Food Drinks

Peter Gordon's family cookbook

The Kiwi chef and his talented mum share their recipe for success.

By Kelly Bertrand

Peter Gordon is a somewhat reluctant social-media user. As he settles himself on a couch in The Sugar Club, his fine-dining restaurant that takes up the 53rd floor of Auckland's Sky Tower, his phone starts buzzing in his pocket.

"My mum's just joined the family Facebook messenger group," he grins, rolling his eyes as he checks the screen.

"I was forced to join because my whole family's on it. They kept saying, 'Oh, it's the best way for your mum to contact you!' Now she sends everything – messages, pictures..."

It's fitting that Timmy, Peter's beloved mum, has just messaged the Kiwi chef as less than five minutes previously, her proud son had been waxing lyrical about her prowess in the kitchen, especially her famed pavlova recipe.

Holding up the cookbook he and his mum feature in, My Mother's Kitchen – a collection of recipes from well-known Kiwi cooks and chefs and their mums – Peter says both he and Timmy were thrilled to include the pav in the book. Well, Peter (53) was thrilled. Timmy was a bit more excited about getting to take part.

"She said, 'Darling, I've been waiting all my life!'" Peter laughs.

"She's quite theatrical, my mum. She's a gorgeous woman."

Like many chefs, he attributes his love of cooking to his mum as well as his grandmother and stepmother, Rose.

"Mum makes the best slices, pav, slow roasts – all kinds of things," he says. "Oh, and tomato toasted sandwiches. She taught me a trick – you cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds so you don't get a soggy sandwich!

"But when I was younger, it was my grandmother, my dad's mum, who I learnt from. Mum was a working mother, so we spent a lot of time with Gran. She always had full biscuit tins!"

Peter remembers a childhood dominated by food. With his parents divorcing when he was four, he and his three siblings would travel between their hometown of Whanganui and Auckland, where Timmy moved."I remember Whanganui being all black sand and rough, then we'd go to Auckland and it was all golden sand everywhere.

In Whanganui, if we made fish and chips, we'd fry it in the beef dripping Dad would make from the carcases he'd break down. In Auckland, Mum would fry her chips in vegetable oil, which seemed really flash!"

Despite his parents' divorce, Peter says he had an incredible childhood, and loved his stepparents Rose and Clyde.

"I had the best of both worlds," he smiles.

"Some people say, 'Divorce is terrible for kids.' But I had the best childhood out of almost everyone I know, and I think it was because my mum and dad, and stepfather and stepmother, are gorgeous, gorgeous people."

Peter's love of family is evident everywhere, not least his restaurant menus, where old family traditions and Kiwi classics are subtly included – though he hasn't quite gone as far as putting the classic pav on The Sugar Club's menu yet!

But if he did, there'd be no doubt about which recipe he would use – Timmy's, but jazzed up just a little.

"She uses brown malt vinegar and normal caster sugar, while I'd use cider vinegar and unrefined caster sugar just because I like it," he explains.

"Hers would generally just have cream and fruit on top, but for the book, we did a chocolate crumble, a feijoa compote and a lemon, white chocolate, whippy cream thing – yes, that's the technical term!"

Peter has made the recipe himself many times and he still remembers the worst experience, which wasn't even due to a baking disaster. Rather, the people behind the British radio show Woman's Hour decided to have Peter make a pavlova live on air, despite his hesitation.

"I think they asked me to do it because the Oxford Dictionary had finally confirmed it was invented in New Zealand," he remembers.

"I said, 'Look, I don't know if you've ever made one, but it's just beating eggs for 10 minutes – not great radio!'

"But they insisted, so I went to Selfridges and made them turn on all the beaters and I bought the quietest ones, but they were still beaters! It was the worst show they'd ever had. You can Google it. It was just awful!"

These days, Peter sticks to making the pav with his mum, who we can't help but point out bears more than a passing resemblance to Dame Judi Dench!

"Do you think so?!" he hoots, pulling out his phone and opening his messaging app.

"I have to tell her the Weekly thinks she looks like Judi Dench. That's brilliant. You will have just made her day!"

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