Matt Lambert talks to Denizen22nd June 2020
Regarded as somewhat of an ambassador for New Zealand cuisine, West Auckland born chef, Matt Lambert has, in his relatively short career, made an indelible mark on the global food scene. Having moved to New York 12 years ago, Lambert’s unique style has seen him rise to infamy in a city where the gastronomic competition is fierce. “I initially worked for six years at an established eatery, but I knew I always had bold dreams to open my own place and be awarded the coveted Michelin star,” Lambert explains.
The Musket Room opened in 2012, and to Lambert’s shock, managed to achieve a star within just four months of opening. “I moved to the States specifically to achieve a Michelin star, I had a goal to obtain one within three years, so when it happened in such a short time I actually cried. It was a pretty special moment in my life.”
Celebrated for his mastery of modern culinary techniques that showcase his affinity with New Zealand’s bountiful food offerings, Lambert single handedly drew attention to our way of life via his deft interpretation of home. “At the time I was trying to find something new and unique to offer the NYC dining scene, being a Kiwi was an obvious point of difference, New Zealand is not well represented in any regard there, and I’m really proud of where I am from, so that’s the direction I chose and it really paid off.”
Teaching people about what defines NZ food was an obvious challenge for Lambert, as a nation that lacks steep culinary traditions, with a focus more on fringe cultural references from around the world, it’s hard to pinpoint one particular affinity. “I don’t really have a definitive answer to what NZ food really is, but I’m happy to be part of what it may become, maybe decades in the future what we have created may be regarded as New Zealand cuisine. And that’s exciting to me.”
In 2016, Lambert met Rodd & Gunn CEO, Mike Beagley, who dined in his restaurant in New York. Beagley had long been toying with the idea of opening a restaurant that was connected to his Queenstown retail boutique, that would showcase the full gamut of the luxury New Zealand lifestyle to its customers. Lambert soon visited with his family, and within eight short months, The Lodge Bar opened its doors to widespread acclaim.
For Lambert, the idea of establishing a foothold at home had its benefits, explaining that, “coming back to NZ more frequently gave me access to new suppliers and also inspired my food’s creative direction by giving me the opportunity to be exposed to the local culinary vernacular.”
In the three short years as The Lodge Bar’s executive chef, Lambert has risen to the occasion, by embracing the close access he has to our produce. “I’m really enjoying the chance I have to celebrate New Zealand’s rich food offerings, there are many ingredients I’d love to use in NYC, but I can’t because they just don’t travel well. For example, every time I come here I get really excited about clams, because I just can’t source the same quality back in the US.”
Come June this year, Lambert will rise to another challenge with the opening of The Lodge Bar & Dining in Auckland’s Commercial Bay. The elevated all day dining experience, connected to the Rodd & Gunn boutique, will be a fully immersive retail and restaurant experience, that takes the brand’s vision of a luxury NZ lifestyle to bold new heights.
The 90-seat eatery will open for coffee and pastries in the morning, lunches and dinner. There’s also a bar that will serve the best local wines, selected by Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas, served alongside kiwi-centric snacks that showcase Lambert’s talent. A meat pie croquette with smoked cheese for example, has taken the obvious cues from the gas station staple, but is presented in Lambert’s elevated and deconstructed manner.
Revelling in the chance to spend more time back on home turf, Lambert shares his excitement at taking the kitchen staff foraging in the Waitakere ranges, “I’m looking forward to getting out into the wild. Foraging is hyper seasonal, but it takes living and working in NYC to realise just how good we have it here.” This seasonal availability approach is likely to have a major impact on the evolution of the menu, but with The Lodge Bar & Dining’s close proximity to the Hauraki gulf, Lambert is keen to capture the essence of the harbourside location in the menu.
Prawns, oysters, clams and scallops are all mainstays on The Lodge Bar & Dining’s menu, as is the increasingly popular whole grilled flounder, and all are treated with Lambert’s skilled culinary mastery. The oysters for example are gently roasted in the Josper (charcoal oven), and then served with the unlikely pairing of smoked bone marrow, the result is a true taste sensation.
Lambert’s passion for charcoal cooking is also evident in his prolific use of the Josper. “I love the flavours you get when you cook over coal because you get minerality and depth of flavour.” The oven stays at a constant 500 degrees celsius, allowing for an aged Canterbury scotch fillet to be cooked to perfection in 6-8 minutes. The Josper will also be employed on much of the grilled seafood, from octopus to sole, a play on the flavours emitted from the classic Kiwi BBQ.
Cementing the symbiotic relationship between food and fashion, Lambert explains “The Rodd & Gunn experience is a celebration of the best of New Zealand’s products, whether that’s fabric or fennel, we source the very best, we treat them simply and with respect, for the ultimate elevated experience.”