Jeremy Rameka – Pacifica – CEO Business Marketing Interview 30

Jeremy talks about his vision of establishing a uniquely New Zealand style of cuisine for the world to see, the importance of strong cooking techniques as a foundation, why he could focus on a single ingredient for up to 2 years and how the stress of the kitchen prepared him of the mental pressure of an IronMan. Jeremy also talks about the gift of his Maori family ancestry and his respect for food as life because of it.

PLUS Jeremy shares tips for young chefs to find patience in themselves to advance, his menu secrets to advance the palate of the dining public and how the Pacifica 5 course degustation menu has been designed to enable more people to try his New Zealand style of cuisine.

Like this Episode? Subscribe FREE on NZ iTunes here and receive new episodes directly to your phone.

Ryan: This is the Ryan Marketing Show, and you’re listening to episode 30 of 100. Today, I’m at Pacifica Restaurant in Napier Hawke’s Bay with head chef and owner, Jeremy Rameka. Great to have you on the show Jeremy.

Jeremy: Kia Ora.

Ryan: Now you’ve been at Pacifica, or running the kitchen side of things what almost ten years now? 

Jeremy: Yep. Yeah April 1st, 2006. 

Ryan: 2006. So that’s a long time in hospitality, how did you know back then that was the right time to start a restaurant?

Jeremy: I was in Australia, had been in Australia for a number of years, and so the food scene had moved on rapidly. When I came back to New Zealand, and a lot of people might hate me for this, but the food scene was the same as when I left.

Ryan: When did you leave?

Jeremy: It would’ve been about 1996 maybe? So I arrived back in New Zealand in 2005, nothing had changed. It was the same thing, same deal and so I didn’t know I wanted a restaurant of my own at that stage, but it just happened. It came up at that time.

Ryan: And how did the naming come about?

Jeremy: It was already there, so when I bought the restaurant it was pretty much exactly the same. The previous owner Mark Sweet, his brother was married to the daughter of Peter McIntyre from my home town who was a famous artist and that’s, sounds corny but I recognized some rocks out the back from the river that I was brought up in and then I asked him about them. Just so happens this weaving was stumbled on by my Aunty and there’s a whole heap of small connections that, I was like, oh okay. 

Ryan: Wow so – 

Jeremy: I need to buy this restaurant.

Ryan: So those little points, that serendipity you thought, this is meant to be.

Jeremy: Yep. 

Ryan: And how did you know in those first few months or first couple of years, what you were going to keep from the previous menu versus what you wanted to introduce to Hawke’s Bay that you believe was lacking from what you had seen in Melbourne?

Jeremy: I think versatility on ingredients. There’s than two ways of using one ingredient and that was my first focus, was my first aim. To introduce New Zealand into these different ways of doing things. First of all I didn’t understand why we were still doing French techniques when we’re on the other side of the world, why aren’t we doing our own thing? That’s been a big drive for me. Why don’t we find our own thing, do our own thing our own way?

Ryan: What are some of those things?

Jeremy: Well once again, it’s like a no.8 wire, if you’ve got imagination then there’s no, you’ve got no boundaries and it’s all about flavours rather than sometimes special techniques. It’s old flavours that you bring back, and you try to refine them and refine them and refine them, but they’re still there, but it’s still part of New Zealand. 

Ryan: So going back to some of those original flavours that you liked when you were growing up.

Jeremy: Corn beef, yeah corn beef. Broad beans, which I hated and I didn’t realize until I started cooking, why. 

Ryan: Why did you hate them?

Jeremy: Well it was the white sauce, white sauce hadn’t been cooked out properly, I didn’t realize, well you don’t know that until, then I started cooking, I was going, oh yep. But you don’t want to go home and tell the old lady that oh, your white sauce was shit.

Ryan: Yeah, you want to be cooked for again. Is a lot of what you do, trial and era, and experimenting?

Jeremy: Yes, a lot. Still finding our way, it never ends and I can spend up to two years on one ingredient. Focus on it, and focus on it, and focus on it, push it to the side, come back and focus on it, push it to the side. I’ve always been that way in a lot of things that I do, it’s like, that’s it, I’m gonna do that. 

Ryan: That’s a huge amount of commitment to do that with a single ingredient. Have you ever, I guess when you push it away, is that the time when you’re like, right I’m done with this, or..

Jeremy: No, sometimes it can’t go any further because even then as the years go along you actually pick up other skills that actually enable you to move in on that ingredient again, and you don’t realize until you go, now. Then it comes back, and it’s the simplest things sometimes, you go, far it’s taken me four years to do that, but that’s how it works.

Ryan: Are chefs in general as an industry, do you share techniques amongst each other or is it very much closely held?

Jeremy: I think we all have the same skill level anyway, but they probably have gone more on modern techniques rather than I have. I’ve gone more the other way, just trying to focus more on older flavours and older techniques, more so like with barbecues and things like that you know. Lots of braising.

Ryan: Cause’s that’s something that sets Pacifica apart is that some of the proteins you have here are very different from what you’d see anywhere else whether it’s land based for sea based. You serve up kina or paua and you’re certainly not afraid of serving up mutton bird or even lambs brains and so on. Is that part of getting back to what man cooked before we had restaurants? 

Jeremy: No, I felt it hadn’t been used as well as it could have been in New Zealand, because over the years I had tried in different places, and it goes, yeah the ingredient itself is nice but sometimes if you take salt out, then these things can be a lot better if you pick a decent ingredient. It can be as simple as that, ideas it’s gone backwards. 

Ryan: So you kind of regressed to go forward.

Jeremy: I think you need to look back so you can go forward so you know. If you keep going forward without looking back, you keep making the same mistakes all the time. 

Ryan: Now for people who are listening thinking about getting into being a chef, what advice would you have for them, because Pacifica’s kind of known for almost like a feeder club to creating some amazing chefs in their own right now around Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand. 

Jeremy: I think patience on themselves, because you can only show somebody so much if they want to learn and it comes from being very patient on themselves. I can’t do it for them. You know, they have to do it for themselves and then they advance, they actually get a lot better faster. Once they switch onto that. Just slicing and dicing, those sorts of things takes a lot patience to actually get it right and they don’t want to do that, they jump forward onto other things onto frying meats and all of that but they still haven’t learnt those basic skills. That’s where the patience comes because it teaches you details, and it teaches you these special techniques you need when you get to those otherwise you’ll be going into those areas with bad technique. So the fundamentals is based on patience, strong patience on themselves. 

Ryan: Is there times then in your career where you’ve lost your patience with it and gone, this is it, I’m done.

Jeremy: Yep.

Ryan: How do you then go and bring that back?

Jeremy: Usually have a few beers. (laughs) Way too many, feel sorry for yourself in the morning. 

Ryan: So just have a blow out and then reset the next day?

Jeremy: Oh, I’m better at it now, a lot more patient on myself now. Gone in a big circle. 

[00:10:37] 

Ryan: Now you’ve just come off the back of a, quite a big win in the New Zealand hospitality scene with the best provincial restaurant award from cuisine which is kind of the top of the top in New Zealand. From what I know about you and from our friendship, awards isn’t what drives you, but where does your passion come from? What continually drives you to keep doing this year after year?

Jeremy: For me the whole vision has been for New Zealand, because we don’t have our own cuisine, we don’t have our own stamp on things world wide. We’ve been learning other techniques form France, from Italy, from China or whatever. The whole drive has been for New Zealand, to make the world see that we’re okay, we can cook, we can do things. We don’t need to be doing French to be on the top end anymore, we can do our own thing and in the last ten years, I believe it’s shifted that way. There’s been a huge shift from younger chefs and some of the older ones as well, we’re all realizing that they go, hey, what’s happening over in the rest of the world? Who cares, we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, and it’s a whole attitude thing. It’s that Kiwi attitude that needs to be, but it all boils down to learning strong techniques and strong foundation.

Ryan: Does that mean then that if that’s to be successful that ultimately there will be chefs from other countries, assimilating the New Zealand cuisine way of doing things, that would be success for you if that’s instilled.

Jeremy: Yep, and you know, there’s a lot of Kiwi chefs that are over seas that are doing so well, amazing. Doing amazing, and they are using, introducing a lot of things that we do here into those restaurants as well. So it’s spreading, we’re doing okay. 

Ryan: How much of that goes back to your own ancestors, you grew up in a king country, your ancestors on your mums side are Tuwharetoa and on your fathers side Nga Puhi and Tai Tokerau. Is that something where you’re not only preserving the history of your whakapapa but adding to it for next generations?

Jeremy: Yeah, I think first of all I’ve classed myself as being a chef, that happens to be Maori because I didn’t want to be labeled as a Maori as the marketing issue. The marketing issue is the food, doesn’t matter who’s in there, it’s just about the food but I just happen to be Maori and I’m proud to be Maori. The influence that I have from my ancestors here, of course because I can trace them back you know, 500 years and that whakapapa on my mums side, she comes from the chieftains side that was tons the mountains. Wharerangi, so we come from that line and it’s a gift that I feel that all us Maori kids have been given it just depends how we use it, and in what manner. Everyone has their special role, I’m not saying this is my special role, it could be completely something else after this. I don’t know but, in the mean time, we carry on and I personally try to respect the ingredients I work with and that certainly comes on my part from my ancestors because when it came to food, it was everything, it was life. It’s engraved in us to respect food.

Ryan: That is truly amazing because very few restaurant owners or chefs, have that to draw on. Do you think in the wider Maori business community that more of that should be happening in other industries? Or do you think it’s unique to food?

Jeremy: I think with Māori, that sometimes they’ve used that Māori as their marketing point and it’s never been done as well as it should have been done. That’s how I feel because I’ve seen a few things that’s been done and it’s for the tourist and they don’t know any difference, and I do. We do. If you’re going to do it, do it properly, or don’t do it at all. Other Māori business’, I don’t know I can only speak on hospitality, when to comes to cooking. It’s for everyone though, it’s not just Māori. You do the best that you can, doesn’t matter if you’re Indian or wherever you’re form, that comes later. Because they’re going to ask you those questions, where are you from? 

Ryan: I think that’s one of the toughest things for the hospitality segment is, everyone cooks. Some think they can cook so everyone has an opinion on how you cook or how a restaurant operates, do you pay much attention to that or is that kind of like a thing you all have a bit of a chuckle over?

Jeremy: I don’t anymore, I just let things go. I think, I concentrate on what I do, I’m more happier in there then I am anywhere else. 

Ryan: And so your formats different from many restaurants in that it’s degustation focused and only degustation now, is that right?

Jeremy: In Hawke’s Bay obviously it was a huge risk, because if I’d moved on, if I was doing something like this ten years ago I would be gone, within the first year.

Ryan: Wow.

Jeremy: So I had to be very careful on how the menu was actually structured.

Ryan: Did that mean you had to hold some of the things back that you wanted to do until?

Jeremy: Hold back, or try and it’s all about wording as well, you know. 

Ryan: Really?

Jeremy: Yeah, on the menu. Just don’t put too many things down.

Ryan: Keep it simple, and hidden, and that gives you then the creative license to decide how to present or what to put on there.

Jeremy: So in the first two years, that’s when I realized, how am I going to put lambs’ brains on there? So it’s all in the wording, and introduce it and make people like it. Make people love it. 

Ryan: Has your dining customer base been on that journey with you? Has their taste buds evolved over that time?

Jeremy: Yeah, but then the whole country has evolved, without even realizing. There are still a few, my parents they still want the same thing, done the same way. They’re not going to move from that.

Ryan: Have they been here to dine?

Jeremy: Once years and years ago, but yeah, they always think they’re in the way. So they stay away.

Ryan: And when you’re not here, if you visit them for holidays do you have to cook or do you get that time off?

Jeremy: No, I don’t have to cook, mums always got food on, all the time. So my nephews and nieces and that always goes back, everyone goes back and eats.

Ryan: What’s your favourite thing to eat and drink when you’re not in the kitchen here? Like is it simple, or just whatever you can get your hands on type of thing?

Jeremy: Yeah, pretty much, Chinese. 

Ryan: Yeah?

Jeremy: Yum cha.

Ryan: Where do you get good yum cha.

Jeremy: Oh not here, but the Chinese.. it’s at D’lite Plus, there’s a few things on there that are quite hidden. Might be tofu. 

Ryan: And just to kind of finish up on now cause’ it’s a beautiful day here in Hawke’s Bay, what’s on the menu right now that you’re quite excited about that – 

Jeremy: Oh, sweet breads. Truffle sweet breads, so it’s truffle season now. For the menu pricing, everybody in New Zealand, all the chefs up north were asking me, how do you get away with 50 a … what are you doing and I said, it’s what I’m using and how I’m using it and what I’m putting it with. You have to think and think and think everyday on how much to put on there and what to put on there with that.

Ryan: Right so you might have one quite luxurious, expensive item but then paired with some basic proteins or carbs.

Jeremy: Yeah, but it’s in the manner you do it.

Ryan: So truffle season now. Truffles make anything taste good, right? And how important then is the wine mix side of it, or the beer side of it, is that a big thing as well?

Jeremy: Yeah, our pricing, it enables all different types of people now to actually try with wine. Cause’ it’s 100 dollars with wine, which is, if you’re in Auckland or Wellington or anywhere else really, it’ll be for five courses you could be paying 100 bucks for five courses.

Ryan: Just for the food side.

Jeremy: Yeah, just for the food.

Ryan: And this includes five different wine tastings?

Jeremy: Yes, so I’ve had to be very smart on how to go about it, but it’s worked and I’m enjoying it. Which is the main thing.

Ryan: You’ve got to enjoy the journey, what do you do to relax, outside of work?

Jeremy: Gym. 

Ryan: Gym, yep. 

Jeremy: Drink. (laughs) I do extreme types.

Ryan: Yeah, I guess that’s, I did see your name somewhere where you were in an iron man recently. So is that kind of an easier way for, is that for people listening, you know if they don’t understand what goes on in the kitchen, and how intense it can be and how much patience it takes and maybe they do understand how much effort and persistence would go into an iron man, are the two similar in some respects?

Jeremy: Yeah, I was talking to a few people about, physically, iron man is crazy, but mentally, I’ve been through a lot more stress and hard services than iron man.

Ryan: Wow.

Jeremy: Yeah, and I’ve found mentally that a lot easier, than in some of the services I’ve done.

Ryan: That’s fascinating, so the kitchen’s prepared you for the iron man.

Jeremy: Year, I think so.

Ryan: Ten years of serving up the general public.

Jeremy: Yeah, it’s crazy. 

Ryan: Wow. So you just had to get the fitness up to match the mental strength.

Jeremy: Yeap.

Ryan: Well, I think the journey you’ve been on Jeremy is phenomenal, and you’ve been true to yourself over a long period of time, and I think it’s always tough in business to strike that balance between what the market wants and what you want to do as a business owner, or as an artist in keeping that creative passion alive, and I can’t wait to see where you take the menu and take your cliental in the restaurant over the next few years.

Jeremy: Yeah, I’ve got special plans, I’ve got, yeah, for three and a half years from now, I’m going to start a little ten seater restaurant back home, where I’m from, a place called Kākahi.

Ryan: Kākahi.

Jeremy: Yeah, which is in central king country.

Ryan: Yeah. Just ten seats?

Jeremy: Just ten seats, yeap.

Ryan: That’s quite an interesting format, I’ve been to a table in Boston, I think it was called Ten Table but it had ten tables not just ten seats. That’s a very intimate setting.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Ryan: Will you keep Pacifica going as well?

Jeremy: No.

Ryan: So people should really get here while they can and enjoy your cooking in this style, while it’s here.

Jeremy: Yeah, it’ll be same sort of thing, back home, but I’ll probably do seven courses, instead of five, but I haven’t gotten that far. We’re trying to go through all the other bits and pieces with the council, and all that kind of stuff.

Ryan: So that’s the vision, 2019/2020, around there. 

Jeremy: Just get the ball rolling now. 

Ryan: Well thank you very much for sharing your journey with myself and with the audience, it’s fantastic to hear that back story and I’ll have to book a table here soon and try some of those sweet breads. Thanks, Jeremy.

Jeremy: Thank you.