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Logan Brown’s chef’s a master at restaurant, home and BBQ food

Apr 29th, 2010 | By | Category: Featured Article, Features

 

LOGAN BROWN'S HEAD CHEF: Shaun and daughter, Emma Clouston.
LOGAN BROWN’S HEAD CHEF: Shaun and daughter, Emma Clouston.

SHAUN Clouston opens the front door in bare feet, acid-wash jeans and a sky-blue sweatshirt.

His daughter, Emma, zooms around his legs in a way only a three-year-old can; Walt Disney’s Aladdin plays in the background.

“No more freebies,” she bellows at me thrusting a My Little Pony DVD in my face – apparently the genie has granted Aladdin his final wish.

As we settle on the couch in the minimalist open-plan living room of the Clouston family home in Ngaio, Wellington, Emma continues to run in circles, firing random questions at me.

From the age of seven Shaun can remember making breakfast for his mother. He would carefully line up the little jams, the stacks of steaming toast and the tiny plates on a tray, delivering it to her bedside.

More than 30 years later as Logan Brown’s head chef he is creating culinary masterpieces not only at home, but on holiday with friends, and in the restaurant.

Recently at a friend’s place, he describes “brining down” two organic chickens, a process that requires soaking the birds for two days. “Then we spit-roasted them over charcoal. It was pretty tasty,” says Shaun.

Even while on holiday, he produces restaurant-class meals.

Close friend Diana Pope says when her family lived in the Bay of Islands, Shaun spent an entire day deep-sea fishing, creating a mouth-watering evening meal at the end of it: pan-fried fish served with tuatua fritters, orange and fennel salad and tomato ragout.

Cooking and fishing are the driving forces in Shaun’s life and to him both are tied up with looking after the earth’s environment.

He has brought Logan Brown on board the campaign to make New Zealand businesses less carbon-intensive, as part of the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s emissions programme.

The programme provides guidelines on actions to reduce emissions and gain the Enviro-Mark New Zealand bronze certification – the first of three certifications leading to the gold that means carbon neutral.

Logan Brown is going for bronze certification. “Under the scheme we will lower our gas and water usage,” says Shaun. “We are also making sure the places we buy or produce from help out as well.”

The restaurant ensures all rubbish is recycled correctly and goes to the correct locations.

Shaun also insists the livestock and seafood products used are SPCA approved. “I don’t like to use anything that has been cruelly killed.”

He gives veal as an example: “Veal has a bad rap because it’s milk fed and people get the impression it’s kept in little boxes… They still have a little bit of grass and they’re a little bit older.

“People still cringe at the fact they are using a young animal. For me, if I know where it comes from and it’s been treated well before it gets to us, then that makes a difference for me. This includes everything we get, including fish and poultry.”

Does he have a “signature dish”? He says there isn’t one he can name. The seasons and a fresh ingredient’s quality provide him with the inspiration he needs to create a meal. “You have got some good friends around and you are cooking for them: that has got to be a signature dish for me.”

While on holiday with his family in the Hawke’s Bay recently, Shaun came across Scott’s Berry Farm, where he tasted the nicest strawberries he has ever eaten. “Now we get their strawberries sent down to Logan Brown twice a week.”

Shaun’s latest discovery is English entrepreneur Willie Harcourt-Cooze’s pure cocoa chocolate bar, an ingredient for both savoury and sweet dishes.

Shaun is arranging for Logan Brown’s supplier, Entrees in Petone, to import the chocolate to New Zealand for his latest culinary conceptions. “I have little venison shanks and I thought it would be really nice with some of that in it for the autumn menu.”

His moments of inspiration are obviously paying off, because in August last year Logan Brown was named the New Zealand restaurant of the year in the 2009 Cuisine awards. Dominion Post food critic David Burton described Shaun’ s menu as “devoted to Dionysian worship of wine and gormandise.”
It hasn’t been an altogether easy ride for Shaun, however.

In his last year at high school he was talked out of becoming a chef by the school’s career adviser.  He chose woodworking instead. It was only after being made redundant from his woodworking job in 1992 that he decided to train at Whanganui Polytechnic to become a chef.

“I was lucky that happened,” he says.

On the course he met his wife, Rebecca, who now works as a pastry chef for Nosh Catering in Khandallah and is pregnant with their second child.

Since then the couple has worked together on numerous occasions and Rebecca still helps out now and again at Logan Brown.

While living in Sydney, Shaun and Rebecca worked together at Wild Fire overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

Shaun says it’s an amazing place to work: “On one side there were big wood-fired pizza ovens, then on the other side there were big woks, where slightly Asian-style food was cooked.  You would have all this live seafood, like lobsters and live crabs, which the chefs would cook for the customers in front of them.”

Rebecca says working with Shaun has always been extremely easy and enjoyable, because the couple pre-empt each other’s needs. “If we have to have a conversation it is normally in the walk-in chiller. We have a policy that work is work and home is home.”

Rebecca’s decision to specialise as a pastry chef means there is little competition in the kitchen.

According to Rebecca, the only person Shaun allows to cook for him is his mother.

Shaun, however, says it’s always nice to have someone else cook for him. “The good thing about cooking is that you don’t have to do the dishes – I hate doing the dishes.”

On several occasions, this cooking enthusiast [obsessive … or other stronger word??] has seriously considered changing his career.  Working 15-hour shifts without a break can be tough. “There are some days when you finish work and you go ‘what a day’ and you want to give up,” he says

He says he has won few competitions, which at times has been disheartening. “When I worked for Logan Brown the first time we entered restaurant of the year and we drove all the way to Auckland and we came second.

“On the quiet drive back down from Auckland, I swore to myself I would never enter a competition again.”

Despite this, he keeps entering and in 2008 won Te Papa’s Matariki hangi cook-off. “The good always seems to outweigh the bad and somehow you keep going,” he says.  “All those blisters, the sore backs and the 20,000 pairs of shoes I’ve been through from standing on my feet: It’s all been worth it.

Teen TV viewers will know him from the show Activate. “I love working with young people,” he says. “You get these people that are so keen on what they’re doing and you get to pass on what you know.

Shaun’s own early mentors were at Cameron House in Wanganui, where he says “everyone was so passionate about cooking”. He moved to and from Wanganui and Wellington for the next few years, eventually landing a job as a sous chef at Logan Brown, which had just opened.

After working at Logan Brown for a few years, Rebecca and Shaun decided to cross the ditch to Sydney, after a friend recommended it.

Wildfire was the last place the couple worked at and they would never have returned to Wellington, if it were not for Steve Logan and Al Brown. “One day Al and Steve came in to the restaurant and said, ‘would you be keen to come back to New Zealand?’. Emma had just been born and we decided to come back.”

Shaun jokes the real reason they returned was to go fishing in the Coromandel.

“Last Friday, Emma and I had our first fishing trip away. We went to Miramar wharf and we caught some spotties. What was the other fish we caught, Emma?”

“What fish?” Emma asks.

“Was it a trevally?” prompts Shaun.

“A truevalley,” Emma declares.

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  1. It was an interesting article and I was really pleased to hear that Shaun and Rebecca are still doing very well together as chefs and as a couple. Shaun was always a good chef even when he was learning. I am very happy for them both.

    Cheers

    Kaye

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