the Dilmah Real High Tea Global Challenge. And Simon, 50, reveals such a project isn’t completely at odds with his recently publicised health kick.

Q. High tea is becoming increasingly popular – what do you think makes a great one?

It is really all about going on a journey of tea – the perfect high tea is where the tea itself stands out. Tea is kind of like wine; we increasingly want to know where it’s from, just like when you drive through Marlborough. You see the vines, and learn the landscape and that translates when you drink a good glass of sauvignon blanc.

Q. You’re clearly passionate about tea – how do you take yours?

It really depends on the occasion. This is what we’re learning in New Zealand, that there are different teas for different times of day. Last night I had a rosehip and hibiscus, which definitely wasn’t for me. Often I’ll have a black tea at home, but I change it up for the occasion. I love finishing my day with a cup of chamomile, and Opata Estate Silver Jubilee Oolong is my current favourite – a cup of that before bed.

Q. You’ve been pretty public about your recent health kick. Is there room for high tea to be healthy?

Healthy can be good, but high tea definitely needs sweet things. For the Dilmah High Tea Challenge, healthy recipes are not what I’ll be looking for as a judge, because it’s not part of the brief. However, I think the world is definitely moving that way – towards a significant reduction in the use of refined sugar. And if a team I was judging was to reduce refined sugar by using things like dates or apple for sweetness, well that would earn a rather large tick.

Q. You went refined sugar-free at your Auckland restaurant Euro; was it a success?

It was definitely a positive move, as I think it’s the way food is going. The big mistake was making a big song and dance about it. I’ve always strived in my career to be first off the block; to be leading. And that was what I was doing so I made a big fuss about it. But people were put off; they thought, ‘We can’t go to Euro because it’s healthy!’ So we’ve stopped going on about it. But people love it, especially the refined sugar-free desserts. We sell more desserts now than ever.

Q. How do you juggle your career and its travel demands with having a young family?

The great thing is they come with me a lot of the time; they love it, they get involved trying different cuisines. Also I’ve got great teams of staff at my restaurants, which takes the pressure off me.

Q. Is your toddler daughter Hazel a good eater, given her dad is a chef?

Hell yeah! She’s probably going to hate me for it one day, but she’s such a good eater. She’ll eat anything: anchovies, olives, all of it. She loves food. Drinking lots of water! But also, you’ve got to have as small tastes as feasible. You really are only tasting.

Q. You stepped back from MasterChef this year – has food reality TV done its dash?

No way! I think it’s really only gearing up. As long as people are eating, food reality TV will be here. I think shows like MasterChef have done a lot for young people in this country: the way they think about food, and getting people into cooking. New Zealand will be a far better country in 10 years time because of it.

Q. So you feel positive about the New Zealand food scene?

It is in great shape – and it is only getting better. We’re developing and evolving as a nation of cooks and eaters, and more people dine out now than ever. We have some of the freshest produce in the world and I see so much talent coming through – it’s exciting!

Words by: Delaney Mes

Related stories

Lou Bentley from IT business analyst to opening The Akaroa Cooking School; following her cooking dreams.
Real Life

Cooking up a dream

Many of us enjoy pottering in the kitchen, but few take that passion for cooking a step further. Alexia Santamaria meets three women who are making a business out of their love of food.