Stephen Barry has been part of the restaurant industry for most of his life.
He fell into the role of being a chef at the age of 13 when his parents purchased their first restaurant, the Aorangi Peak restaurant in Rotorua. He started at the bottom, peeling vegetables and washing dishes, eventually climbing the ladder to head chef.
Barry has worked at several top restaurants in the Bay of Plenty region, including having been the owner and head chef at Mount Bistro for the past 14 years. The only reason Barry chose to close the restaurant was that the building had to go under remedial work. Owning this restaurant has been one of the highlights of his career.
Switching gears to a different kind of kitchen, Barry is now a chef at Papamoa Beach Village, a Metlife Care retirement village 11 kilometres away from Tauranga’s city centre. He said that the transition has been delightful, with more time on his hands to spend with family and friends.
“There is a great sense of community spirit in the village. It is like working at a holiday resort, with something different happening daily. From special events and dinners to cooking classes and happy hours,” said Barry.
Having been at the Papamoa Beach Village for just over two years, Barry has discovered it's not just all pureed food and smoothies. The care home has food available for residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week, supplying breakfast and snacks, with a three-week rotational menu of morning and afternoon tea, soup, sandwiches, a light meal, and two choices for a main meal with dessert and supper. The meals are also made for delivery to independent living villas too. A cafe is also open seven days a week, and a couple of happy hours every week in the village’s pavilion dining room.
Being a retirement village, various occasions require catering, such as birthdays, anniversaries and other special events. There are also themed dinners, such as an upcoming mid-winter Gatsby party.
Barry enjoys cooking all types of foods, from sweet to savoury. He took up hunting a couple of years ago and enjoys being able to cook the meat he has sourced himself.
Barry said he considers the customer the most essential person in the kitchen.
“They all have different wants and needs, whether you’re in fast food, fine dining or aged care. As a chef, you are there to ensure the food is cooked correctly, presented well, and your customer is happy and enjoys their experience.”
Throughout his career, Barry has won several accolades for his work. He became a New Zealand Beef + Lamb Platinum Ambassador and the national winner of the Monteith’s Beer and Wild Food Challenge. Barry mentioned that entering various cooking competitions challenges chefs to be creative and gives customers a chance to be adventurous with food.
When it comes to beginners in the current industry, he said that they need to have the passion to last. He noted that many young chefs have a dramatised idea of the industry from what they see on television and in movies, and although a demanding role, he wouldn’t change it for the world. The thrill and adrenaline rush during service and how work colleagues become a second family make it all worthwhile.
Now at 60 years of age, Barry has enjoyed being able to pass down some of his knowledge to his team in the kitchen and younger generations. He joked that the residents of the Papamoa Beach Village often need reassurance that he has no plans to move on. He always replies that he will be there until he has trained someone to look after him when he moves in as a resident himself.