Meet the award-winning chef of Auckland's Cazador

Dariush Lolaiy of Cazador on winning a very special award

How does it feel to be crowned Metro’s Best Chef of 2017?
Pretty unreal. I’m not one of those guys who sets out to be the best – I just want to do my thing, and do it the very best I can. But it was a really proud moment which I share with my mum and dad [chefs Barbara and Tony Lolaiy, former Cazador owners], wife and co-owner Rebecca [Smidt], our sous chef Brendan [Kyle] and mate and colleague João [Martins], who have all shaped my cooking, and the restaurant that’s given me the opportunity to do what I love.

What are some common misconceptions about Cazador, and your food?
I guess the main misconception is that we’re all about heavy, meaty dishes. We serve meat, but our point of difference is that we source wild-caught, sustainable meat and make a balanced bistro menu from proteins others rarely use. We always offer line-caught seafood, and, believe it or not, I love cooking and eating vegetarian dishes. We’d like to think that we’re demystifying our ingredients by demonstrating that like any protein, wild meat, sub-prime cuts and offal can be hearty and generous, or light and delicate depending on the season and dish.

See here for all of Metro's Top 50 Auckland restaurants for 2018


A local restaurant reviewer recently suggested that venison is only edible when stewed, and that meat goes horrendously with fruit. So what possessed you to combine chargrilled venison with grapes?
I can’t think where I picked up on this idea. I know some guys were kicking around with fruit and meat in medieval times, and that it’s a fundament of Persian cookery. I suppose it’s prevalent in Italian and French cuisine, too? Maybe, subconsciously, I thought it might work. Call me ludicrous, but I’m going with it.

Do you follow trends at all in your cooking? Is it ever hard to resist them?
I’m definitely informed and excited by things I read about and enjoy at other restaurants. But I try hard to make innovative dishes without letting any new cooking technology or food fads sneak into the kitchen. As much as I’d like to play with some of those tech bits and pieces every now and then, it’s not what my food is about.

What elements of your cooking do you owe to your parents?
I owe my food ethics to my dad: he taught me hunting and butchery and that when a person takes an animal for food, they should respect that life by using every part of it, and waste nothing. He also taught me the techniques I use most often – spit-roasting, smoking, contact cooking and charcuterie, all of which he still helps me out with. My mum taught me about flavours and balance, and she broadened my ingredient knowledge through exposure to Iranian, Mexican, Burmese and Cypriot cooking from her time living in these places before she became a chef.

Read more on Metro's Top 50 Restaurants here.