The recipe for a successful career in the kitchen

26 Mar 2024

For chef James Rutherford (11798), cooking is all about the act of giving.

“Being able to feed someone is a powerful thing. Whether recreating nostalgic dinners or tastes of people’s travels, time can stand still for that little moment and bring back fond memories,” he says.

James and his partner, Louise, own the popular Hardy St Eatery in Nelson which they opened in 2018 after shifting from Wellington.

Originally from North Canterbury, James has worked extensively overseas – initially at McClay St Bistro in Potts Point, Sydney before spending a year in Tokyo on his way to London where he worked for 12 months at The Sugar Club of Peter Gordon fame.

"The Sugar Club was fantastic for me it introduced me to many new ingredients and I felt I really started to understand the relationship between growers, suppliers and the kitchen and how important these relationships are to get the best possible product on the plate," James said.

Then it was off to super yachts for eight years, sailing through the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and across the Pacific before returning to New Zealand.

Surprisingly, cooking wasn’t originally on the cards for James. After leaving College, he began a Certificate of Winemaking at the then Christchurch Polytechnic. While studying, he worked in restaurant kitchens washing dishes.

“I immediately became intrigued with the industry, the fast-paced environment, foreign backpackers, camaraderie and the social life. After a year of soil science and chemistry with the wine making, I was convinced the kitchen life was for me and so I changed my studies to a basic cookery course. And the rest is history,” James recalls.

Asked if he has a favourite food to cook, James says the question becomes harder to answer, the more time he spends in the kitchen.

“I think the Italians have it pretty spot on; the importance of food, family and culture is something to envy. Not to mention the importance of quality ingredients and simplicity.”

James believes sustainability, especially of the fisheries industry, is increasingly important.

“We’re already seeing smaller portion sizes of red meat being eaten. Coming from a sheep and beef farming background, I’ve been pleased to see the bridge between chef and farmer getting smaller, the quality and consistency of meat in the New Zealand market is unbelievable with the likes of Lumina lamb.

“The biggest challenge ahead for us is encouraging young people to join the industry. Although cooking is a high-paced demanding job with anti-social hours and behaviour, the rewards are immense and it’s come a long way from the days of Gordon Ramsay style bravado. Fortunately, we all work in a more supportive environment these days,” James says.

While Covid brought its immense challenges, James says it gave Louise and him pause to step back and change their business model. Since then, they have reduced their hours at Hardy St Eatery to daytime only, operating Tuesday to Saturday.