Meet the Chef: Gerhard Zitzenbacher, Lone Star Group Executive

For Gerhard Zitzenbacher, choosing a career in hospitality was a no brainer. He started his cooking career in 1992 with a four year apprenticeship in Lower Austria and worked all aspects of hospitality - privately owned restaurants, 5-star hotels, winter seasons in fine dining restaurants, and function centres. 

Having always had a love for sharing good food and drink with friends and family, Zitzenbacher is naturally hospitable. He grew up in a small town where most meals, vegetables and other ingredients were bought from the local farmers. Amongst family, he found good role models. His godfather owned restaurants Zitzenbacher would help out in during school holidays, and his father was a butcher from whom he learned to appreciate good cuts of meat. 

“My mum and my aunties are all very good cooks and growing up I enjoyed watching them prepare food, they were so proud of what they produced (rightly so too) and they always seemed to have fun whilst doing it.”

Now, when it comes to food, he likes to keep it simple, letting the ingredients do the talking and using seasonal products where possible.

“There is nothing better than eating fresh seasonal foods. It’s also one of the most affordable ways to eat!”

As Group Executive Chef at Lone Star, Zitzenbacher likes to use different cuts of meat and not so common vegetables. The chef created a rolled deboned lamb neck special that ran across the restaurants and worked out a treat. Lately, he is proud of the way the restaurants have introduced the use of sous vide nationwide. 

“It’s one thing to come up with a system for one café, but it’s quite another to do it for multiple across the length and breadth of the country while achieving consistently high-quality dishes.”

At Lone Star, like most hospitality outlets, the Covid-19 pandemic was incredibly challenging. 

“People who choose this business are so hardworking and resilient that we all pull together and just somehow get through.”

Restrictions led New Zealand’s favourite homegrown restaurant to launch their Lone Star at Home eCommerce site and retail brand. Throughout lockdowns, the business posted cooking videos to social media, keeping the brand active and good food on the public’s social feeds.

Lone Star was fortunate for public support, with many loyal guests. As a group, they made the decision to reduce their menu offerings during times of restrictions, to take some pressure off staffing and stock holding liability. 

We had to balance that with the need to ensure we kept serving our classics: Dixie Chicken, Johnny Cash Stash and our much-loved Redneck Ribs. We couldn’t have our loyal fans missing out on those comfort foods at a time when comfort was very much needed!”

Most suppliers experienced significant staffing shortages, making nationwide distribution challenging. Importing goods was, and still is, a challenge with the steep rise in the cost of container shipping impacting points in the distribution chain from packaging to oil.

The restaurants followed government guidelines around service and staffing and adapted their business accordingly. Enabling themselves to continue operating at different Alert Levels, they switched to take-away only rather than closing completely.

The pandemic has seen Lone Star maintain its existing strong cleaning protocols, as cleaning and good hygiene have always been fundamental. The restaurants strongly enforce the ‘Stay home if you’re sick’ rule, and additionally are independently verified against MPI standards with food safety a priority.

Looking to the future, Zitzenbacher predicts that staffing will remain a challenge for some time along with staying profitable with cost pressures. 

“Global supply chain continues to present issues that we need to work around. The cost of living is impacting disposable incomes, but we will continue to provide excellent service, dishes and experiences to our valued guests. Times may be tough, but the Lone Star is always a fun night out.”

To Zitzenbacher, hospitality is the gift that keeps on giving and he encourages others to jump on.

“Find a really good and reputable restaurant, listen and learn. Make the most of it and stick with it. Travel, go overseas (you can’t travel enough), see as much as you can and soak it all up, eat food you’ve never heard of, experience new cultures and always enjoy the journey! Work hard and have a laugh while you do it.”

Zitzenbacher has cooked at high end functions for dignitaries and politicians, and at the Halberg Awards and Pike River Memorial Dinner. He was runner up as Chef of the Year Australia for Accor Group but is more so proud to have created some great kitchen teams.

“I love this industry; I love the people I work with and meet through my work. If you are a hospo person you are part of a very special club and I love being in it!”