From a young age, Mark Sycamore knew he wanted to be a chef. Growing up in England, and gaining his first exposure to cooking in a traditional English country pub that served simple homemade food, Sycamore has turned a childhood dream into his everyday reality at Blanket Bay, one of New Zealand’s most idyllic destinations. Prior to Blanket Bay, Sycamore spent time teaching at the ARA Institute of Canterbury, and supplements his already busy schedule captaining New Zealand’s Culinary Team—a team that he described as one to punch well above its weight.
Sycamore’s cuisine is defined by taste. “I strongly believe that presentation and techniques should never compromise the flavour of a dish,” said Sycamore. “I believe my cuisine leans towards the contemporary side of things but is certainly rooted in tradition.”
The kitchen at Blanket Bay is amongst the best in the country and provides a premium experience for guests and diners. Sycamore described working there as a place he hopes is supportive and enjoyable, but with an expectation of quality and commitment. “I believe that you cannot work effectively in hospitality unless you have a real passion because otherwise it is simply too demanding an industry.” Sycamore, therefore, creates an environment where chefs want to push themselves to develop their skill set and overall knowledge, but also get to enjoy life outside of the kitchen. “We are very lucky at Blanket Bat to have supportive owners who give us the tools required to do our job.”
Although Sycamore’s favourite things to do in the kitchen change, he said that he would always be partial to a good braise, citing the fact that the depth of flavour that a braise brings cannot be replicated. “I also love making pasta, and find it quite therapeutic being able to hide in the corner of the kitchen rolling and shaping the dough.”
“Dining at Blanket Bay is all about the personal experience; we showcase New Zealand artisan producers but tailor our dishes to the preferences of the guests.” At Blanket Bay, they run an eight-course menu that changes every day, where they aim to ensure guests are not getting offered the same dish twice during their stay. With the increase in dietary preferences these days, Sycamore said that it is not uncommon for them to be running around seven to eight different variations of the standard menu on any particular evening.
In an evolving industry, Sycamore said that he stays educated through research and in conversation with colleagues and peers. “I have a four-year-old and an 18-month old, so the opportunities to dine out and travel aren’t as frequent as in my younger days.” He also noted his appreciation for his team around him, who are always keen to keep abreast of the latest ideas.
Sustainability is something that Sycamore acknowledged as an ongoing trend in the industry. While we should all be doing our part to keep the planet clean, Sycamore said that chefs should have an awareness of the environment and know what they are serving and where it comes from. He said that as customers continue to develop their knowledge of cuisine and produce, and are becoming more and more discerning, so too should chefs. He also noted that people are increasingly happy to pay for quality. “For a number of years, our guests have shown a demand for vegetarian and vegan cuisine, and this has accelerated in the past couple of years.”
Sycamore has faith in the New Zealand hospitality scene. “We don’t necessarily have the resources that are available to some international restaurants, but there are plenty of passionate people around at the top level who are driving our cuisine forward.” Like many others, Sycamore acknowledged the shortage of staff in restaurants but said that the industry is still turning out well-rounded chefs whose skills are in demand around the world.
On the future, Sycamore said, “I want to continue to expand my knowledge and understanding of where food comes from. I would also like to get to a position where I can help promote the New Zealand hospitality scene, its produce, chefs, and producers to a wider audience.” Through Blanket Bay, and through his involvement in New Zealand’s Culinary Team, Sycamore is poised to accomplish his goal.