Gatherings Restaurant is a jewelbox-like space that recently opened in post-earthquake ravaged Christchurch in New Zealand. Echoing the seasons by using sustainable and local cuisine that changes as the leaves do, the restaurant subtly encourages the guests to open their minds to more responsible ways of eating, consuming, and living. Wednesday through Saturday they serve a five course, non-meat (“we find the vegetarian term a bit preachy”) tasting menu to guests flocking from around New Zealand, and around the world.
While passing through New Zealand, we managed to go by and speak to chef owner Alex Davis about the inspiration behind Gatherings and how their staff meal fits perfectly with the concept. Below are a few of his words, a glimpse into Gatherings through his point of view!
WHAT’S IN A NAME
Gatherings’ means many things. We want it to be a gathering of people. It came about from a gathering of ideas. We go out into the local farm community and gather our produce. Finally, as a restaurant that doesn't serve meat, we have taken the idea of hunter/gatherer without the hunting aspect.
RISING FROM THE RUBBLE
In post-earthquake Christchurch, it proved hard to find the right space to realize this vision. Initially it was near impossible to find a space—but then, as buildings went up, they were all large, modern and somewhat soulless spaces. I was looking for something with a little bit of history and atmosphere—a space where the guests could have a more intimate dining experience.
The space does have its compromises. As much as I would love to have an open kitchen, it’s tucked away in a back part of the building in a converted garage, and to get to it you have to pass through a small yard.
CHANGING WITH THE SEASONS
The restaurant is built upon relationships and seasons. We know all of the farmers we source the produce from, and the menu is based on what is currently at its best eating. Each season we have a member of staff work between here and a partner winery where they create a natural wine for the specific season—expressive yet simple, like the food. We have a friend design seasonal labels for these bottles, which we also display as prints. The light box was made by Brony’s dad (Bryony Matthews, singer-songwriter is Alex’s partner); this design changes every three months. A friend designed the tables, inspired by picnic tables, from recycled wood. My old sous chef did the weavings for the walls. Also the birch sticks in the jam jars, are respresentative of the winter season, they too will change every 3 months.
STAFF MEALS AND TRADITIONS
Staff meal is usually served at the end of service to whoever is still around. We try a few times a week to make sure we are all here at the end to eat together. I really enjoy cooking for the staff; it gives me a chance to cook something more homely and comforting than I do for the tasting menu. Eating together really reinforces the idea that we are a group. Staff meals doesn’t just have to happen here—we often invite the staff over to our homes for a meal.
The frittata has become a bit of a tradition and gets served up at least once a week. Eric thinks it will be a bad omen if we stop eating it!
CREATING A CULTURE THROUGH FOOD
When I worked at a big hotel in Queenstown, I saw the negative impact of a staff meal where the chef who was delegated to cook it saw it as another chore and was always pissed off when cooking it. I saw how this energy was reflected in the dish, and it was a tedious process. Then, when I moved to Napier and worked I worked in Pacifica Restaurant where we would sit down and eat together before service. You immediately saw the change in culture and it made me understand the significance of the meal.
AN INTIMATE SHOW
Sunday nights we take the tables out and put rugs on the floor and have a very intimate gathering of people for a live music performance. It allows friends and others to be able to come by to experience the space in a different light, it allows people to experience the space in a different less formal way by eating snacks with their hands or just enjoying a glass of wine, and of course the music. Its also really satisfying for us to see the space transformed into something else.
The menu changes with the weather, the dishes with what’s in season; but, any day of any season, Gatherings feels a lot like home.