NZ’s Top Chefs Reveal Their Best Hacks, Advice & What Every Home Should Have on Hand in the Pantry

cooking tips

Spring is HERE team and that means the promise of parties, gatherings and the good old BBQs are on their way! If you’re looking to level up your cooking game, we’ve gathered five of Aotearoa’s best culinary masters – Sam Mannering of Homestead Company, Dariush Lolaily of Cazador, The Hungry Cook Olivia Galletly, The Eggplant Boys and Glen File of Onslow – for their cooking tips and recipe hacks!

What are your best cooking tips/hacks?

Dariush Lolaiy: My grandparents taught me not to be afraid to cross borders. Don’t be scared of using an ingredient from another culture in a way that it’s not intended, it can add another level of complexity and surprise.

Eggplant Boys: We have some cooking tips for nailing the triple cheese toastie. We like to use pecorino, mozzarella and parmesan with ham and onion then heat up two Lodge pans – one to fry the sandwich in and the other to place on top to sear it, and you’ll create the perfect sear on all sides, it’s amazing.

Olivia Galletly: For busy parents, cooking slow and low dishes that you can put on in the morning takes the pressure off dinner time on busy evenings (of which there are many!).

Sam Mannering: Make things easy for yourself and use versatile tools that don’t provide a huge clean up afterwards. If you’re slow cooking a piece of meat, use a cast iron to sear it to start the stovetop process, then you just throw a bit of liquid on and bang it in the oven, maybe some tin foil over the top and then just forget about it for the next four or five hours.

What are the things that you always have in the fridge/pantry?

Dariush Lolaiy: A tonne of olive oil and quality salt, something nice and flaky salt for maximum flavour and texture.

Eggplant Boys: You can go anywhere if you have a stack of spices and herbs, you can make a solid soup of just water and herbs! And always have natural-occurring ingredients like fresh veggies and fresh meat on hand.

Glen File: Old Bay seasoning and oyster sauce, goes on almost anything!

Olivia Galletly: Butter, olive oil, eggs, garlic, tomato paste, parmesan, olives, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chilli flakes and some kind of rice and pasta

Sam Mannering: Good olive oil, cumin seeds, tinned tomatoes, cannellini beans, chickpeas, oats, brown sugar, coffee of course, lemons, soy sauce and miso paste.

What do you wish you knew earlier in the kitchen?

Dariush Lolaiy: From a commercial kitchen perspective, it’s really easy to get worn down by the grind, and the tasks you do early on in your career can be quite repetitive. It’s important to make sure that you’re your own cheerleader and ensuring you’re making the most out of everything you’re doing.

Eggplant Boys: The benefits of cooking and how food can be used as a vehicle to bring people together and facilitate healthy conversations about real things. Connecting over a meal is sometimes the best way to allow people to be themselves in a safe place.

Glen File: Sometimes we’re guilty of adding too much to our cooking and it can be better to focus on hero ingredients and understand and appreciate them in a dish rather than doing too much to them.  

Olivia Galletly: Remember you will always be your worst critic; most people are just happy to be cooked for! And clean as you go to feel less stressed.

Sam Mannering: Sometimes you need to let go of the details and not have meltdown if certain things get missed.

What is your best piece of advice for someone looking to upskill their cooking game?

Dariush Lolaiy: Cook consciously: I think this is part of being in your head while you’re cooking. It’ll upskill you even if you’re cooking a dish you’ve done 100 times before. Just ask yourself questions as you cook, you’ll come up with a whole lot of theory and a whole lot of answers that you wouldn’t have expected to have. By processing this information, you’ll find it useful later on for coming up with another dish.

Eggplant Boys: Enjoy the experience of cooking. Cooking with hands on cookware like cast iron is a lot more like primal than just putting, like a stainless-steel pot on a stove, it’s like cooking over charcoal. You’re a bit more involved in the cooking process and it becomes more of a sensory experience.

Glen File: I think focus on simplicity, prioritising key ingredients and cookware and not trying to overdo it, it’s almost better to take an ingredient off than add more.

Olivia Galletly: Taste as you go and don’t be afraid to adjust recipes to suit you. Consider the five basic tastes to balance out your dishes – salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami.

Sam Mannering: Keep it as simple as possible with ingredients and your kitchen equipment. You can work on a dish for literally days, or you can work on it for literally minutes, and it can achieve the same level of gratification, it’s just about being smart about it.

These top NZ foodie masters feature in a new cookbook by Lodge, the OG producers of cast iron. The cookbook will be complimentary with every Lodge purchase over September and Octoberand will feature more cooking tips and tricks!