A chat with Chef Keiran Jr Genge
A chat with Chef Keiran Jr Genge
What inspired you to become a chef?
Cooking wasn’t my first career choice, however it was around me growing up. I spent many of my earlier years working for my stepfather who was the owner and head chef of a local pub.
Shortly after I decided to branch out on my own and apply for more professional roles to further my development. I personally think cheffing and cooking are two totally different things and two different skill sets.
I knew I wanted to create and develop my own style after working with my culinary tutor - Werner Hartholt. His passion and philosophy around food was a huge influence in my career, and is to this day.
Growing up I wasn’t exposed to the most premium ingredients or the most high end style of dining out, my exposure was very limited so when I got my first glance at behind the curtain I was hooked and pulled in by an industry where you are only limited by your imagination.
How did you end up coming to NZ?
As is no doubt the most common reason for moving half way around the world… I met my partner in the UK. We decided to come to New Zealand so she could re-join her friends and family.
What do you most love about cooking with the foodies products?
They are different! I love experimenting with new flavours, textures and aromas and foodies New Zealand native herb range is an excellent place to start.
To be exposed to herbs like horopito, kawakawa and piko piko is what gets me excited as a chef. Nothing beats that initial feeling of trying something new for the first time. Whether it’s great or unpleasant it’s that new experience which becomes so memorable.
Pan Roasted Chicken with Bulgur Wheat, Kawakawa Native Squash, Garden Herbs, Agria, Goats Feta, and Porcini Jus
What other chefs do you look up to and why?
This is such a difficult question; I have always been inspired by those who pushed the boundaries of the norm searching for something special.
Ferran Adria falls into this category. He was also a pioneer in the modern gastronomy movement. After reading some of his work and seeing his dishes, it changed my whole thought process and perspective on the idea of creating. I was not just blown away by his work; it actually left me speechless. It inspired my own concept for a restaurant I would like to open in the future.
Jon Yao is not a well-known chef by comparison to the likes of Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsey or Anthony Bourdain but he’s a 28 year old guy running a Taiwanese taster menu out of a strip mall in LA. The resourcefulness and passion he has for recreating his childhood food is captivating and leaves you thinking less is always more. The most famous quote that has always stayed with me and forever in the back of my mind is “The more you put in, the more you take away.”
These are a few of the people who inspired me to start 4 ½ Grams.
What things do you find most challenging about cheffing or your industry in general?
1. Skilled workers
Currently it is absolutely the lack of skilled workers within the industry at both senior and entry levels. All sectors of hospitality are being hit with these shortages now which is creating a very demanding environment in terms of recruiting and staff retention.
2. Keeping up with progression
This is one of the things I find most challenging, but also one of the reasons I still am so excited by what I do. Almost every day I will come across a technique, ingredient, equipment, or concept I didn’t know anything about, and I’ll find myself in a rabbit warren of reading comments, recipes and watching videos to understand as much as I can.
3. Showcasing your own ideas
In most restaurants you are able to produce beautiful food but it is likely to be with staple proteins like beef, chicken, lamb and fish. There is nothing wrong with them, but what I am saying is that it is hard to find a platform where you can serve something different.
For example, “Paua Panna Cotta & Crayfish” is a dish from one of my latest concept menus. It serves two very popular ingredients in a way that people wouldn’t commonly order from a sit-down menu.
I think to get the best experience possible we need to remove the restrictions of choice and offer set degustation so that people’s pallets can truly explore the flavours in front of them.
This is exactly why 4 ½ Grams was formed. We offer our diners a unique dining experience with bespoke menus in the comfort of their own home or location of choice. It gives customers an incredible food experience and allows me to have the creative outlet I thrive in.
What tips or advice do you have for new chefs coming through?
These are my top tips:
1. Notebooks and recipe books.
Write everything down and keep notes. I still prefer handwritten but am trying to go digital as it will be far superior in the long run in terms of accessibility.
2. Find three kitchens in your early years.
The first one should be a really busy place that makes everything in house. It teaches you the speed you need to work flawlessly under pressure. The second one wants to be somewhere you can begin to hone skill sets, like a high-end restaurant where you work under someone who can guide you. The third is somewhere you have responsibilities to run a section and be accountable for MEP. This allows you to work autonomously and as part of a team.
3. Move on!
If you are not learning then you are either not asking the right questions or you are in the wrong environment. I have been cooking for 15 years and almost every day I learn something new.
4. Make a decision
Decide what kind of chef you want to be as early as possible. Patisserie, baker, BBQ, fine dining etc.
Tell us something about yourself that most people wouldn't know.
Outside of my professional career I spend my time competing in amateur bodybuilding. I enjoy the discipline as I am a highly routine-driven person. I also believe hospitality can be an unhealthy lifestyle if not balanced with good eating and regular exercise.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us about your cheffing journey so far?
A year ago I started 4 ½ Grams, an in-home dining experience to showcase my personal concept dishes in set 5 and 7 degustation menus. This has started to gain traction in the local community and can’t wait to see what the future may hold. I deliver delicious new food experiences to food lovers all around New Zealand, as well as within the Hawkes Bay where I live.
Pallet Cleansing Course: Reverse Spherification Of Mango, Blackberry and Lemon. A unique way to leave your fish course and enter your main.
- Pip Mehrtens