Lyttelton, New Zealand
Lyttelton, New Zealand
In New Zealand’s port settlement of Lyttelton, an almost Tolkienesque backdrop meets an intimate 30-seater eatery. At Giulio and Christy Sturla’s Roots, definitions are loose: staff are family, restaurant is home, and currency is happiness. Guests are warmly welcomed, the only expectation to come, sit, and enjoy.
Menus and such frivolous clutter are discarded—replaced by a seasonal degustation taken in the tranquil private garden, or one of two cosy dining rooms. But the lax concept was met by unexpecting diners, at first, with resistance. Named Cuisine Magazine’s 2015 Restaurant of the Year, Giulio and Christy's single-minded determination soon silenced any mocking critics.
Here, over a shared staff meal, Giulio talks earthquakes, happiness, family, and his beloved brainchild—Roots.
We arrived in New Zealand eight years ago. I’m originally from Chile and my wife, Christy, is from California. But we were living together in Spain before moving here. We wanted to move somewhere more natural, peaceful, and quiet, so we ended up choosing to come here.
Right after we arrived, Christy became pregnant and Christchurch had a big earthquake, so our worlds were really turned around. I had no option but make something work. I started selling produce at the farmers’ market, then cooking for private dinners—I had a cafe for a short time, then we found this spot. We took the lease even though we had nearly no money. We had a dream to create a creative seasonal kitchen.
Roots is about bringing our culinary history to the table, about what we know and have learnt. It’s a mix of many cultures in here, so our food is not any particular international cuisine. It takes the best from all cultures, and we mix this with simply the best produce.
I don't consider this a fine dining restaurant, it’s a very casual place that serves good food. What we are doing is rare in New Zealand: we make everything from scratch and we have a restaurant without a menu. I want you to come, sit, and enjoy. This was a hard concept for people to initially understand. Then word of mouth began to spread and people relaxed into this idea.
I pursue happiness in life by tasting food—everything else comes easy when you’re happy. This translates into the staff meal and everything I do. I believe food has the power to make people happy, and they are happy when they eat good food. But to cook good food, we need to be happy ourselves. That’s our philosophy. I believe the staff are as important as the customers. We make ourselves happy, then make the customers happy.
My house is a five minute drive away. The girls finish school at three, then come to eat. And they are good eaters! They always join for the staff meal, otherwise I might not get to see them. Christy does the office side of Roots and is a mum. We have a nanny at night so Christy can come here to help in service. We are the owners, so it’s important that we are here serving our customers.
I prefer to make the staff meal, rather than telling someone to make it for us. Or maybe it’s just that I really like to cook... We always eat the same quality the customer gets, because it helps us know what we’re serving, and it’s healthy.
Seaweed-butter roasted summer carrots
Baby beets, and onions, served with snapper
Fermented blue potato bread
Rice, and pasta for the girls.