Having worked on all sides of the hospitality industry for almost 15 years, both Caitlin Holloway and Jonas Jessen Hansen felt they had learned enough along the way to skip formal chef training and open ADJØ. Really passionate about food and cooking, the pair are the perfect team - Jonas draws on his Danish heritage to introduce Dunedin to something different, and Caitlin draws on her behind-the-scenes experience in running kitchens.
At ADJØ, the food is simple. Daytime sees porridges and open-faced sandwiches, and with nightfall the café turns into a cosy wine bar with a focus on snacks and a shared dining experience. Inspired by the Nordic kitchen, the chefs find the special way Scandinavians respect vegetables and other foraged ingredients. Nordic cooking uses methods designed to preserve and prevent food waste. This is important to the pair, who do a lot of pickling and preserving.
“We always make our dishes about one vegetable or protein in particular and highlight it in an unfamiliar way.”
Pickling allows the chefs to create completely different textures and flavours from otherwise simple ingredients, helping to elevate a dish.
Everything made at ADJØ is with an oven, pressure cooker or toaster, due to the small space and lack of industrial kitchen. Innovation is necessary and recently, the chefs have become “obsessed” with confiting.
“We have to get creative in order to achieve the dishes we have on the menu, which can be really frustrating from time to time, but as soon as we discover something new it unleashes a whole range of ideas we’d never thought of prior.”
On the menu currently is a confit fennel with berries, served on vegan cream cheese, with lemon, pickled blueberries, and either vegan feta or grated blue cheese.
At ADJØ, all staff are essentially trained to do everything and though Holloway and Hansen create the majority of the menu, the team collaborate through tastings and the trial of their own ideas. On shift, the chefs are often found floating on the floor.
“We love it that way as we all job swap, and everyone becomes confident in any role.”
This rings true to their claim that no two days are the same in hospitality. Holloway enjoys the thrill and mental challenge of a customer rush while Hansen likes working with his hands, whether making coffee, serving food, or engaging in different arts outside of work.
Starting a business during the Covid-19 pandemic has not been easy for the chefs. The pair have learned huge amounts, becoming better business owners for it.
“Every time a new problem comes, we get better at problem solving and finding a solution.”
Having retained staff from the early stages of the pandemic, Holloway and Hansen credit their team's support for helping them through the difficulties. The challenge ahead for the business and industry is a consumer mindset change as the value of everything inflates.
“We think it will take some time for businesses to find the right balance between looking after themselves as well as being fair to the customer.”
In the future, the chef pair would love to open a restaurant. However, in this venture their focus would be on the brand and customer experience, hoping to hire someone in as the chef.
Their advice for others beginning their hospitality journey is simple: “Believe in yourself and your product, but don’t be afraid to adapt.”