The ‘root to tip’ concept of food is gathering pace as clever culinary creators seek to reduce waste and encourage sustainability. Alex Davies from Gatherings Restaurant is playing no small part in this movement.
Can you tell us a bit about Gatherings and how it came about?
Gatherings came about after working as a chef for 12 years and always wanting to do my own thing. After being in a partnership with Shop Eight on New Regent Street, I decided to leave in 2016 and work closer with growers to understand the whole process behind the culinary world. I worked with organic vegetable growers for a year, accumulating ideas and developing a better understanding of the whole process from seed to plate. Having seen this first-hand, I wanted to make a space that highlighted the work of the growers and celebrate the work in which they conduct.
Why did you become a chef and what attracted you to the industry?
I initially became a chef after my parents immigrated to New Zealand in 2005. I had just turned 20 and, having just moved countries and left university, I couldn’t figure out what to do next. I enrolled as a chef at Ara as a way to meet people and make friends and quickly realised it was something I was good at and fell in love.
What’s your foodie philosophy?
To work with what you have available around you and create dishes that reflect the seasons and the weather, whilst always honouring the land and what it provides us, even in the scarcest of times.
What are some of your most popular dishes?
My menu constantly changes to adapt to the time and what is happening in small farms throughout the region – as a result I find my most popular dishes and favourite dishes constantly change. Asparagus in the middle of spring is perfect, as are tomatoes in summer, squash in autumn and onions in winter; the dishes change so much that there can never be a favourite.
Why are you so passionate about Garden to Table initiatives?
Garden to Table connects children to the food they grow, to the table they eat from, with the rapidly changing world and with climate change a genuine threat to ourselves and more so, the next generation who will suffer at the hands of our actions today, the ability to evolve, adapt and feed oneself is one of the most important skills you can have. As a result, the Garden to Table scheme is vital in maintaining traditional knowledge and self-sufficiency, once a completely normal thing, lost in two generations. The importance of bringing this back from a health perspective and an ecological one cannot be overstated.
You are judging the Christchurch regional finals of the Rabobank Root to Tip competition on 2 August where 9-11 year olds will be creating vegetarian dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. How great is it to see our young people excited about creating cuisine they’ve been involved with from the ground up?
It is well and truly 100 percent one of the most inspiring things you can experience. To be in a room with children of this age, and see the passion for growing and cooking, and the engagement they have in what they do is so, so special. This is my third year doing this, and every time I do it I come away feeling inspired and in awe of what they are doing. (I also feel a little jealous that it took me well into my 20s before learning this stuff!) The next generation of young chefs and just general cooking learnt through learning these skills is exciting as anything. The future certainly looks bright!
You’ve been presenting dishes at Gatherings inspired by the dishes the children have created. How have these been received?
People have really been into it, they love the story behind it. I have really enjoyed interpreting the dishes and understanding the ideas behind them a little more, it has been heaps of fun. I can’t wait to try the original dishes designed by the children themselves, which I’m sure will be way better as they have the true understanding and original concept behind them, they also have such passion that I’m sure we will taste on the day!
What do the next 12 months have in store for both you and Gatherings?
Having just returned from a trip around Europe doing Gatherings pop-ups overseas and opening our sister bar ALFRED next door, my focus will be on that. I have a few pop-ups in store in and around the country as well, but they are being kept under the hat for now! I also have a one-and-a-half year old daughter who I will be investing all my time in, making her feel loved and ready to take on the world!