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Eat, travel, love – meet our chef, Juan Pablo

Juan Pablo decided to become a chef against his father’s wishes. But he has never regretted that decision – it brought him love, travel and here to Queenstown, where he is already carving a niche for himself at Kamana Lakehouse as the head chef. His mother says he could never sit still, and certainly that energy, appreciation for food as an artform and his take on loved flavours is reflecting itself in the development of the Nest menu. But as much as Juan Pablo, or JP, would like to talk about food, it’s the path of love, independence and travel that has captured our imaginations! And don’t worry, his father is now his biggest fan!

I’m from Patagonia, the deep south of Argentina and my heritage is Spanish and Italian. So, as you can imagine my mother was always cooking, always between the pots and pans. I was always around her in the kitchen. I have always liked food.

When I said to my father, who is an old school traditional sort of guy, and my brother who is older and an engineer, that I wanted to become a chef, they both thought I was being funny. They said, “take it as a hobby,” and that was that.

I was sent to a military academy where I learnt to be a technician, an aircraft technician. I went on to study at Cordoba to be an engineer, because that was expected of me. Technically, I can fix a plane, but I’ve never worked on one!!

I started, but then, well… you know when you feel that something is not for you? I just felt like what I was doing was making someone else happy. My mum came to visit me in Cordoba, and I was honest with her. I said Mum, “I think this is enough for me – I don’t want to do this anymore.”

She said, “hold on.” She went away and came back and gave me two magazines for two chef schools. I’ll never forget it. She knew it. She knew how much I loved food.

So that’s what I did, and when my lecturer took me to The Sheraton for an internship, and I was earning and studying at the same time, my dad became my number one fan. My brother is on board too, and they are both encouraging me to go back to Argentina and start my own restaurant. But right now, I want to stay here, to continue to work and create my own art.

I’ve been here in New Zealand for 4 and a half years, and have been chefing for about 10 years.
I ended up here because I met a guy in Buenos Aires who said I would like New Zealand. All I knew about New Zealand was the All Blacks, because we enjoy rugby in Argentina watching our national team the Pumas play the All Blacks. So, I started to research New Zealand, and I really liked it, so I said to my girlfriend ‘let’s go.”

Anelise is from the South of Brazil, and is a chef as well. It’s a real love story. This is how it goes…

I was working in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This girl – Anelise– came for an internship, and my chef asked me to work with her. So, we did for 2 months, and she went back to Brazil to a job chefing at an embassy in Brasilia.

Nothing had happened then, because I wanted to travel and go to Spain to learn and work. However, there was political unrest in Spain at the time – they were throwing out non-residents, so I went to Spanish embassy to try to go through the proper channels and get an internship. They said that because I was no longer studying it wasn’t an internship but just work and I was denied my visa. Anelise suggested France because she used to work in a 3 Michelin Star restaurant in France. I tried, but couldn’t get a place until the following season. But I wanted to travel! Anelise then suggested Brasilia where she knew an Argentinian guy that could help me with work. We had a function at the Australian embassy, where I met the guys from the embassy. They had a head chef position available at the Australian Embassy, and so I took it. There we were living very close to each other, in the same jobs, and that’s when it happened.

Nine months later, we applied for the working holiday to travel to New Zealand together and ended up in Auckland. We then travelled down the country arriving in Arrowtown in Autumn. It is so beautiful with all the Autumn colours changing every day, that we fell in love. We still live in Arrowtown, wven though we both work on the other side of Queenstown. We only planned to stay for a year, but now we are here four years late, and we are residents!

I actually learnt to snowboard here, because although we have mountains and ski resorts in Argentina, it’s really expensive. It’s really accessible here.

We love Queenstown and Arrowtown because it’s so multi-cultural. It seems like every single day you meet someone new and learn about another culture.

Anelise is also a chef, so we don’t often have days off together. But if we have a few hours off at the same time – before my shift or after hers – we will make sure we spend time together.
Chefing is not an easy job, but I love it. For me, it’s a form of art. I want to be in a position where we are creating each dish as an artwork, like how each Banksy is individual. I don’t want to be a counterfeiter!

It’s very exciting to be involved with Nest from scratch, and be in charge. The guys here at Kamana Lakehouse are really open to my ideas and input, and I really appreciate that. I think this place is going to be something special, and I am very proud to be a part of this.

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