With 10 years’ experience working in Michelin star restaurants overseas, Joe McKenzie recently bought into Café Verde as an owner after working there as a chef for the past two and half years.
McKenzie was born and grew up in Fairlie, South Canterbury. After high school he travelled overseas where he lived for 10 years in places like Australia, Japan, Canada, France, and Denmark and worked in Michelin starred restaurants in Tokyo, Copenhagen, and the South of France. McKenzie returned to New Zealand five years ago to settle down with his family. He then worked in Marlborough for a few years as head chef at Cloudy Bay vineyard before moving back to South Canterbury.
Café Verde is one of Geraldine’s most popular cafés. Situated in a quiet, off-street location in a beautiful garden setting, serving breakfast, lunch, drinks and coffee seven days a week.
“My style of food is motivated by my experience overseas and seasonal ingredients. I often cook, French, Italian, Korean or Japanese inspired dishes,” explained McKenzie.
“We are a café so we have all the breakfast staples but with our lunch menu I have a chance to showcase some more interesting dishes and I have fun creating specials for our blackboard each week.”
Taking on the additional role of Owner/Manager, as well as Head Chef at Verde, has meant McKenzie has had to learn a lot more about the business and everything that goes on behind the scenes.
“We are trying to modernise Verde a little, having recently installed a Point-of-Sale system and using social media to spread the word a bit more. I try to encourage a collaborative environment for the staff here so that everyone's ideas are appreciated, and the staff are stimulated in what they do.”
A prominent challenge for McKenzie and the café is the rising cost of ingredients, and fuel prices which also affect this. Managing the café’s food cost is a constant job and McKenzie noted that often customers don't understand that the minor price increases they are seeing on the menu are indicative of the sky-rocketing overheads that hospitality businesses currently face.
The post-Covid job market has also indicated that people have used the last two years to diversify their skills and education and, quite often, move out of hospitality to follow other career paths.
“We now, more than ever, need to try to make working in hospitality an attractive job with good work environments and competitive pay rates.”
McKenzie’s advice for anyone starting in hospitality is to listen and absorb as much as you can from people teaching you.
“Some hospitality professionals have been working in this industry for decades in multiple positions and have huge amounts of expertise to pass on. Travel is also very educational in learning about different foods and the way that hospitality businesses operate in different parts of the world.”
Working and living in Japan for a year where he learnt about an amazing and very different culture has been one of the career highlights for McKenzie.
“The produce and craftmanship in Japan is next level.
“Another highlight would be working at the 3-Michelin starred restaurant Mirazur in the South of France. I worked long, long days and nights there but it's an experience I will never forget.”
Mc Kenzie’s goals for the future include continuing to improve Café Verde and have it running as a well-oiled machine.
“I would also love to use some of my fine-dining restaurant experience to have my own restaurant or bar where I could open evenings and serve dinner options. This is all while balancing my work with my home life and raising my 4yr old son.
“If you are ever travelling through Geraldine, please stop in at Cafe Verde and try our food and coffee.”