Foodstyle Review Magazine

Ross Woodvine - Keeping it simple, 

keeping it Kiwi

Ross Woodvine, executive chef at Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa, is guided by a singular focus when creating his five-star recipes – ‘keep it simple’.

“Using quality ingredients is paramount, but I don’t mess with the food,” he tells us.

What - not distracted by a little alchemy and culinary wizardry from the molecular school of cooking?

“Food science fascinates me for sure, and it’s fun to play with, and small details of molecular cooking can be well used. However, inexperienced chefs stretch it too hard and end up in strange places and textures.”

Ross does admits to pulling a few ‘wow factor’ culinary tricks for tailored VIP dinners and cocktail events and his kitchen does embrace the cooking technology that has become standard in upmarket kitchens – low-heat cooking and water baths. 

“If you want a piece of chicken to be cooked nicely then you want the temperature to be around about 75 degrees Celsius, where you don’t damage the proteins. Careful heat management is the most important skill of a chef.”

His accent doesn’t give it away, but Ross is from Devon in England, the same region as celebrity UK chef Michael Caines, who features in our spring 2010 issue

“I’d like to say that I originally made the move from the UK to New Zealand because the amazing produce and lamb made me do it, but like most young and adventurous men I actually moved halfway across the world to follow a woman.”

And wouldn’t this country be a lot poorer of talent if it wasn’t for the alluring charms of its womenfolk? Ross arrived here a decade ago, starting out cooking in Rotorua before making the move south to Queenstown in 2008 to join the luxury Sofitel in Queenstown as executive sous chef, quickly moving up to the top job.

Ross and his countryman Michael Caines share a passion for using local produce. This means, for Ross, finding the best from South Island producers. Then, when you are creating the menu for Vie, one of Queenstown’s few fine-dining restaurants, you can afford to buy the best. Even the Central Otago region’s famous pinot noir is used to poach pears and make salad dressings.

Other South Island produce includes free-range chicken of the Rangitikei brand (Tegel) and Havoc Pork – served with wild garlic and rosemary. 

“And I always make sure I have at least one recipe on the menu at Vie that features Southland venison – undoubtedly the best Kiwi product available in my eyes.” 

Venison dishes include a carpaccio (thinly sliced rare meat) of venison (pictured) with fresh herbs, olive oil, lemon juice, capers, parmesan cheese and basil.  

The South Island’s acclaimed farmed salmon has become a firm favourite at the hotel’s French-style Left Bank restaurant and café on the ground floor, where it takes the form of salmon hash cakes using Akaroa salmon, egg and shredded Agria potatoes, served with a simple salad. 

On the more exotic side of the menu at Vie is New Zealand scampi, a luxury export food item you rarely see on Kiwi menus. Ross serves it on a $50 pizza! In a similar theme of luxury produce presented in a non-classical way is foie gras with top eye fillet presented as a ciabatta burger.

However, there are a few of the country’s top culinary currencies that Ross doesn’t hold in high regard and they include paua and whitebait.

“I think paua, aesthetically, are awful. I am not adverse to snails, but you have to use lots of garlic and butter to make these sea snails taste nice, and I just don’t like whitebait. 

“My fiancée is from Westport so is not amused when I say that.”

Trout are not indigenous to New Zealand but they top Ross’ home menu after a day fishing on Lake Wakatipu. 

“And trout is best enjoyed with a glass of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, which, like my fiancé, is from New Zealand, like all the best things in life.”

Chef’s questionnaire- Ross Woodvine

Most overrated ingredient? Whitebait

Most underestimated ingredient? Lemon myrtle

Toughest cooking lesson? Chopping brunoise of shallot for a red wine-shallot dressing… 20 litres of dressing After-service punishment as a young fella

Best Kiwi product? Southland venison or turbot

Best Aussie product?  Moreton bay bugs, Tasmanian oysters, Western Australia lobsters, Northern Territory beef

You are limited to three flavourings - what? Porcini powder, smoked paprika, chilli flakes

Favourite cookbook? Larousse cookery encyclopaedia

Restaurant catches fire, you save yourself and …? The MacBook – can’t do without recipe notes and presentations these days

End of service treat? 2010 Marlborough sauvignon blanc

Cook-at-home treat?  Baked whole trout I have caught myself

Pet peeve about other restaurants? Badly informed waiting staff

Food aversion? Liquorice, but love star anis, Pernod and ouzo

Recipe you would never repeat? Capsicum ice cream -- don’t want to talk about it

Cooking superstitions? If it can go wrong it will -- plan for all eventualities. If you say touch wood -- touch wood

Day-off recreation? Charging down a mountain -- on a snowboard in winter and on a bike in summer

Always in your home fridge?  Frank’s hot sauce

Favourite cooking tool apart from a knife? Microplanes

Expensive food indulgence? Foie gras eye fillet burger

What will you be doing at 50? Hopefully the same -- with more skill, innovation, maybe focusing on teaching

What would your last meal be? A Cuban cigar and a Johnny Walker Black Label on ice, or a foie gras eye fillet burger

Winter 2011

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Left Bank Cafe, Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa

Executive chef Ross Woodvine

Sofitel Queenstown

Classic Italian style venison carpaccio

Sea salt seared lime and caper New Zealand scallops