Daniel Monopoli may have grown up in Nelson but the first time I tried his food he was cooking at Amisfield Winery just outside of Queenstown in the mid 2000’s, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.
He returned to his Nelson roots in 2009 when he purchased The Boat Shed restaurant on Wakefield Quay after spending time cooking in highly regarded kitchens around New Zealand, Australia and in London where he learned not only a range of skills but also refined the style of food he likes to cook and of course, eat.
I wanted to know what has motivated Daniel to produce the sort of food he does, so I sat down with him at his latest venue, Parts & Service on Hardy St, last week to chat over a coffee.
“I love everything the industry has to offer, I have worked in a wide range of restaurants and I enjoy everything from the fresh, vibrant and sometimes pungent flavours of authentic Thai food right through to a simple grilled steak or slow-cooked smoked meat. I have an extremely healthy appetite and I love to eat and cook”
Amisfield was also where I experienced and fell in love with the concept of sharing a number of small plates of food so I am delighted to see another hospitality venue delivering this kind of dining in Nelson, “it maybe a trend at the moment but it is also a great way to dine and share a meal with someone, I think it is much better than each person ordering a large main and missing out on other dishes on offer” Daniel says.
“My preference is to share a meal as this breaks down the formal aspect of dining and with this in mind, and combined with experience gained over the years, it has led me to where I am now and the food I cook.”
As we talked about his experience in the industry some very familiar old names came up, he spent a few shifts as a teenager working at City Lights with French chef Andre Demiere before getting his first job working in the kitchen at Pomeroy’s in Trafalgar St.
“I started at Pomeroy’s with Jane and the late Nigel Price as a kitchen hand, I always had a genuine interest in food but knew nothing about the industry, after I spent a couple of nights working at City Lights I knew I had stumbled across the thing I wanted to do with my life, I was doing basic prep and washing the odd dish but mostly loved the bustle of the environment so I applied for the job at Pomeroys.”
Then, after Pomeroy’s, he had an accident at Rainbow Ski field,“I almost lost my arm so had a few years out of the industry, the surgeons told me I may or may not get full movement back but I took the optimistic view and I did all my chefs qualifications with one arm during the recovery stage.”
When he had qualified he spent a season in Queenstown working in various kitchens and skiing, then he returned to Wellington to work at Al Brown’s City Bistro and then Café Paradiso “it was the 1990’s and they were pretty colourful times.”
After Wellington it was a stint in Auckland where he worked full time at French Café and Bikini Restaurant in Mission Bay at the same time,“one job started out part time but changed to full time so I ended up working 90-100 hour weeks.
After Auckland he moved to London where he worked alongside a couple of Australians in London at The Pharmacy, a Damien Hurst concept restaurant, “I ran the meat section where we would roast large joints of meat, rolled suckling pigs, sides of beef and legs of lamb and so on, it was where Mick Jagger, Salman Rushdie (including the entourage of body guards) often ate and where Madonna was famously turned away without a booking.
“The most valuable experience was working with David Thompson at Nahm Restaurant in Belgavia, it was in an small, exclusive hotel owned by the Metropolitan Group, we received a one Michelin star rating in the first year open and at the time it was the first Thai restaurant to be recognised.”
That was 2000- 2004 before he traveled for a year or so ending up in Sydney at Longrain, described as ‘hip, industrial-chic Southeast Asian joint with communal tables, for sharing plates and banquets’ “it was a factory but an incredible business.”
He came back to New Zealand for a job at Amisfield when it was being established and after a couple of years there he heard the Boat Shed was up for sale “so we threw in a tender and found ourselves owning it.”
Just weeks before the iconic waterfront building was damaged by storms he bought La Gourmandise with the intention of opening a second venue, that has now opened just a few weeks after the rebuilt Boat Shed.
“The damage to the building was substantial, but it was an opportunity to rejig systems which resulted in genuine improvements for both staff, business and customers.
“Being forced to take a break we took the chance to assess and improve the overall business, it is running better now than it ever has and our long-term staff love it.”
“We have some excellent recent appointments at management level who play pivotal roles in the running of both businesses, they have transformed the Boat Shed since it reopened, and also ensured Parts & Service has hit the ground running”
Staff shortages are really significant in the industry and Dan and his partner Erin Palmisano were lucky to be able to find others to take on their staff last summer while the Boat Shed was being rebuilt.
“Foreign employees are vital to the industry as New Zealand simply doesn’t have enough people working in hospitality to support the industry,foreign workers appreciate the opportunity to live here – they immerse themselves in the New Zealand and Nelson culture and enjoy all the area has to offer.
They fish, ski and mountain bike but they are also extremely valuable to our business as they are able to give priority to the work place and offer high-level training to our local work force.
“The mentality of these people is job security and enjoying their time outside of work so they appreciate everything on offer in the region and that is one key reason they come and stay.”
As to the new venue Dan and Erin called it Parts &Service because “it was a name that was pretty much fell out of the air, we just liked the name, service is relevant in terms of hospitality, and every business has it nuts and bolts. It not about re-inventing the wheel, it’s about serving good honest food at a fair price”
So Parts & Service has another addition to the Dan Monopoli portfolio and being located right next to Urban on Hardy St it adds another opportunity to enjoy great hospitality and wonderful local ingredients, craft beers and wines in the heart of Nelson’s Hardy St entertainment precinct.
Check out the blog on No 1 Family Estate’s website