Professional Chef – TPP Graduate
Programme attended: Cookery & Hospitality
Cookery course takes chef from fishing boats to locusts
Back in the 1990s, with little to do on the West Coast but skate, Greg Piner started cooking for his family as a way to pass the time, and then for the crew on his parent’s fishing boats.
It turned out he was quite good at it, and so when faced with uncertainty about where to turn next, Greg enrolled in the inaugural intake of Tai Poutini’s cookery course.
It was the right decision. More than 20 years later, Greg has an impressive career history as a chef and has worked for many leading restaurants and luxury lodges around New Zealand including Blanket Bay and Millbrook, alongside some of New Zealand’s best-known chefs.
Now the Group Executive Chef at Dunedin’s highly successful Vault 21 and Prohibition Smokehouse, Greg says a big part of his success is down to the way he was taught at Tai Poutini.
“If I didn’t go to TPP, I wouldn’t be where I am today. My tutors were amazing, taking me from mucking around on the Coast to growing this passion in me for wanting to be the best I can be. They instilled in me a respect for doing things right, it was really solid training,” he says.
Greg enjoyed a healthy sense of rivalry with his classmates, many of whom have also gone on to successful careers.
“Alex Ensor and I, we’d get sent by our tutors up to these amazing competitions in Auckland, and this is right back when all this was just kicking off. I’ll never forget the moment of arriving back at Hokitika Airport, medals around our necks, to this massive celebration. It felt so good.”
Greg’s West Coast influences are as strong as ever, although with locusts on the menu at the moment, he is always pushing the boundaries of interesting and innovative food.
“I love working with seafood, it’s the way I was brought up. You can’t beat the fresh clean favours, with minimal impact on the environment. It’s the Coast way,” he says.
“We were the first restaurant in New Zealand to serve locusts as a protein replacement, which is really exciting. These little critters are the future of food – in our children’s lifetimes, this is going to be the sustainable way to get our protein.”
Greg says there are many career options for experienced chefs, including beyond the kitchen.
“Most chefs have a life span in the kitchen. It’s intense work, so it’s good to have a plan. I’ve done a little consulting to start-up restaurants, and I can see my career heading in that direction when it’s time to put down the knives.”