Making his name as a critically acclaimed chef, Nic Watt has worked in Michelin starred restaurants abroad and closer to home, is the force behind award winning Japanese restaurant MASU. In his latest venture, and in collaboration with Darren Johnson, INCA is the latest restaurant to open under Watt’s name, drawing inspiration from South American street food and Peruvian- style cuisine. Zara Overton caught up with Nic to learn more about his philosophy on food and the inspiration behind INCA.
Can you tell us how your journey started in hospitality?
I started my hospitality career just down the road in the Parnell heydays of the mid 90’s and have never looked back. I fell in love with the food side of the industry and have taken that passion from the plate to running the entire business.
You’ve worked in highly esteemed restaurants around the world including London’s Park Hyatt Knightsbridge and Michelin starred Nobu and Roka. What is it like working in a Michelin star restaurant?
Working in the Michelin environment is definitely not for the faint hearted – you are surrounded by a team of chefs and wait staf that are committed to delivering the very best they can on a by the minute/hour/daily and weekly basis. The kitchens are hard and you have to be strong to survive. I found this very inspiring and excelled here.
Where did you come up with the concept for INCA?
I first visited Peru in 2012, as I was on a food research trip. With the Japanese Nikkei link, it felt like a very natural progression for my culinary style.
INCA’s interior fit-out is pretty spectacular, featuring earthy and natural elements mixed with pinks and terracotta. Can you tell us about the interiors for the space and how Peru inspired this?
The interior design was worked through with the fantastic team from CTRL. The earth wall and color tone come from the famous rainbow mountains of Peru.
Auckland’s hospitality industry is competitive and we are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing where to eat out. Alongside this, we’ve seen closures of a number of Auckland establishments over recent years.When deciding to bring another concept to life, what did you have to consider in order for it to be successful?
The hospo game is tough and you have to really do your research and development when you launch a completely new concept. You have to be completely prepared to put your all on the line in a public arena. Not many have the courage or depth for this.
Has there been a particular moment in your career that you’re proudest of?
It’s hard to pick a proudest moment. Seeing my young daughter make a perfect cofee behind the machine at the tender age of 10, or having the privilege to mentor younger hospitality professionals is pretty inspiring. Milestones are easier to place – taking the Executive Chef role at Huka Lodge at 29 years old would have to be one for sure.
What is your favourite dish on the INCA menu?
I fnd it hard not to order the Ceviche Classico every time – line caught fish, the freshest lime leche de tigre marinade,, red onion, sweet potato, cancha corn. It’s seriously delicious.
If you could prepare a meal for anyone (living or dead), who would it be and what would you serve?
I would love to cook for a table of the world’s best chefs – Heston, Marco Pierre White, Virgilio Martínez, Joan Roca, Alain Passard – in my restaurant, family style, then join them and talk shop for hours.
Name five things we’d always find in your fridge.
Parmigiano Reggiano, seasonal greens (right now big leafy ones), coconut water, Dijon mustard and wasabi paste.
What is your favourite holiday destination?
Wow, that’s an almost impossible question. Annually, Great Barrier Island, otherwise internationally it tends to be food, sand or R&D driven – I had an amazing 4 days in Bali recently for the quickest of research and development.
What is your favourite cookbook?
MASU by Nic Watt of course.
You’re hosting a dinner party for friends. What is your go-to recipe/meal for entertaining at home?
I will always cook whole joints of pieces – I have enjoyed cooking ducks in my wood-fired earth oven.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start out in your industry?
If you want to be a hospitality professional – like anything, do your homework, know your products, love what you do… it’s one hell of ride.
Dining out is high on the priority list for many New Zealanders, and we’re spoilt with a diverse range of options. After working and living abroad, have you noticed some differences in Kiwis taste preferences and dining habits in comparison to the rest of the world?
I would stay that Kiwis can sometimes still be a little too focused on meat and three vege. We have some incredibly diverse cuisines here and we should be supporting them all.
What are you reading at the moment?
Flea “Acid for the Children”.
What is Newmarket’s best kept secret?
I still think the rooftop terrace – we have to get the word out there far and wide.
It’s 10am on a Sunday morning. Where will we find you and what are you doing?
Hopefully swimming around the back of Waiheke, after a morning coffee.
What food trends do you think we’ll be seeing a lot more of in 2020?
I would love to see more support of small owner operator outlets, people putting it all on the line and giving it a crack. There are some brilliant operators out there that would love your support.
Social media and technology has given people more opportunity to review, and research restaurants before they visit. How has social media impacted the way you do business?
Freedom of speech is required – but I do not appreciate people that are not constructive, informed and yet feel they need to be negative on public domains.
What’s next for you?
Next for me is to continue to develop INCA and the team. We have a couple of ideas up our sleeve – come see us and watch our space.
Level 4, 309 Broadway
09 213 4463