As a Chinese Māori chef, multiculturalism has always played a big part in Sean Kereama’s cooking.
“I have always cooked from when I was a very young lad. My mother and father were fantastic home cooks. My multicultural up-brining and travels with my parents, helped shape my appreciation of different cuisines.”
His favourite dishes are Nasi Lemak and Sambal Balachan, classic Malaysian dishes from his mother’s Malaysian upbringing. Even now, after a decade as Executive Chef at the Wharerate Function Centre in Palmerston North, Kereama still likes to read about different cultures and their cuisines. He and his wife often base their holidays around a ‘food safari,’ which further enables him to explore new cuisines. “Every day, in any country around the world, there is something new and exciting for me to learn!” He says that he loved the honesty of the food in Morocco and Spain, which he visited in October 2015, bringing some of the recipes back to Palmerston North. “I loved the traditional Pigeon Bastilla! I matched this dish to Gladstone Viognier 2015 for a Gladstone wine dinner last year.”
Interestingly, despite the cultural fusion that is a hallmark of his work, one of Kereama’s favourite dishes to cook is a classic Beef Wellington. “I love the skill needed to cook this dish well,” he says, while adding that this attachment may be sentimental: “I remember this was the first dish I made for my parents in law, before I was married.” He is also a fan of his time-intensive, 70% bitter chocolate triple chocolate tart. “I think this is one dish I will always enjoy making.”
Sean takes a hands-on, lead from the front approach when it comes to managing his kitchen. “I think it’s important for your chefs to see your passion in the kitchen, and know what your expectations are when it comes to delivering a consistent quality product. Staff will always follow your lead.” His kitchen is also a cultural melting pot with a Japanese sous chef, along with Indian, Sri Lankan and Kiwi chefs. He believes it is important to always have a good laugh, as well as encouraging creativity within the team. “Chefs are encouraged to create something nice each day for staff meal. It’s important to show appreciation of everyone’s hard work.”
In terms of cooking styles, Kereama is not buying into the current sous vide trend. “I don’t really cook sous vide. I still believe in teaching chefs the basic cooking techniques, and getting those techniques right first.” Instead, Kereama is continuing his long love of charcoal.
“That primal love of fire is very cool. The skill of controlling the heat and cooking beautiful food is just timeless. I love making anything, from a hāngi through to beautifully grilled meats and fish. All cultures have their own unique way of cooking with fire.”
Sustainability also plays a part in Kereama’s kitchen. “A new project that is in the pipeline is looking at the way we deal with food wastage and rubbish recycling in our industry. We have a social obligation to take look at the way we deal with this issue in our kitchens. The environmental impact of how we choose to deal with waste is also a burgeoning topic.” He also prefers to use local fresh ingredients and local food artisan, saying that diners like to know where there food is coming from.
Last year, Kereama received the Sharon Mann Award for services to the hospitality industry at the Manawatu Hospitality Awards. He has also recently been awarded an Honorary Associate from UCOL in Palmerston North, for significant and distinguished contribution to the life and work of the institution and to the wider community. Kereama said he was very humbled to have been recognised in his community for doing work that he loves, and doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.
“I want to continue to make a contribution to our industry and instil a passion for food in young chefs,” he said. “I’ve had lots of friends who have left the industry for one reason or another, but I can’t imagine myself as anything but a chef.”