Ask Stuart Rogan whatever you want, but don’t ask him if he has a favourite dish. “It’s just such a clichéd question,” he told Restaurant and Café. “It’s like when I’m at an event and someone who isn’t in the hospitality business will ask the same question. There are so many dishes for me and they range from the most basic things, like a bacon buttie, to Foie gras and Sauternes.”
The same goes for a favourite ingredient – fish sauce, fresh lime, yellow rock sugar, fresh chillies, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, tamarind, and the list goes on. But, considering his job, you can’t blame Rogan for having a lot on his mind. As Group Executive Chef for Good Group Hospitality, a role he’s had since 2012, Rogan is responsible for the managing the menus at Harbourside Ocean Bar Grill, Botswana Butchery in Auckland and Queenstown, and White + Wong’s. With four menus to deal with and frequent seasonal changes, Rogan is a busy man. Despite that, he described his kitchens as “professional, calm, confident and exciting.”
His decision to become a chef was always an easy one. “Food is the one thing I really connect with (apart from my wife and kids). I understand how it all works, and you can never stop learning.” One such learning experience came in the form of a half roast duck ballotine, with the breast rolled back into the leg. “It’s a technique that is still being used today and has inspired me in its simplicity, less is more.” This change is reflected in his dishes over the years, which have become simpler, slightly more relaxed, cleaner and well-balanced. His influences include Andrew McConnell, Marcus Wareing, David Thompson and Charles Phan.
His career has taken him around the world, from Berkley House Hotel in London to Andrew Blakes in Melbourne and The Grill by Sean Connolly at SKYCITY Auckland. His achievements include Junior Chef of the Year in the UK and the honour of Silver Ferns Farms Premier Master of Fine Cuisine.
While most chefs would list their favourite techniques as sous vide or barbeque, Rogan takes a more holistic approach. “For me, it is executing the balance of flavours and tastes like sweet, salty and sour,” he explained. “This is a technique that very few chefs can master.” The same applies to trending ingredients – “You’re probably expecting I think foraging is the in thing at the moment, but if you ask me, foraging has been the in thing since the Stone Age. It’s about how clever you use your ingredients to season and complement each other.”
What is inspiring Rogan at the moment, though, is South East Asian cuisine. “I like using modern techniques and turning classics into contemporary.” The South East Asian scene in Melbourne is of particular note, where Rogan recently travelled along with trips to Los Angeles and Mexico. “It was both work and pleasure,” he said. “It’s good to keep track of what’s happening in the food scene around the globe.”
Back home, Rogan is always striving for the best. Every day his restaurants do tastings before service to ensure that seasonings and cooking temperatures are correct and that the product is of the highest quality. “I read and read and read, watch things, visit places, test and learn from my mistakes.”
Rogan is also eager to pair learning with teaching – an example of one of his former charges is Tu Fearn, now head chef at White + Wong’s. “Tu worked with me since being a chef de partie at the Grill. It’s been a wonderful thing to be able to give something back.”