In his Wellington restaurant and on his TV show, Al Brown is known for his prowess with some the freshest ingredients on the planet. The top New Zealand chef fields our questions about the best things to come out of his kitchen, and out of the wild.
IgoUgo: One of the striking things about Logan Brown is that you serve incredible food without the pretension that's often a hallmark of top restaurants. How is the restaurant's philosophy consistent with (or different from) the food culture of New Zealand?
Al Brown: I believe our restaurant philosophy is very consistent with what is becoming the food culture of New Zealand. There is a strong movement that is becoming apparent throughout the country regarding eating locally produced products, eating seasonally, and of course cooking simply. Season the food correctly and let the flavours and products speak for themselves! We have some of the cleanest oceans, pollution-free skies, and four quite distinct seasons so the variety of product is a constant.
IgoUgo: You said once before that New Zealand's cuisine is a "melting pot of people's travels." In what parts of the world did you study cooking (and eating!), and how did these places influence the way you cook today?
Al Brown: I gained a Culinary Arts Degree at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. I also cooked extensively throughout North America: Montreal, New York, New Orleans, Bar Harbor. I also had a year and a half as the Chef for the New Zealand Embassy in Brussels, Belgium. All these places influenced me in some shape or form. However, I have always been more impressed with simple styles of cooking that emphasize the true flavours of the products, with freshness being at the forefront. Cooking as close to the source of harvest nearly always guarantees a superb result.
IgoUgo: Is there a certain dish or ingredient, though, that is pure New Zealand and that a first-time visitor must taste?
Al Brown: That’s a toughy...I guess anything from the ocean caught locally, and of course our spring lamb has always been considered pretty special.
IgoUgo: On your TV show Hunger for the Wild, you travel around the country with restaurant partner Steve Logan to fish, hunt, and gather the freshest meals around, working with locals along the way. What's your craziest on-camera experience so far?
Al Brown: Nothing too really crazy...just heaps of fun and a real joy meeting so many wonderful “Kiwis” (New Zealanders) going about their business hunting and gathering, and sharing their stories and secrets.
IgoUgo: What—and where—is a meal you'd cross an ocean to have again?
Al Brown: Live, fresh soft-shell crabs, from the South (USA). I couldn't get enough of them when I was working in New York.
IgoUgo: What's your favorite food city? Is it the same as your more general favorite destination?
Al Brown: New York City! Just love that town! Great buzz, 24/7; awesome ethnic joints; and street food up to outstanding top-end restaurants.
IgoUgo: How big of a role does food play when you're traveling for leisure?
Al Brown: It’s paramount...the whole day revolves around B, L, and D, as well as in-betweens!