Kirk McLean is the chef de cuisine of Partingtons in the five-star Langham Hotel in Auckland. At only 25, he is one of New Zealand’s youngest chefs to be leading an award-winning, fine-dining hotel restaurant.
Before joining the Langham he was sous chef at Molten Restaurant, a hit with food lovers and food critics. He has also worked in the UK, Australia and Canada.
He is consider to be one of New Zealand’s rising stars and is currently developing his own repertoire of dishes. WOM caught up for a chat with Kirk on a recent trip to Auckland to learn more about his plans. He also shares two recipes, including the delicious Blue Swimmer Crab Tian, with Pickled Fennel and Dijon Icecream.
Have you always wanted to be chef?
Yes, I can’t imagine ever wanting to be anything but a chef.
My parents were good cooks, were open to new concepts and flavours, and had the ability to introduce me to different kinds of food and cuisine when I was growing up. This is where my enthusiasm for food began.
Tell me a little about your path to the Langham?
I attended a culinary school in New Zealand for two years and at the end was awarded a one-year scholarship in the UK.
I have also spent a year in Canada working at a golf resort in Ontario and a year in Brisbane (Australia) with the Conrad Treasury casino’s (award-winning) restaurant Marco Polo.
Before joining the Langham earlier this year I was sous chef at Auckland restaurant Molten.
How do you feel about heading up kitchen in a fine-dining restaurant at such a young age?
It has been a bit like baptism by fire. It is huge heading up a restaurant at my age and has been a little daunting. It is also a great achievement and I am happy that the Langham liked what I had done, and have supported me by giving me this huge opportunity.
It is a massive workload, is a little scary, but mostly it is hugely exciting.
I love that Partingtons is mine, and I love that I get to play with expensive and exotic ingredients.
What can diners at Partingtons expect?
An elegant, enjoyable and memorable dining experience, with excellent food, wine and service. They will be treated like royalty and their expectations will be fulfilled or exceeded every time.
The cuisine is contemporary European, and we mostly use New Zealand produce. The menu is seasonal and I am always working on new dishes. I have already created between 15-20 menus, including the degustation and function menus, since I joined.
How do you find time to develop new items?
I write the menus out of season so the dish is ready when the season arrives. I need to manage my time well and do a lot of forward planning and using my imagination.
I am still trying to build my repertoire of signature dishes. I don’t really like the term “signature dishes” though as it can be limiting. I never want my creativeness as a chef to stagnate and signature dishes can be a stagnating trap. At the same time it is important to have a repertoire of dishes that sell well.
One dish that I have developed since I have been here and am very proud of is the Blue Swimmer Crab Tian, with Dijon Mustard Icecream, Pickled Fennel and Cocktail Sauce.
What inspires you professionally?
I like to keep up with what is happening in the chef world by checking on the internet to see what is new and exciting and what the greatest restaurants in the world are doing. It inspires me to then create something more intimate for diners here.
What are your goals while you are at Partingtons?
To throw myself into the role 100 per cent, and to start well and finish well. This is a beautiful restaurant and it is a huge opportunity for me to be here. I also believe in organic growth.
I also hope to be one of the first chefs in New Zealand to introduce some molecular cuisine inspired items to the menu. Developing these dishes in New Zealand had been restricted because of the country’s strict food grade safety laws and some of what was being done overseas would not have met with approval. I will be introducing items next year, playing with unexpected temperature and liquid elements.
What is your goal when you create a nine-course degustation menu? (see below for example)
To use the highest quality ingredients to create dishes that have textural contrasts and tantalising tastes that people are not use to, a journey for the palate.
I have heard that some chefs in New Zealand overseason or overdress dishes, what do you think?
I think that a diner needs to understand the chef’s concept behind the dish to know if it is really overdressed or seasoned. I also think it is important to give constructive feedback when eating out because it is not always possible to get the execution right.
Who do you consider the world’s best chefs?
Tetsuya Wakuda from Australia. His food is beautiful and clean. I have also heard that he is a super nice guy. New York’s Daniel Boulud. He is French trained and has a beautiful way of combining North American ingredients with French techniques. And Adria Ferran. He is a real artist and his food takes the diner on a crazy journey.
Do you cook at home?
I work five or six long days and don’t get to see my girlfriend very often so when I do cook at home I cook simple food, because my free time is too short to spend cooking.
What is your favourite comfort food?
BBQ steak and a couple of beers.
by Vicki Williams
A sampling of Kirk’s Degustation creations
Amuse Bouche – White asparagus, Zafatit cheese tortellini
Appetiser – Veal sweetbreads on caramalised shallot puree, fried quail, crispy pancetta salad
Soup – Golden beetroot soup with green-lipped mussels, smoked salmon croute
Entrée – South Island fried whitebait on potato blinis, coddled eggs, watercress salad
Palate refresher – Limoncello sorbet
Main – Roast fillet of free range pork, kumara and sage rosti, roast baby apples and Goji berry sauce
Cheese – Kikorangi blue cheese, wafers, marinated figs
Dessert – Pistachio and saffron cake, pear ice-cream and chocolate sauce
All matched with New Zealand wines from the award-winning wine list.
Read the article on Dining in Auckland for a brief review of Partington’s and other hot restaurant picks. – link to article
Kirk’s Recipe from Partingtons’ Menu – Blue Swimmer Crab Tian, with Pickled Fennel and Dijon Icecream
200gm fresh crab meat
5gm chopped shallots
5gm chopped chives
1/2 tomato: peeled, deseeded and diced
Salt and pepper
In a mixing bowl combine the ingredients with enough crème fraîche to bind, add lemon juice to taste then season. Press into small cylinder moulds and chill for 30 minutes.
600ml white wine vinegar
200gm white sugar
One medium sized fennel head
Bring white wine vinegar to the boil. Add white sugar then leave to cool. Finely slice fennel head and pour cool liquid over fennel. Leave to steep for a minimum of one hour.
1 litre of cream
12 egg yolks
Djion mustard to taste
Put the mustard and cream in a saucepan and heat to around 70 degrees Celsius. Leave the mix to steep for 10 minutes.
In a bowl whisk the egg yolks then pour over the mustard cream. Using a bain-marie cook the mixture till slightly thick, check flavour and seasoning, chill and churn.
Make a small mound of pickled fennel in the centre of a plate. Turn out the crab and place it on top of the salad, then make a small quenelle of Dijon icecream and place on top of the crab. At the restaurant we finish the dish with cocktail sauce and fresh chives. It goes very will with a young pinot gris.
Bonus Recipe from Kirk – Smoked Big Eye Tuna with Chilled Avocado Soup and Salmon Roe. Kirk says, “This dish is perfect for the first course of dinner party. It is hard to make a small amount of the pate but it can be used on crackers, sandwiches and is very morish.”
200gm Hot smoked tuna
100gm Soft butter
50gm Sour cream
Lemon juice to taste
Salt and pepper
Add all ingredients to a mixer and mix until just combined (it should still have texture). Add seasoning to suit and chill.
Chilled Avocado Soup
2 ripe avocado
Lemon juice to taste
Salt and pepper
Using a blender, blend avocado flesh slowly adding milk until you reach the consistency of a thick smoothie. Season then blend in juice to taste. Strain and chill.
In small soup bowls place a quenelle of tuna pate, Fill the bowl with the avocado soup and dot with 5 or 6 salmon roe pearls. Garnish with a salad of micro rocket.