“I have Scottish, Irish and English roots and am a Kiwi guy, living in London, cooking at a Japanese restaurant,” said Roka executive chef Hamish Brown.
“It’s a bizarre combination, but luckily one that works.”
The 38-year-old joined Roka in 2007 and has helped oversee the opening of three more restaurants, one in Canary Wharf’s Canada Square and is now working on plans to take the brand overseas.
But first he will be coming out of the kitchen and into the open air of Regent’s Park for Taste of London.
There he will be serve up black cod and crab dumplings, rock shrimp tempura, lamb chops and new dish slow cooked port belly with miso lemon dressing.
“This is our fourth and my third time at Taste,” he said.
“It is always extremely busy but less hectic than day-to-day service in the restaurant, so really good fun.
“The great thing about the festival is it’s a chance for the chefs to connect with the customers and also for people to come and try our food.
“A lot of people think Japanese food is all about sushi and sashimi and forget about the robata grill cooking so this is a chance for them to physically see us doing the barbecuing.
“The combination of charcoal and the style of cooking and sauces used makes it unique.”
Read more: Review of Roka in Canary Wharf
His introduction to cooking was thousands of miles away in his parents’ restaurant in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he would “help but mostly hinder” in the kitchen.
His first memory of food is watching the soft serve ice cream slowly spiral out of the machine in their tea room.
“To see ice cream coming out on tap was amazing,” he said. “It started my thirst for food.
“We always grew vegetables as well and I remember going into the greenhouse and smelling the tomatoes.”
As a teen he was more interested in girls and surfing but had his eureka moment when he went on work experience at college.
He said: “On day two I knew it was what I wanted to do.
“All the experiences and emotions and good times we had in the kitchen, that hadn’t really registered as a child, came rushing back and that was it.”
Winning New Zealand’s Chef Of The Nation in 1998 was one of his proudest moments but he wanted to flex his cooking muscles so moved to London and fell in love with the city.
“I thought it was going to be all tweed jackets and raining every day but it is such a cosmopolitan city,” he said.
These days Hamish is settled in Streatham with wife Melanie, who runs wine business The New Zealand Cellar, and five-year-old daughter Isla. He spends his time whizzing between Roka restaurants on his Vespa.
“Watching my team grow has been an amazing experience,” he said.
“That has been my biggest success really. We started with 30 chefs and now have nearly 120 and its been an incredible evolution to watch.”
Hamish’s main role is developing new dishes and he recently returned from a six-day trip to Japan looking at how street food like okonomiyaki, the Japanese pancake, yakisoba and takoyaki can be elevated to fine dining.
“I thought I knew a lot more about Japanese food than I did when I started at Roka,” he said.
“It’s been an education along the way and we are always learning and there is always room to become better. “I think we are just scratching the surface.”
His philosophy is “try anything once”, even the unhatched bee larvae he was served in a hut in the mountains of Japan.
He said: “It was really interesting and amazing actually, a little bit sweet and very crunchy. I liked it a lot. I wouldn’t be having it every day with my toast though.”
And while Canary Wharf diners won’t be facing unborn insects on the anytime, Hamish was full of praise for the adventurous palates of his clientelle.
“Our customers love trying new things,” he said.
“It was very challenging at the beginning in Canary Wharf because we were one of the first top end restaurants here.
“It has changed so much in recent years with lots of eateries opening up but we are really proud our customers have stayed with us.
“London is one of the best cities in the world for food, it is a hub for many different things.”
But despite making England his home, a part of Hamish’s heart clearly still lies in New Zealand
He said: “If I had to pick a last meal it would be fish and chips on the beach at home in Kaikoura where I used to go surfing.”
Like the man himself, a blend of cultures.
Wednesday, June 15-19, from £16 plus booking fee, Regent’s Park