Since the Rutherford Hotel was built by DB in the 1970’s on the former Nelson Breweries site it has been through many changes, especially since being bought by a local family in the 1990’s.
When built is was a landmark building in the region and Nelson’s premiere hotel and function centre, even if it did have a couple of bars that paid homage to the booze-barn culture of the day.
Fortunately times have changed, since being owned by the Talley family the hotel has been turned into the premiere hotel and function centre it deserves to be. Dining at the Miyazu Japanese Restaurant they created within the hotel was my introduction to the beautiful, clean and fresh flavours of sushi and sushimi while eating at the tepanyaki table was one of the first times diners in Nelson could watch their food being cooked in front of them.
Move forward 20 years and the evolution of the hotel has continued with a conference facility added and a restructure of the ground floor meeting rooms and café to meet the demands of a modern hotel.
Last week I met with the reasonably new head chef, Jeff Scott Foster, to talk about the next step in the evolution of the hotel – bringing the hotel restaurant and the food it serves as room service, at functions and in the café into the 21st century.
Jeff is using his extensive experience to move the restaurant from a hotel restaurant to a restaurant in a hotel, just like Miyazu is.
My first taste of his food and the style he is bringing to The Rutherford was at a recent winemaker’s dinner where he used beautiful local ingredients, something he is very keen to use more of, to pair with the outstanding wines from Clearview Wines in Hawke’s Bay.
Jeff told me “there is some amazing food in restaurants in Nelson and we want to be part of the Nelson food landscape, we want to give people a different experience when they come into Oceano, Miyazu, to a function or just want to drop in to the Atom café for a coffee and something tasty to eat.
“When I arrived in Nelson I thought there would be some good things but was totally blown away by the variety and quality of food and beverage produced in the region, much of it really is world class” and he is very well placed to say that.
From growing up in Torquay, down by the coast in South West England, he moved to London when he was 16, “I had a great childhood but always been this drive inside me to do something, dad was a baker, granddad was a chef in top places in London and my love of food stems from that, my father wasn’t keen on me following the family food trail but he said if you want to do it make sure you are up there with the best and it’s not just a job you fall into.”
He told me it is an attitude he has always kept, “I have a passion for doing this and trying to be a little bit different to the rest somehow, it is hard to do that, you have to copy, you have to give what guests want, make sure people get what they are searching for when they come in to eat.
“Food is like a big circle in style, we might try a few things but we always come back to the classics, it is about real food, nothing pretentious, just using local products in innovative ways, real food, real flavour, treating people well.
“I’m not the first to do this by any means but food always goes in a big circle and comes back to how our grandparents used to cook, using what they grew or could find.”
When Jeff started he said he worked in a hotel where it was like a military kitchen, where no one knew how to make the whole dish, just part of it because chef’s were scared someone would copy them.
“I found out things about myself and people around me working in that environment, I worked out who I want to be as a chef and person”
He walked away from that first restaurant and went to work at the Grafton Hotel under head chef Jean Claude Sandion, “he told me everything about each dish, almost everything I needed to know to create the dish, I learned something, imagine if I could tell the next guy and teach him the same way, the next generation can be better than me, if you inspire by teaching your job is easier and you have more time to create new stuff.”
Jeff told me that in his youth he probably came across as an obnoxious, young upstart, “but I just wanted to be better that everyone else, I did a lot of reading and spent 24 hours a day thinking and learning about food, it may have seemed obnoxious but I just wanted to learn, sometimes passion can come across as arrogant but I have learned how to show my passion without looking like that.
“If you find something you love doing and give it 110% you are already ahead of everyone else and can be at the top when you have some experience, and there is a lesson in this for young people, it doesn’t matter what you are doing, if you give 10% extra you will be 10% ahead of everyone else so you will end up at the top of your chosen career sooner.”
After his time at the Grafton Hotel Jeff travelled around working in various restaurants learning from people like Antony Worrell-Thompson, Marco Pierre-White and Phillip Howard at The Square before he moved to Denmark for 20 years to rediscover the sun and continue learning.
“In Denmark Michele Michaud, of all the people I have ever worked with, he was the most inspiring, he was considered the Godfather of the Danish food revolution and inspired a whole new generation of chefs, he changed the whole industry and my view on things changed too.”
The ended up with his own restaurant in Szendborg called Restaurant 5, “I start thinking about my philosophy of cooking, who I am, I wanted to take away the snobbery that had evolved around food in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.”
After about ten years running Restaurant 5 came the move to New Zealand, initially to Auckland before settling in Nelson. “I had been to Nelson before and knew the local products would be amazing, I want to do something similar to Restaurant 5 here, use great local produce, keeping the passion for learning and sharing knowledge, and I am slowly starting to bring my philosophies to Oceano and The Rutherford, to everything in the hotel, we are slowly evolving the business to support local businesses, get great people around us and support them in their efforts to make great products.”
Jeff says food doesn’t have to be complicated, “we want the menu to encourage people to sit around and enjoy each other’s company with good food and we will support local as long as it is quality, and most of it is, small artisan producers think differently, they are small companies so they need to be good or they won’t survive and we want to support them.”
Jeff Scott Foster’s passion for food and passing on knowledge is obvious to anyone who takes the time to spend a few minutes with him and some of the things he has planned for the food served at The Rutherford are both exciting and enticing.