The Hundertwasser Art Centre will be home to a new restaurant and bar called Aqua, opening very soon on 3 December! Meet Craig Estick, the Head Chef of the venue that is set to become one of the hottest dining tickets in Whangārei.
Craig’s cooking career began at 17 when his father told him to ‘get a job!’
At the end of his first shift at the original Tony’s on Wellesley St, he was exhausted, un-used to working long hours. ‘The heat and pressure to produce dishes really knocked me. However, I was hooked!’
Looking to advance his culinary career, he studied at AIT London City and Guilds cookery. ‘I began my first job as a chef at a premier Auckland restaurant, Oblio’s in Ponsonby at the bottom rung of the kitchen ladder.’ His first sous chef role was at SPQR, an iconic Ponsonby Road restaurant that became a favourite on the Auckland food scene.
Craig became accustomed to juggling things when Sam, his first-born, arrived prematurely on the scene to coincide with the official opening of the Aotea Centre, an event that required catering for 2000 people. ‘I prepped that morning, took the afternoon off for his arrival and then I returned for evening service because the show had to go on.
His next move took him to work as Head Chef at Andiamo on Jervois Road. It was a role he held for the next 12 years. ‘A lot of staff came through that kitchen and I enjoyed watching them grow. I was 27 and still learning to manage others. Sometimes I may have employed too much “stick” and not enough “carrot”, but I’ve forged lifelong friendships.’
In this time of his already busy life, his twin girls Ailsa and Hazel were born.
An exciting job opportunity arose in the UK and he left New Zealand to work for high-end catering company Rhubarb Food Design. He catered events for Ascot, Elton John AIDS Foundation, Sir Anthony Hopkins’ birthday, Led Zeppelin’s reunion and the Queen’s staff party, in locations like Buckingham Palace, The Victoria and Albert Museum and The Natural History Museum.
Returning to New Zealand in 2009, Craig took on the Head Chef role at Ponsonby’s GPK, but when the chance to shift further north arose, he jumped at it. For the next three years he worked at Oceans on the Tutukaka Coast and lived at Matapouri, with the beach a mere three minutes down the road.
Most recently Craig held the executive chef role at the Jetson Group, overseeing kitchen operations of all 7 restaurants – The Quay, The Cove, The Dune, No8 Whangarei, Fire & No8 Mount Manganui and Loco.
Working closely with Steve O’Shea in most of these venues, he quickly developed a professional working relationship that allowed the Jetson Group to continue to grow. It was only when Steve left the group to take on the Hundertwasser Art Centre project that the seed of change was planted.
After much contemplation, the opportunity to take on one restaurant, and do that well, rather than having a finger in many was too attractive to pass - one restaurant, one vision, one goal and one team to achieve it.
Craig brings an abundant wealth of experiences to Aqua, and these experiences are what he will deliver in the menu, drawing on some of the great, almost forgotten dishes of the past, reworking, reinventing and replating them with a modern twist.
When asked for an anecdote to finish, his face lights up with the brightest smile, his blue eyes sparkling as he affectionately refers to the wise counsel from his Nana, “Up here for thinking, down there for dancing!”’
Aqua Restaurant & Bar will be open seven days a week from 9am till late. Contact email@example.com to enquire about booking for brunch, lunch or dinner. Entry to the restaurant is via the Hundertwasser Art Centre’s main entrance or the bricked ramp.