The North Otago food scene has a growing footprint in Cuisine magazine’s 100 top restaurants. Rebecca Ryan finds out more about Cucina and Riverstone Kitchen, two of the three North Otago restaurants that made the 2019 list.
Making the Cuisine top 100 list for the first time is something Cucina restaurant owners Pablo and Yanina Tacchini have been working hard to achieve.
“This is a very big achievement for us,” Mr Tacchini, the Oamaru restaurant’s head chef, said.
“It’s also very important for Oamaru and the Waitaki region.”
Mr and Mrs Tacchini bought Cucina 1871 and its neighbouring cafe, Tees St, almost three years ago.
They renamed it Cucina, updated its interior and developed a menu playing to their joint passions of Italian food and Argentinian barbecue.
“We make food that makes us happy grew up eating back home, plus flavours and textures we learned to love in New Zealand,” Mr Tacchini said.
“[We] focus on meats and pastas, smoky flavours, seasonal, fresh and colourful.”
It took time for them to put their own stamp on the Oamaru restaurant, and figure out what they wanted to share and express tell their story.
“But when we did find ourselves, we started to fine-tune our dishes, the ambience, the music, the feeling of the restaurant.
“There is still lots to learn and improve, but we also feel that we are in the right direction.”
Mr Tacchini has worked at restaurants around the Waitaki region including Northstar, Riverstone Kitchen and Fleur’s Place in Moeraki, and has won several awards for his work. At present, he is a New Zealand Beef + Lamb ambassador chef.
Success came down to hard work, he said.
“I think that working hard to get to your goal is a big part of the reason, giving 100% on what you do and what you are passionate for.”
Mr and Mrs Tacchini employ 11 full-time and five part-time staff, who split shifts between Cucina and Tees St cafe.
A lot has changed at Riverstone Kitchen since it won Cuisine magazine’s coveted Restaurant of the Year award in 2010.
The countryside restaurant, just south of the Waitaki River, has had to grow to meet the demand of the resulting elevated profile and increased patronage, and has maintained its high standard to appear in the list of the country’s top 100 restaurants every year, including as runner-up to best regional restaurant in 2014.
But at its heart, the values and goals had remained the same seasonal food, simply prepared and served efficiently, chef Bevan Smith said.
Making the top 100 again in 2019 meant a lot, Mr Smith said, and the restaurant’s continued success was a direct result of the “hard work and passion of our staff, past and present”.
“There are a lot of excellent restaurants out there, and many talented up-and-coming chefs, pushing hard to make their name, so to make the cut is wonderful recognition for the hard work and effort the staff have put in here at Riverstone over the past year,” Mr Smith said.
Maintaining such a high standard at Riverstone Kitchen came down to “simply having high standards yourself, striving to meet them day to day and constantly working to improve things, big and small”, he said.
The gardens that help support the kitchen had also grown “enormously” over the past 10 years.
“They have had to, to keep up, and in so learning how food actually grows has changed the way we look at seasonal food we serve.
“Every year we learn a little more and our local producers add to the mix. It’s a true snapshot of the best of the region
Dining trends were also changing. Plant-focused food was much more accepted and sought after, but quality protein “grown with respect” was still very popular and had its place, Mr Smith said.
“Overall there is a growing market that is aware and concerned about their health, which ultimately has to be good.
“On the other hand customers still want to spoil and or reward themselves so treats and special meals still have a place.
“You have to cover everything duck will always be a weakness of mine.”
At present, Riverstone Kitchen employs 28 staff, 22 of whom are full-time.
- Fleur’s Place also made the top 100, but did not respond to the Oamaru Mail’s request for comment by deadline. Fleur’s Place, Riverstone Kitchen and Cucina also appeared on an additional Cuisine magazine list of “Ones to Watch”.