Motueka has had an important role in this region’s food industry for many years, primarily as a place food is grown and processed, but in recent times it has also become home to some wonderful eating establishments including Precinct Dining Co.
Located on the corner of High Street and Greenwood St in part of the Countdown building, Precinct Dining Co was established in December 2015 by Tim and Kylie Andrew, Tim is the chef and Kylie “does everything else which is about 80% of running a hospitality business” according to Tim.
Last week I sat down with them over one of my favourite drinks, a double shot long black, and we talked about why they chose Motueka as a place to start a café.
They told me that Motueka didn’t have many places like the one they envisaged, in the past there were plenty of places to eat but nothing offering a modern dining experience, in recent years that has changed a lot with several places making great food delivered with very good service.
In the case of Precinct they wanted to create a place that had a modern feel to the food and a dining environment that wasn’t too big so they could manage it pretty much by themselves.
“Instagram, social media and tv shows like Master Chef have helped change people’s expectations of food, it doesn’t have to be steak, eggs and chips or bakery foods, food is much more exciting now and the people of Motueka appreciate it just as much as anyone else.”
Something else that drew them to Motueka is the fact it is small town New Zealand with a very high summer tourist density and quieter winters, “it is absolutely full-on in summer and we get a bit of time off in winter so we can have a lifestyle you don’t get when you are working in the restaurant scene in big cities.”
While Tim is a chef and Kylie has a qualification in Bio-Medical Science they have both worked in the hospitality sector for some time; Tim trained in Queenstown at Skyline where he had an apprenticeship, “we were doing 1500 meals a day but it was all buffet style food, we did the same thing every day and it made me realise I don’t like doing buffet, but it was so hard to get an apprenticeship when the opportunity came up I jumped at it.”
He is a huge supporter of the apprenticeship programme, most people train at polytechnics or cooking schools these days but working as an apprentice has a lot of benefits, “you finish with a qualification and without a student debt because you are learning on the job, earning money while learning and getting real world experience.”
Tim has also had several apprentices over the years including Beau Lyttle who is working with him now and will be finished his apprenticeship at the end of this year.
As well as working at Skyline in Queenstown Tim also worked at the Millenium Hotel for the last year of his apprenticeship before moving to the Shoreline café at Kaiteriteri for a summer as Chef de Partie then on to his first Head Chef role at the Mecure Hotel in Dunedin which is where he decided working in a hotel kitchen wasn’t for him either.
So it was overseas for a few years, firstly to Orpheus Island, a high-end luxury lodge off Townsville, “I moved there to chill out a bit after the crazy hours of working in a hotel but it wasn’t as relaxing as I hoped, I was promoted to head chef after three days.”
His next stint working in a resort was at Peppers Palm Bay, another Island in the Whitsunday’s, that the owner ended up turning into his house on the private island.
After Peppers he ran a ski resort in Australia at Threadbo where the backpacker accommodation slept 300 people, “I was up at 2.30am to cook breakfast, then it was up the mountain to the other part of the resort for lunch service, a bit of snow boarding then back down the hill to feed everyone for dinner. It was a real challenge, I couldn’t do it now but back then I was living on coffee and adrenelin.”
In 2010 he spent another summer at Shoreline before he headed overseas to follow Kylie who was also working at Shoreline for the summer, “her mother was keen for her to spend some time at home for a while but she met me and I ruined her life by hooking her into hospitality, she is one of those people who is naturally great at hospitality” says Tim.
Kylie had an internship at Disney World so Tim followed her and he ended up working as a cooking teacher on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in the Caribbean, they sailed out of Miami every week with a new load of passengers and one of the things the cruise line offered was cooking courses.
“That was a cool job but hard work, six months on and 10-12 hour days teaching every day Americans who had no idea how to cook simple stuff, one lady had never seen a fresh carrot, she had only ever seen frozen carrot slices, it blew my mind how little some of these people knew about food let alone how to cook it, in some cases it was basically how to boil water.”
After the short US stint they moved back to New Zealand and Queenstown where they both worked in the then new Rata restaurant when it first opened.
After Rata it was back to Shoreline as the head chef and front of house manager. The couple used their previous experience at Shoreline and the experience working in other places to redesign the kitchen to give it a better flow, making it easier to serve hundreds of meals a day.
“It was a great place to work until the management board changed and the focus changed to serving as many people as possible in the hectic summer period; we had the attitude of ‘let’s serve everyone and make everyone happy’ and that changed to ‘let’s get as many people through the doors as we can’ so we couldn’t focus on the quality of food and service that was so important to us.
“We totally understand they wanted to generate as much income as possible at the busiest time of the year but it didn’t suit our philosophy so it provided the impetus to open our own café where we can focus on what we want to provide customers with, we take our time now and serve great food made with love rather than just being a production line.
“Having Kylie run the front of house is fantastic, she is very level headed and sees things differently to me, I have an opinion as a chef and she has an opinion as a customer would see it so we have complimentary skills, I don’t have anything to do with front of house and she doesn’t have anything to do with the kitchen. I think having quite different roles and respecting one another is the reason we work so well together in the business.”
This couple love what they do, especially giving young people an opportunity to do something that isn’t university, “it seems that at many schools kids are pushed to be successful by going to university but you don’t have to, university isn’t the only way to make a great future for yourself.”
In their first year in business they won a Beef and Lamb award and while they are enjoying what they we are doing and will be there for a while Tim says there will come a time we will move on to something else so Kylie can pursue her medical career or whatever she decides to do, “she has very much helped me get everything I wanted so it is only fair to do the same for her.”