Antony Page’s first memory of what he calls ‘real food’ was at the Park Royal. “I can’t remember the occasion, but we didn’t eat out that often so must have been big,” he told Restaurant & Café. “I had venison with wild rice and a rhubarb glaze or sauce. It was different, but I liked it, and it showed me there was another world, one which I knew I was destined for.”
Page’s first impression at the Park Royal turned out to be oddly prescient – years later, that’s where he ended up working. It wasn’t a clear run, though – Page admits that he fell into the culinary industry. “I had finished a short term at university which wasn’t really right for me,” he said. “By chance, I ended up at Christchurch Polytech and rest is history. Twenty-one years later, I still love it.”
Page is now executive chef at The George Hotel in Christchurch, his latest role in a journey through the best that Christchurch hospitality has to offer. He’s worked at Rogues of Rotherham, the Crowne Plaza and Fiddlesticks among others, and has been sharing his experience along the way.
“I would like to think my team would say I am fair, open, clear and focused, always questioning and refining what we do,” he said. “I had a girl who started with us at Fiddlesticks about six years ago. It was a busy, fast-paced kitchen, so you had to be on the ball, and I made sure all the sections were clean tidy and ready for the next shift. At first, she didn’t understand why I was so strict on her, and it wasn’t until she moved to London and worked for Gordon Ramsay that she realised that the way we trained her here was for her own benefit. She went on to work with Marcus Wareing, then moved back to New Zealand and worked as sous chef at Rata and then up to Pasture in Auckland. She thanked me in the end.”
Like most chefs, travel also rounded off Page’s training. He started in Sydney before making his way around Brisbane, Melbourne, Thailand, the Philippines and India. It was in Mumbai that he faced his greatest challenge but also what he considers to be his greatest accomplishment. “Opening a new hotel in Mumbai was a major food and culture shock,” he explained. “Although it was challenging at the time, I treasure the memories from those days. There were 120 chefs in that kitchen, and most couldn’t speak English!”
With two small boys travel opportunities are now few and far between for Page, but he recently had a quick trip up to Queenstown. “It’s always inspirational and refreshing to see what they’re doing down there,” he said. “We always go to La Rumbla in Arrowtown and I had a friend working at Rata so we had to go there as well.”
Page has recently launched a new winter menu, his first task in his new role as executive chef. Page had to prepare the menu in a reasonably short timeframe, with a staff and kitchen with which he was unfamiliar. “It made it a little bit harder, so I went with classic winter flavours, keeping the dishes that sell well and using the skills of the team that we have.” Most of the dishes on the menu Page had made before so they were tried and true, but he made sure to come up with something new – the smoked egg yolk and duck parfait being a prime example.
Page is looking forward to cementing himself at The George and getting the food, people and kitchens running to the best of their ability. Not content to rest on its reputation, currently in the process of converting 50 Bistro to a hyper-local menu, only using produce found with a 50-kilometre radius of the restaurant – roughly marked by Rakaia to the south, Oxford to the west and Waipara to the north. He spends time on the internet and Instagram while talking to other chefs, both in Australia and New Zealand.
“50 Bistro is modern New Zealand cuisine so it has traditional flavours, but there are also innovative and contemporary twists on the classics,” he said. “I think if you have the right vision you can successfully blend them both to achieve a great result.”