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Jacob Kear: The new head chef of Clooney shaking up Auckland’s food scene

Find out what Clooney’s new head chef, Jacob Kear, is bringing to the table.

Jacob Kear

Clooney’s newly appointed Japanese-American head chef Jacob Kear unveils his long-anticipated menus to the public this week. It’s a huge deal for the Auckland food scene: Kear’s our closest link to Noma, the two-Michelin-star Copenhagen restaurant run by René Redzepi that’s been named best in the world four times. Kear’s Instagram account – which documents his adventures in foraging and preserving – features a sole quote from his former mentor, whom he worked under in Copenhagen and Noma Japan. It says: “Dream of the world you want to live in and create it”. If our interview with him is anything to go by, Kear’s dream world is one we want to live in too.

How did you find yourself in New Zealand?

A chef named Giulio Sturla of Roots Restaurant, Lyttelton, found me on social media and liked the style and approach of the food I was doing, and saw similarities with his own style. We kicked it off and became friends. When the Noma Sydney pop-up opened, I had an extra ticket and asked if he wanted to go, and just like that, we met again!

We talked about doing a guest chef series at Roots. I’d never been to New Zealand but I fell in love with the land when I was in Lyttelton for a little over three weeks. It was a successful series – I asked René [Redzepi] for permission to do Noma’s famous ‘Ants on Shrimp’ which we made with live kōura (crayfish) and New Zealand ants. People loved it.

I went back to the States but really wanted to return to New Zealand. I contacted Clooney’s owner Tony Stewart and all is history from there.

How does heading Clooney’s kitchen compare to your other culinary adventures in top restaurants around the world?

It’s always a challenge to take over an existing restaurant, especially an iconic place like Clooney, but I like a good challenge. I always want to make a better kitchen as I believe in a perfect kitchen – this is what I’ve experienced overseas and this is the level I want Clooney’s kitchen to be at. It makes everyone’s job easier. The standard at Clooney is going to be the highest in New Zealand, that’s for sure, but it’s the normal standard in Japan and Copenhagen.

Watermelon radish with beetroot marinated in Shiso vinegar, watermelon and yuzu. Instagram/Jacob Kear (@dinnerbykear)

What can diners expect?

I want to simplify things. I believe the whole molecular gastronomy style is a thing of the past. Don’t get me wrong, I did that kind of cuisine in 2007 in Tokyo for over three years, and I still do bits and pieces of it, but when a guest looks at my final dish, they can’t see all of those techniques because the food is more natural with less components. Yes, less components – a lot of my dishes will be five components or less. I want diners to experience the true delicious flavour of what those ingredients offer. I am not going to hide them with foams and powders or throw ingredients at the plate… I believe this creates confusion and clouds the essence of a dish. I think this is my Japanese side talking, because in my culture it always starts with an ingredient.

Where are your favourite Auckland foraging spots?

I could tell you but I’d have to…! I’ve only been in New Zealand for one month and I’ve been in the test kitchen every second, so I haven’t really been out there too much, but give me a month and I’ll start scouting. In Los Angeles I have 53 different locations to forage so I’ll get there.

Do you have any favourite cheap eats here yet?

Two words: Eden Noodles (105 Dominion Road, Mount Eden). Wow! Love it! Well, Tony [Stewart] loves it more than I do. It’s great, the mala (a spicy Chinese sauce) is just right. I also found an awesome bar called Caretaker (38 Roukai Lane, Britomart). It’s a great space that reminds me of New York.