February 18, 2022
Hayden Phiskie, Ada : Eating with the seasons
When we started supplying Hayden Phiskie our beans, he was running Italian jaunt Cotto, located on Tāmaki Makaurau’s Karangahape road. Now, the talented chef has moved on to a new venture, and spearheads highly-acclaimed Ada, located within The Convent Hotel in Grey Lynn.
At Cotto, he’d incorporate our coffee into his delicious take on tiramisu, and whilst coffee’s not a feature in his dessert menu at Ada, Kōkako is still a fixture on the Italian-inspired menu. Of working with us, Hayden says: “We share the same philosophy. I like that Kōkako stands for the living wage, as that’s what we do with all of our staff and I really respect that.”
Here, we speak to Hayden about the importance of eating according to seasonal ingredients, organic food, and why he loves Italian food so much.
We started working with you when you were at Cotto, and you used Kōkako coffee. How did you work it into your delicious tiramisu?
The way we did a tiramisu there was we did a tiramisu ice-cream. When you make tiramisu you have to make it and serve it that day, so if you have a quiet day you have wastage. So what we did is turned the mascarpone base into an ice-cream and then made a sponge and dipped it in Kōkako coffee, and it just lifted the dish completely. If you don’t have good coffee, the dish wouldn’t have worked.
Why did you take on the new adventure at Ada?
It had been a pretty full on three years. We grew Cotto from nothing and it turned into quite a big operation. It was really busy and I love Cotto, it was my baby, but the opportunity came to do things a bit differently. The space and opportunity of Ada was really appealing to me, it was a smaller restaurant and I’m fascinated by abandoned buildings. You don’t really get to experience buildings like that in New Zealand.
What do you love about Italian food, and why do you cook with that cuisine?
I’ve always respected how Italian food’s simplicity means there’s nowhere to hide. The whole concept with Italian food is that there’s only three flavours on a plate. So the whole idea is that everything you use has to be seasonal, which is fantastic to me. So you have to use fresh ingredients of that season. So for example when I make a dish here at Ada, I look at the vegetable component first before the protein, just so you know you’re in season and using the freshest quality that you can use. Then you build a dish from that.
Is organic food really important to you?
Yeah of course, if I can get a product which is spray-free, it’s so much better. The uglier the vegetable the better for me, I’m not looking for a perfect lemon or a perfect tomato. I want it to be ugly, I want it to have blemishes, because if it’s had time to grow on the vine itself, the plant’s done the work and put the effort into making the fruit, rather than being picked too early and sprayed to ripen it.
People get angry when tomatoes are so expensive in July, but it’s because they’re from Australia or a glasshouse and they’re not going to be good. But then once summer comes around for us, every dish will have tomato and we’ll use them for three months, but then in winter we won’t touch them at all. If that’s your foundation or whenever you think about cooking, whatever you can get that’s produced locally and it’s organic if possible as well, you can’t go wrong. Because you don’t have to do much to it, as the sugar levels are high and the food’s going to cook well because it’s fresh.
Do you have a direct relationship with the growers?
We have a really good relationship with them, and with the stuff that we ask for, we don’t mind if it’s a day late, because we want it to be the best that it can be. We use three suppliers, and again it’s all about the relationship with them. We’re all friendly and really nice and there’ll be times where they can’t get something and so I’ll take it off the menu and there’s no point getting upset over it. What appeals to me about being part of a small business rather than a large one is that you have those relationships with suppliers.
Your day-to-day is extremely busy. How do you stay in a good mental head space and grounded within your work?
I’ve been cooking for 20 years, as when I was 16 I started as a kitchen hand. It’s having a good team and a really good work environment. You have to accept that your work is a lifestyle and everything revolves around it; in my time off, I’m going out for dinner, I can’t escape it. My kids keep me very grounded as I’m going to playgrounds and things like that. But when it comes to the restaurant itself, you have to accept that it’s not a job where you walk out the door and don’t think about it anymore. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When you were a kitchen hand back in the day, did you ever think you’d become a chef?
No, I didn’t want to be a chef, as my brother was a chef so I didn’t want to copy him. At the end of high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do and didn’t want to go to uni straight away. I liked the lifestyle as I was really into sport as a kid so I liked being in a busy and hectic environment. I didn’t know food at that stage nor really respect it, but over time it’s become the opposite – I’m really into food and really into the industry, and don’t really love the service as much as I used to. I still enjoy the service, but when I was younger I was attracted to the chaos.
Your love for food is shaped by your travels. Where did your travels take you?
I lived in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile for three years. That was cool because I didn’t really want to do my OE to Europe as I felt that’s where everyone was going, so I wanted to travel my own path. That was cool and the good thing about it was that the latitude is the same as New Zealand so they had the same produce. But it was interesting to see the ways they prepared it compared to the way we prepare it. I think that was my first taste of Italian cuisine because pretty much everyone in Argentina is a first or second generation Italian, so I was introduced then to Italian cuisine and the way they prepared it. It was great, people don’t eat out there until around 10 at night and you’re getting tables at midnight or 1am. I did a lot of time in Melbourne as well and learnt lots about the industry there, then came back here about 10 years ago.
If you’d like to visit Ada, you can find the restaurant hidden behind The Convent Hotel at 454 Great North Road, Grey Lynn, Auckland.
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