Guy Stanaway

New Zealand chef Guy Stanaway works slowly but surely in this harmonious Peninsula winery.

POI: So Guy, can you tell us a little about yourself? Just for those who don’t already know you?

Guy Stanaway: Sure. I grew up in Christchurch in a small town called Lyttelton where my mum was a caterer. I’ve always been around food and have always loved its ability to bring people together. My fondest memories were around the six o’clock time slot when Dad would come home from work and everyone sat down. That feeling you get when everybody’s sitting together, laughing and joking. That’s what really resonated with me, hence the decision to get into cooking. I wanted to provide that feeling for others. I did my apprenticeship at the George Hotel which is a small boutique hotel in Christchurch. I spent five years there and then got the itch to travel. One of the main reasons I got into food was the flexibility and ability to pack up, move, start somewhere new and learn a different cuisine.

From Christchurch I went to the UK for a year but Mum got quite ill so I came home and grounded myself in Christchurch for another eight months. Then an opportunity to work with Amarna Resorts came up. The General Manager at the time Robin Bickford(?) said “We’ve got a position for you in India. Are you interested?” I was a bit naive at the time and I said yes. It wasn’t until I landed in Delhi that I realised the magnitude of the decision I’d made. I remember getting off the plane and they had very cleverly arranged for an attractive young lady to meet me at the airport to make sure I didn’t get straight back on the plane. That was my first introduction to Asia. 

We were based near Alwar about half an hour south of Jaipur. It was very remote and situated on a relatively small property, but we had an amazing ability to grow a lot of produce on site. There was a lot of local meat and poultry suppliers as well. I was there for about two years and an opportunity came to move with the Amarna Group to Indonesia. Again, it was another amazing experience, but I was back to square one and had to learn how to cook Indonesian. One of the main things that resonated with me in learning these different styles of cuisine was that you had to start from scratch. I found it refreshing and interesting. 

POI: How long were you there for? 

G: About three years. That’s where the bond with Tracey who is the General Manager of Rare Hare formed. I really enjoyed working with Tracey, she’s a fantastic manager.

POI: Was it from Bali you went to Noosa?

G: Yep. I was in a relationship and we wanted to start a family, so Noosa was a beautiful place to raise children. Then the opportunity came up to move down here and I couldn’t say no. It was a very young team. Joseph (position?) was a wealth of knowledge and as a fellow Kiwi, we got on like a house on fire. So we slowly built the team and the front of house as well. It was fantastic. 

POI: How was that moment? Because the process was unusual for us. We were setting a vision for Rare Hare, and to do that without a team or a menu, was not common practice. Then to take it so far into construction… I mean we were talking through kitchens and service models and asking all of these questions to Emily and Louis who are shrugging their shoulders, so in a way we were planning the vision but at the same time unsure as to whether it would be welcomed. Did that seem unusual to you too?

G: Yes definitely. With Doot Doot Doot we had to come up with the entire concept without an initial process or layout. Whereas with you guys it was fantastic, because there was a very clear direction and from my point of view I could see the bigger picture. Even the style of food was all laid out in a sense that we could understand and run with. We could make it our own and tweak it, but the initial concept behind it resonated with me and that was really cool.

POI: That was an interesting process. We were having discussions about cooking techniques and wondering to ourselves “Who are we talking about here?” 

G: “Who is going to be doing it?”

POI: Yeah exactly. And so, when you came in, you had to connect with all these parts. All the dialogue, the problem solving and the budget blowouts. We were halfway through a large scale build and had already set a vision but didn’t know who was going to carry it forward.

G: When we actually sat down with you guys finally, it felt a bit like sitting in front of a panel. You guys had the idea, now it was a matter of taking it on board. But sitting down and talking about the bigger picture… I think that was the point it really clicked with me. I loved the process and loved the way you guys considered the finest details. Like the ash on the wood fire oven. And the communal tables where you literally feel like you’re sitting in the vines. It’s stunning walking in and having that connection with these moments. You feel an automatic connection, you really do.

POI: We were very much trying to conceive a concept that was for the locals. As much as this a tourism region it just made perfect sense to appeal to a local audience. It’s interesting when you think about those locals though. They still have strong connection to the city and most of them are probably coming out here on the weekends, but they’re coming out to taste that fire, that coal and to walk on a surface that is a little undulating compared to the floorboards in their house. The other side that interested us was the idea of working with local makers and suppliers because we see that as a celebration of this greater region. It can’t be an isolated moment. 

G: It’s actually been a really steep learning curve for me, going out and connecting with the local suppliers. It’s great because you can buy from the farm gate, but in a commercial sense it’s very far removed and impractical. We’ve discussed this with the Mornington Peninsula Shire and now moving forward to try and get a co-op together where you can get everything in one place. Otherwise the logistics of sourcing produce from all of these farms becomes very difficult. 

POI: So when we proposed a list of jams and pickled products and sauces you probably thought “Yeah… they’re kidding themselves.” 

G: Well from a business perspective we need to test what’s going to work. We were really worried about the margins being too small to make it a viable option. I think as a whole though it was such an amazing journey. Seeing the twists and turns, seeing the passion involved, and then seeing it materialise. It’s mind-blowing. It feels special when you’re able to be connected with every little facet of it. We all had a little bit of a say. 

POI: Well, thanks so much for your time Guy.

D: Thank you guys…awesome! 

Photography by Ben Clement