Blessed to be a chef - Jimmy McIntyre


Well, I must say I’m pretty blessed to be a chef.

That’s not to say it’s easy!

Working nights and weekends, missing out on family time and not being able to catch up with mates and as I’m nearing 60, I’m finding I’m exhausted, and the body isn’t holding up as well as it has in the past.

I’ve worked hard all my life and there aren’t too many rewards.

Until I started working at Otahuna lodge in 2003.

I’ve been there 19 years now!

When Hall Cannon and Miles Refo bought Otahuna the brief was to make it one of the best destinations in the world as a luxury Lodge. No pressure!

Now I don’t think of myself as anything special. There are so may chefs out there who I feel are way better than me.

As I have been cooking now in my 45th year I feel I’m starting to get there with a LOT of help from my staff and colleagues, past and present.

Hall asked me several years ago if I wanted to be the Oceania Delegate for Relais & Chateaux World Culinary Council of Chefs of which there are approximately 21 chefs involved from all over the world.

I have been involved with the WCC since 2018 although I had previously been a guest chef on Silverseas a luxury cruise line, Silver Whisper was the ship, associated with Relais & Chateaux back in 2010. I only had to work two and a half days. A cooking lesson in the theatre plus a dinner. An amazing experience starting in Nice, France and cruising our way through to Barcelona, Malaga, Gibraltar, Lisbon, Oporto, Bilbao, Hon fleur, Southampton and stayed a couple of nights at the Connaught in London.

My first conference was in Paris! It was my first time away representing my region and country, so I was pretty nervous!

We stayed at the beautiful Saint James. For a two-and-a-half-day conference, dining in one, two and three Michelin starred restaurants with some of the finest chefs in the world!

The highlight was a stunning dinner at the prestigious Pierre Gagnaire Restaurant where we got to meet the man himself and indulge in the most incredible 14 course dinner.

During conference we mainly discussed the meaning and vision of Relais & Chateaux, media, sustainability, waste reduction, and reducing the use of plastics in our operations and from our suppliers. The protection of our biodiversity, bees, pollinators, seeds, slow food, our oceans, lakes, rivers and streams. To use mostly local products and as we at Otahuna Lodge grow over 130 to 140 varieties of fruits, vegetables and nuts, raise our own pigs and sheep, have a small orchard, a melon house and mushroom house, wild porcini, make our own salumi, preserve a myriad of home grown pickles, chutneys, preserves, vinegars, liqueurs, I feel we are doing a wonderful job in helping play our part in this wonderful vison.

It was a memorable trip, and it was so special sharing this and many more with my amazing wife Philippa, also a talented Chef! We absolutely loved Paris.

Of course, we did a side trip to Italy, Rome, WOW! A drive up to Norcia, (the home of salumi!) Umbria to stay with our mates Filippo my old sous chef and his wife Guilia, FOH who both worked at Otahuna Lodge. Stopping in Spoletto along the way.

We ate our way through Paris, Rome and Umbria and I bought back a food baby! One of many!

The next Relais & Châteaux World Culinary Council meeting took place at Michel Guérard’s property, les Prés d’Eugénie in May 2019.

Of course, we went back to Paris for a few days prior so we could ease into the trip, enjoying the markets and restaurants from our base in Bastille.

Michel is one of the founding fathers of cuisine as we know it today!

He was 86 years old then and still in the kitchen running one of the finest properties in the world. He started nouvelle cuisine which was all about healthy eating and in conjunction with his spas (the family run 20!) his team produce amazing classical and traditional French food!

What a truly inspirational man! You can really understand the passion for the craft and what true hospitality is all about. We visited one of the top producers of foie gras in the region which was a highlight. We spent one night in Bordeaux at the stunning Le Saint James Hotel, a one-star Michelin R & C property before flying home.

Our most recent trip was in October 2022, after a few years break due to COVID.

We were so excited to be attending this conference in Bergamot just outside Milan in Northern Italy and as it happens our friends Filippo & Giulia both live in Pagazzano about 30 km from the conference.

We stayed at the one-star Michelin L’Albereta R&C Hotel, a beautiful place in the foothills outside of Bergamot. We gathered together yet again to see our friends and colleagues, we were instructed to bring a local cheese and wine from our home and a had a massive predinner tasting! Which was a modest five courses.

Conference the next day was followed by a wine tasting down the road at Bellavista (the same owner of L’Albereta) just a hobby he said. Well, they specialise in one of, if not the finest Grande Cuvee. They produce two-and-a-half million bottles per annum and have six million bottles in their cellar, two caves one kilometre in total. Not a bad aperitif!

It was a 1-hour drive to Da Vittorio, a famous three-star Michelin.

We didn’t arrive until 9pm. We were ushered into the incredible wine cellar where we were treated to Champagne and six generous canapes then seated in a wonderful dining room for an 18-course theatrical extravaganza which was full of amazing wines, caviar, pasta and a ferris wheel of desserts & of course finished off with the finest Cognac. We were all beaten! Arriving back at 2am!

We said our goodbyes over a fabulous lunch on the sunny terrace.

It was sad as I knew this would be my final conference, it was time to share the experience and was glad to see my friend and fellow chef Paul Froggat, ex Huka and now at Kauri Cliffs Lodge nominated the role!

But it wasn’t over! We were given private transfers to Pagazzano to our friend's house and restaurant. We ditched the fancy digs and slept on the couch with the 3 pugs! We had our own tour guides in Filippo and Giulia who took us out every night for dinner, a day trip to Bellagio on Lake Como, a day in Milan and without a doubt the finest meal we had was in their own restaurant, Locanda Viola.

Filippo cooked us a divine six course dinner with stunning local wines picked by Giulia it bought us both to tears!

We caught the train to Varenna on Lake Como for our last night and had our last meal at a little local restaurant, we strolled down the lakeside on a warm evening reminiscing our blessed life and when my last food baby was due!

Then I got the email! Urgent confirmation was needed as I was invited to be the Guest of Honour on board the Ponant ship Le Laperouse leaving Dunedin, New Zealand on the 3rd of December 2023 for an eight-night cruise to Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Dusky Sound, Snares Island and Ulva Island as Guest Chef, providing a cooking class and a dinner or two! With this being an explorer ship with nine Zodiacs on board, I cannot wait for my next Relais Chateaux adventure!