Jun 28, 2021 Restaurants
“There are so many dynamics to make a night memorable for the diner,” Vaughan Kay, head chef at SkyCity’s Gusto at the Grand tells me. “All the stars have to align. But if you can make that happen, then we’ve won.”
At Gusto, the prime seats are up at Vaughan’s chefs table, which edges right into the kitchen and allows diners to be part of the action. It’s there where Kay can make the experience really shine, and where he recognises people come back time and time again. It’s also where he can interact most with guests, telling them stories about what’s on their plate and where it all came from. That information — about locality and sustainability — creates a more specific, vivid picture of the supply chain that ultimately enhances the meal. “From my perspective, it’s really important to be able to pass that kind of information to diners,” Vaughan says.
What’s on their plate could change visit-to-visit, too, because its menu is seasonal, with ingredients swapping in and out of staple dishes according to what’s available, as well as one-off specials (like during truffle season!) you can only get during that time.
I talked to Chef Vaughan about his menu going into winter, and how they approach seasonal changes at Gusto.
Metro: Hi, Vaughan. I understand you’re going into your winter menu right now — can you tell us about that?
We’re transitioning some of our menu based on what’s available, and what’s just stopped growing. There are some things, like butternut squash, used in our tortellini, that’s there all year around. It’s in season right now, a good buy and comforting for cold days.
But obviously in the summertime, we have things like heirloom tomatoes, or just tomatoes in general, that are in abundance; really ripe produce, with good flavour to showcase alongside summer fruit. Going into winter, I personally like to using tamarillos for my winter mozzarella instead; the pulp of that goes with balsamic, and using the flesh gives it a bright flavour. It’s quite savoury as well and pairs well with fragrant basil or even some prosciutto. It’s bright in the winter, but seasonal at the same time.
There seems to be some things on the menu that don’t change, though?
It’s about 50-50. 50% of it’s stable, and 50% of it has to change out because of what we can use. There are signature dishes year round that people come back for often — like people come from Northland just to get the beef cheeks. Those are definitely the dishes where if you take it off the menu, people will come back and go “Where is my favourite dish? Where’s my pappardelle pasta?”
With filled raviolis and cannolis, I like to rotate those as a special to showcase something different. I’m also looking at getting some braised lamb shanks with potato gnocchi. Our signature is a ricotta gnocchi, but I really wanted to get potato in there this year because, well, I like it. And when it’s cold outside, we like to have denser, heavier dishes. It’s comfort food, really: something that’s homey. That potato gnocchi, I can imagine just running outside and then coming in for a nice lamb shank ragu with that gnocchi, it just really suits the mood. Plus, we’re tucked away in this big hotel, you know; you forget about the outside. Our style is sharing, family style, so it’s just about getting everyone around the table and sharing a meal.
And it’s truffle season at the moment, right?
Yep. We have a five-ingredient truffle handkerchief pasta right now. It’s really just pecorino, butter, and the truffles shaved in. Truffles are the hero, the one that comes through the most.
I know it’s a fair while away now, but what are you looking forward to the most going into spring?
Sunshine [laughs]. No, I’m looking forward to courgette flowers, zucchinis. Yeah, definitely looking forward to that.
This article was created in partnership with Sky City and Gusto at the Grand, which is located past the lobby of The Grand by SkyCity and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 7 days a week.