Josh Dodd originally wanted to be a pilot – “But then we sold all our planes so there didn’t seem to be much point.” Then he considered the army – “But I didn’t want to live on base.” So, as a 16-year-old seeking a disciplined environment, he entered a kitchen and there he stayed. He started out in Blenheim, cooking at different vineyards around the area. Of particular note, and still Dodd’s favourite job as a chef, was Figaro’s, a café on the main street which catered for a range of vineyards. “It was amazing going to all these different places every weekend and doing new menus each time,” he told Restaurant and Café.
The kitchen he runs at Wellington’s Noble Rot is a far cry from the kitchens he started working in when he was young. “No egos, no bullying – a collaborative effort of people’s backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities working synergistically to produce something we can all be proud of,” he said.
As a young chef, Dodd was focused on what was on the plate rather than the quality of the ingredient. Now, his focus is on sustainability, “the ‘chain of custody’, where it comes from, how it gets to my kitchen, and the integrity of every ingredient.” His influences include Simon Wright, Al Brown, Martin Benn and Ben Shewry, the latter for whom he would work for free, given the opportunity. Along with sustainability, seasonality plays an important role at Noble Rot, with Dodd constantly following the incoming and outgoing produce to determine the makeup of the menu. At the moment he is developing the 2018 menu, working ahead and getting ready for the produce for when it is in season. Dodd, like the rest of the country, is “all about feijoas right now.” With the limited availability, both in terms of time and the fact that they’re unavailable in other parts of the world, Dodd is looking to make the most of them and find as many ways to use them as possible.
However, the one dish that will follow him wherever he goes is the simple cheese soufflé. “It's been on menus everywhere I go for the past five years, the customers can't seem to get enough of it so it has followed me from Foxglove all the way to Noble!” he said. “I can’t seem to rid myself of it!”
Dodd describes his style as modern, “a well-balanced approach incorporating the best of the old and new, with a focus on enhancing but not changing the ingredient.” He has been experimenting with a hibachi grill, finishing certain garnishes on it to impart a smoky flavour into different proteins and vegetables. While he does his best not to follow trends (although he is looking at working with fermentation) he is constantly buying cookbooks, watching shows on Netflix and YouTube (“real cooking with real chefs”) and eating out as much as possible. Striking a balance between work and family means that he doesn’t eat out as much as he would like these days, but he would “definitely encourage young chefs to spend all their money eating in as many places as they possibly can.” He recently spent a week in Sydney – a working family with kids in tow – but found time to experience Sepia and Quay, two of Sydney’s top restaurants. While it was inspiring, it was also frustrating. “The level of dining in Sydney is far beyond anything we have here in Wellington!”
Looking to the future, Dodd is unsure of whether or not he will remain in Wellington or make a move to Melbourne, where there are more people and more restaurant owners who have the means to support a chef in the creative process. “I'm very lucky where I am now at Noble Rot to have that support, but there are only a handful of places in Wellington which truly have that,” he said. While he is here, however, he wants to impart as much knowledge as possible. “It's important to encourage chefs to their full potential,” he said. “You never know what your kitchen hand is capable of with the right training and guidance.”