Jimmy McIntyre, Otahuna Lodge’s star chef, learned early on not to play with his food.
A native New Zealander, Chef Jimmy grew up in the kitchen. “My step-father was a chef, so from an early age, I was in the kitchen. But my first job, I wasn’t allowed to cook. I washed dishes. But I observed, listened, gleaned knowledge. Charlie Trotter was my idol, a genius. Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver were also huge influences.”
Once given the green light to start creating, Jimmy honed immediately on the simplistic style that’s become his signature.
“My style is rustic, simple, delicious,” says Jimmy. “Food needs to speak for itself. I don’t play with it. I don’t do smears on the plate. I love the flavor of fresh food – and work to make that shine. I like it real.”
And real it is. We caught up with Chef Jimmy in February – New Zealand summer – where he was knee-deep in Otahuna’s organic gardens. “Right now I’m all about sweet corn and tomatoes – a match made in heaven,” he smiles. “We’ve also been pickling. We make all of our own chutneys and relishes. And yesterday, we made a huge pot of plum jam, amazing.”
Of course it doesn’t get much better than Chef’s wild zucchini blossom flowers – stuffed with goat’s cheese and fried Italian style, crunchy. Or his mushrooms – porcini, shiitake – which he forages on the grounds – along with 90 percent of the ingredients he uses (in summer).
Jimmy came to Otahuna nearly 10 years ago, before the gardens were restored by current owners Hall Cannon and Miles Refo, to their current-day wonder. Today, Otahuna spans 30 acres of fruit orchards, flower and vegetable gardens and nut (hazelnut, almond) trees. Jimmy cures his own meats: salami, prosciutto, and sausages. And the New Zealand lamb, farm-raised venison and ‘beautiful seafood’ he adds to the Otahuna table are all locally sourced. And perfectly paired with local New Zealand wines.
Cooking classes are a popular pastime at Otahuna, and Jimmy recently expanded his one-hour class to a three-hour experience that starts in the gardens and moves into the kitchen for hands-on preparation and sharing of his favorite take-home recipes – from soup to sorbet.
“Guests are often surprised how simple it is to make really tasty dishes,” he says, noting that at home, on ‘his night to cook’ for his wife (also a chef) and three small children, he’ll often make a simple pizza with basil and fresh tomatoes.
Jimmy’s secret ingredient, for intensifying flavors, comes however not from the garden but the kitchen – in a simple hand-held zester. “I can’t be without it,” he jokes. “I zest my citrus, add peels to salads, soups. It’s the simplest tool – and creates the boldest flavor.”
Star Chef, Otahuna Lodge