Meet Our Executive Chef

By Dunedin Venues | Posted: Monday October 3, 2016

Restaurant Associates is our exclusive catering provider here at Dunedin Venues. This week, we take a behind the scenes look in the kitchen, for a catch up with the man who creates our delicious menus - Our Executive Chef Michael Tomlinson.

Executive Chef Michael Tomlinson and his team served dinner on Forsyth Barr Stadium’s grass pitch to 1,200 vintage car owners recently, and it wasn’t cucumber sandwiches and cups of tea on a tartan blanket. The meal they produced included chicken and pistachio roulade with risotto and green beans wrapped in honey cured streaky bacon, and vanilla bean and hazelnut praline parfait with fresh berry compote and almond biscotti. The diners were seated at tables and all the meals were plated in the kitchen. The feedback was fantastic.

It’s all in a day’s work for Restaurant Associates’ Executive Chef, and the job satisfaction comes from seeing happy customers. But it’s taken years of hard work in catering companies, restaurants, a winery and a hotel plus four years as sous chef here to gain this level of confidence and competence. Michael says it’s all in the planning – working backwards from the time the meal is to be served and planning each step. And with only a handful of permanent staff and the rest casuals, maintaining quality is always going to require extra effort.

The Stadium and Dunedin Town Hall are Michael’s patch and the excellence of the food is paramount in both venues as he explains. 

‘Our food is good food cooked well. The biggest thing is to do it right. When we do a big function and everyone’s happy, I take a lot of pride in it.’

If you’ve bought a pie at a rugby game you’ll know that they don’t stint on quality in the Stands either. The same team makes the pies, fish and chips, pizzas and nachos served at the retail outlets in the Stadium.

For an All Black Test thirty five people will be working in the kitchens, catering for 2,000 guests in the corporate boxes including 150 in the restaurant. Michael enjoys the challenge. 

‘The big scale of things here is good, and it’s very different from a la carte. There are a lot of logistics to this job which I like. If 20,000 people are coming, you can’t be behind in the work. I do a lot of troubleshooting.’

As well as selecting, training and managing staff and overseeing the flow of fresh ingredients coming in and high quality meals going out, the job involves a broad knowledge of cookery and food trends. Michael trained in the European tradition and prefers French and Italian style food. If he cooks at home it’s likely to be something like a bacon and pea risotto, while at work it’s risotto for 200. His favourite chef is perfectionist Gordon Ramsay, renowned for his sublime recipes and fiery temper.

Michael’s recipes are superb and perfection is his thing, but tantrums and abuse don’t work when you’re serving a meal to 1,200 people all at once on the pitch of the world’s southernmost covered Stadium. That requires a cool head, an eagle eye and the poise of an orchestra conductor, qualities he has in abundance.