“My youngest memory of food is when I was three or four years old walking to the butchers with my dad and picking the chicken for his dinner,” said Alok Vasanth of The Tasting Shed. “I didn’t start cooking until I was thirteen, and I had become old enough to support my mum by cooking dinner for myself and my brother.”
Vasanth grew up vegetarian, and exposure to the cheffing world and new flavours and foods got cemented his excitement for the industry. “I got hooked on working as a team and striving to do the same job better every day.”
Situated 20 to 30 minutes outside of Auckland’s CBD, The Tasting Shed offers elegant dining and a beautiful location. “I have been at The Tasting Shed since August of 2018. My time here has helped me grow as a chef due to the amount of freedom that we have in our menu. Because of the shared and open nature, we are not restricted to a type of cuisine or style of food.” All at once, The Tasting Shed is a culinary experience, a restaurant, a bar and a destination. They have created an open platform to express seasonality, flavours and experience.
“The Tasting Shed kitchen is a fast-paced environment, which is highly dependent on teamwork and efficiency from both the front and back of house. There is an emphasis on development and training.” The menu at The Tasting Shed is seasonal, and the hope is that customers will be exposed to new tastes and flavours. Vasanth regularly adapts and changes the menu based on the seasonality of produce—if something catches his eye during the week, he creates specials or uses it for groups.
Part of the experience at The Tasting Shed is the location and the country-style décor. This authenticity is mirrored in its approach to food. “We use a whole product approach to all ingredients. We try to find alternate uses or techniques to incorporate what is generally considered waste, eg. Fruit and veg peelings or herb stems that we use to make oils.” They also try to grow basic produce in their gardens and local farms so that they can control usage. Additionally, they have working honey bees to support the garden and produce their own honey.
Over the years, Vasanth has worked with many inspirational chefs at many a great restaurant. He worked at dine by Peter Gordon, where he said he learned the basics of how a kitchen works, including mise en place, service, cleaning and organisation. He also worked at Roving Marrow, in Melbourne, with chef Hayden McMillan; Vasanth noted that he taught him how to strive for excellence and not to rest on previous achievements. At Cassia, in Auckland, with chef Sid Sahrawat, Vasanth learned how to run a kitchen, lead a team, design menus, as well as the business side of hospitality.
Over the years, Vasanth explained how his dishes had evolved. “My dishes have become more refined and more precise on the plate. Each plate relies on fewer ingredients, but more textures and flavours.”
“My plan is to work on enhancing the experience we deliver at The Tasting Shed, by supporting local producers, reducing and recycling waste, and training and developing staff to also think in this way.”