La Capilla – Published Nelson Mail 26.01.16

Over the years The Abbey complex on the Appleby Straight has been the home to a number of business and very good chefs but the current businesses operating there are, in my opinion, the best for some time.

The Office at the front of the complex is great for relaxed outdoor dining and will get a column of its own sometime soon but today I want to introduce you to Takeshi Nagahama who is the owner and chef at La Capilla based in the old church building at the rear of the complex.

La Capilla means The Chapel in Spanish and reflects the style of food and experience Take (pronounced Tarkay) brings to his cooking.

Take left Japan in 1996 after finishing university with a degree in bio-technology in agriculture. His first stop was Ecuador where he was a volunteer teacher at an agriculture school for two years. As well as teaching kids how to grow vegetables he learned to speak Spanish and that was the spark that ignited his desire to travel to Spain.

He had always cooked at home with his mother when he was a child, “she was always in the kitchen and I loved helping her make cakes, bread and food for the family” he says. “My aunty is a teacher of the formal Japanese tea ceremony and she was a big influence on me too. Cooking has always been very close to me and I have always loved it.”

Take told me he went to Spain because he “wanted to do something I really wanted to do in my heart and agriculture wasn’t really it. While I loved working with the children, and studying agriculture has given me a deep connection with food, I really wanted to cook the food rather than just grow it.” He moved to Barcelona in 1998 and studied for a year at the Hofmann Cooking School where the standards are so high the school training restaurant has one Michelin star.

After a year at Hofmann Cooking School he worked at three places with Michelin stars before he got a job in three Michelin star restaurant Can Fabes where he worked for year and a half followed by his first head chef job in a high end boutique hotel on Menorca Island.

Take returned to Japan to work as a sous chef in a second restaurant being opened by one of the few three Michelin star chefs in Tokyo, “this restaurant now has two stars as well.”

After a year or so being immersed in a Japanese restaurant he decided the busy lifestyle wasn’t for him and his love of Latin America drew him back, to Venezuela this time where he ran his own restaurant with a business partner for four years; located in the mountains 2000m above sea level in the Andes part of the country “it seemed to always be spring, not too hot or too cold” and was selected in the top ten best restaurants in Venezuela.

“When security of life in Venezuela was getting very difficult (pay someone $10 and they will kill someone for you) you couldn’t relax and just enjoy life, I was always looking over my shoulder and that isn’t how I wanted my life to be” so he moved to New Zealand where his first job was head chef at Aorangi Peak restaurant, a fine dining restaurant on top of the mountain above the gondola.

Six months later he moved to Nelson where he worked for Matt Bouterey for a few months before Daniel Monopoli bought the Boatshed on Wakefield Quay and offered him a job as sous chef.

In 2011 went back to Japan for a year and when he returned was head chef at the Boatshed for two years. “It was a great place to work, a lovely environment, but was too busy for me, I was cooking the same food every day and didn’t have time to create new things as often as I wanted so my wife Hitomi and I set up La Capilla.”

Take’s food philosophy is simple, “I use fresh seasonal flavours with a focus on local produce, Nelson is a beautiful place to grow things and people make outstanding products like cheese and breads. I want people to relax and have a good time, forget their reality for a couple of hours. The original meaning of restaurant is ‘restore health’ and I to follow that general philosophy, people can come here, relax, enjoy food and wine and feel better”.

During the day La Capilla is a happy, buzzy family style cafe where kids can play in the outdoor playground while in the evening it is more formal restaurant style dining where his training in Michelin star restaurants shines brightly. Everything is made by hand on site as much as possible and reflects his own family’s attitude to food of beautiful things cooked simply. This attitude is also reflected in the pricing of his beautiful food, “in the country overheads are a little less so I can keep prices a little more friendly for diners”.

Take only has local craft beers and wines, no brand name soft drinks and make own juices including freshly squeezed orange juice, makes his own lemonade and strawberry juice from berries he buys from Berrylands across the road.

Takeshi may be Japanese by birth but his culinary career has seen him working in some of the finest restaurants in many countries and he brings this experience to the food he cooks today.  www.lacapilla.co.nz

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