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When Harry met Fiona

Harry Williams is the head chef at Cambridge’s Alpha Street Kitchen & Bar. I interviewed him immediately before he won a NZ Beef & Lamb Excellence Award. Harry lives in Cambridge, New Zealand with his wife and seven-year-old son.

How long have you been at Alpha Street? Just over one year. New owner Fiona Massey was on the hunt for a chef. A friend of her brother-in-law’s had my phone number and she gave me a call. Fiona and I met for a coffee on the day she became the proud owner of the restaurant. We share the same philosophies about food. I started two weeks later. It was fortuitous.

Where do you get your inspiration from? Mainly from the seasons and what’s available — for example locally grown white asparagus, the amazing berries and cheeses. My second chef and I brainstorm continuously.

Any chef that inspires you? English celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal is fun — (he is a pioneer of multisensory cooking, food pairing and flavour encapsulation), and I relish the Chef’s Table series on Netflix.

How did you get into cooking? My father was a great cook and I learnt from him initially but I started my culinary career making burritos in a Mexican bar. I worked at a couple of top Hamilton restaurants before establishing my own place in Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula.

What do you like to cook at home? I’m lucky. My wife loves food so I don’t often cook at home — apart from barbecues.

The New Zealand Beef & Lamb Excellence Awards

These are national annual awards where restaurants are judged on lamb and beef dishes: flavour, quality, cooking technique and presentation.

The judges were lavish in their praise for Harry’s' variation on Surf 'n' Turf. It had modern twists featuring scotch fillet, Jerusalem artichoke, brandade purée and lobster claw which made for a "most enjoyable meal and deserving of an excellence award."

The judges also had plenty of praise for the lamb dish presented by Harry that featured cutlets with wasabi pea crust, lamb rib, mint gnocchi and pea purée.

The judges said the lamb took centre stage on the plate and the wasabi pea crust was a nice vibrant green against the medium rare roasted rack. "The texture added by the crust was excellent – a dry crisp shell on the tender and moist lamb. The lamb cutlets had been perfectly trimmed, well rested and carved nicely."

Alpha Street is the only Cambridge restaurant to be awarded this respected industry award and among just a few in the Waikato. 

Fiona Massey is proprietor of Alpha Street Kitchen & Bar.

What inspired you to take over Alpha? I had been working overseas for many years in event management, hospitality and marketing and I eventually yearned to return to my home town. I needed a job and the restaurant at ‘The Nash’ (Cambridge’s historic National Hotel) was for sale. I’d always thought owning a restaurant would be fulfilling but not in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever own one.

Have you ever cooked in a restaurant kitchen? No and no! But I’m great at doing dishes, peeling spuds and preparing vegetables.

What do you enjoy most about Alpha Street? Our customers, the staff, my amazing assistant manager Sebastien Lemercier and, of course, our latest award. We are very proud to have received a New Zealand Beef & Lamb Excellence Award in our first year.

Alpha Street Kitchen & Bar, cnr Alpha and Lake Streets, Cambridge, ph (07) 827 5596, www.alphast.co.nz. Open seven days from 11am.

BEETROOT RISOTTO, ROASTED CAULIFLOWER & GOAT’S CHEESE

Based on a recipe from Harry. The beetroot juice can be from a can. A little Fresh As freeze-dried beetroot powder will enhance the colour. Risotto is best served freshly made but it can be made ahead and reheated. Add a little extra liquid.

Roasted Cauliflower: 200g cauliflower
1 teaspoon each: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds
50g butter
salt & pepper to taste
fresh basil leaves to garnish
75g soft white goat’s cheese
Risotto: 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup Arborio rice
3/4 cup each: white wine, beetroot juice
1 cup hot vegetable stock
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Extras: knob butter
salt & pepper to taste
basil leaves to garnish
Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Cut the cauliflower into tiny florets. Crush the seeds together with a mortar and pestle. Melt the butter in an ovenproof dish then stir in the seeds and cauliflower. Roast until the cauliflower starts to brown. Season . Cut the goat’s cheese into 1cm portions.

To make the risotto, place a non-stick frying pan on medium heat and add the oil and butter. Add the onion and cook, until transparent. Stir in the garlic and rice. Pour in the wine and simmer, stirring, until the rice has absorbed the wine.

Add the beetroot juice and — stirring constantly — simmer until it is fully absorbed. Add the vegetable stock and stir constantly until absorbed. Fold in the grated parmesan.

Stir in the butter and season.

To serve, place the risotto in four bowls, top with the roasted cauliflower or place it around the rim of the bowl. Garnish with the goat’s cheese and the basil leaves. Serves 4.