Dariush Lolaiy // Co-Owner, Head Chef at Cazador

With two chef parents, Dariush Lolaiy had little choice to become a chef, but he’s certainly shown the same love of food and quality as his forbears. Influenced by them, as well as José Pizzaro, he runs Cazador with his partner in life as well as business, Rebecca Smidt. A family owned and operated restaurant their game meats and fresh ingredients are sourced from New Zealand hunters and producers, and their short, seasonal menu changes often to reflect supply. Specialising in wild food, they follow a distinctly old school approach. “I love cooking outside, using fire. It reminds me of hunting trips with my dad, and it also yields a beautiful flavour. He used to make a delicious lamb stew, he’d leave the bones in, and I and my sister loved sucking the marrow out. I think that’s when I first learned that I could seek out flavours. For me cooking is all about the context, a new environment means new dishes,” Dariush said.

“At Cazador the core offering has always been the same – sustainable meat served bistro style with fresh produce. However, different influences from our travels and dining experiences have peppered our menus over the years. It’s pretty retro in here, we use classic techniques, there’s no fancy gear, and we focus on contact cooking. That means we have to use our senses rather than flash technology to gauge our cookery. We focus on butchery, charcuterie (preserving meat) and preparing fresh, seasonal dishes from sustainably sourced meat,” Lolaiy continued.

It’s this old school, hands-on approach that Lolaiy cites as the reason Cazador has endured as a restaurant. “We avoid anything too trendy. Nature is the best trend. For example, figs are almost here, grapes are perfect right now, and we just had a huge batch of damson plums, I love their brilliant colour preserved in savoury chutneys as well as in sweet pastes. I’m braising the grapes with plum wine to serve with chargrilled venison,” Lolaiy explained.

Starting his culinary life under his dad as an apprentice at Cazador, he then worked at the Marriott Hotel in Milan, a seaside bistro in Greece, The Anglesea Arms (a Game focussed gastropub in London), Pizarro in London and then back to Cazador. A full circle. “Keeping the legacy of Cazador front and centre, while remaining a competitive, innovative Auckland restaurant, and honouring this legacy with my wife in our cookbook is my biggest accomplishment.  I’m hands on in the kitchen. Rebecca, myself, and our sous chef Brendan Kyle have a rigorous menu development programme, and we’re always tasting, testing and reassessing what we serve,” Lolaiy added.

“Last November Rebecca and I went to Texas and New York. It was for research, of course, we ate some delicious Texan BBQ delicacies, but we were more interested in visiting small, local joints, little restaurants that seat few guests at a time and have short menus of excellent caliber. The Four Horsemen in Brooklyn was a favourite,” Lolaiy said.  

As far as ingredients go, “choosing a favourite ingredient is hard but at the moment I love to add a ham hock or trotter when I’m slow-cooking casserole style, it imparts layers of richness and flavour to the dish. As for dishes, my mum’s Khoresh Karafs (Iranian fresh herb & celery stew) is hard to beat. I love eating out to see how my colleagues and friends approach different dishes. I also love to see how New Zealand cookery is finally being embraced as a genre in its own right. There’s so much variety, and our best chefs are using local ingredients in imaginative, exciting ways,” Lolaiy mused.

Contributing to this embrace “our Chef de Partie, Jorgia Van Kan moved on from Cazador to Ponsonby Road Bistro, and just yesterday she flew out to London where her first stop will be Moro; one of our favourite restaurants. We can’t wait to hear of her success,” Lolaiy told Restaurant and Café Magazine.

As for the future, Lolaiy would love to work with Chef Makoto Takoyama at Cocoro “or put me in a small trattoria in the Tuscan hills, or at a Greek taverna on the coast of the Aegean sea! At Cazador, we are about to host a long lunch, it’s a collaborative event featuring a bunch of local craftspeople who make things by hand, with authenticity, and who share an appreciation for Pilsner Urquell beer! I’m serving a spit roast pig with Wild Wheat bread, Salash Deli charcuterie, Zeli pickles, Sabato cheese, Bohemian Chocolate’s caramel on Peter Collis pottery. Apart from that, “we’re off to Japan next month… that’s about as far ahead as I can see,” Lolaiy concluded.