It was New Zealand’s finest brown trout which first tempted German-born chef André Kassal to Kiwi shores 10 years ago.
“I’m addicted to fishing!” he laughs.
“When I worked on the cruise ship I’d always see these videos of fly fishing brown trout so I got myself a job in Franz Jozef.”
As beautiful as it is in the South Island, André eventually decided to head for the bright lights and blue harbours of Auckland and a job at Ponsonby restaurant Sidart and then more recently a big catering company.
One kayak, one boat and one wedding later, André is now in his happy place.
“I have bought myself a boat and now my wife and I are both crazy addicted to fishing!
“From June to January we landed three fish over 10kg, and we released them all.”
While fishing is his passion in his spare time, he didn’t have a lot of it - he had been working 70-80 hours a week in his previous role so was ready for a change.
His wife is a registered nurse at Grace Joel village and when a vacancy came up at Edmund Hillary she encouraged him to join the Ryman family.
Within a short time he was appointed Senior Lead Chef and he’s not looking back.
“It’s a better work life balance, I’m not working ridiculous hours like before, and I get to have lovely interactions with the residents.”
A new Ryman initiative which has coincided with André’s arrival is Chef’s Table.
This is where a dozen or so residents are invited to have lunch with the Chef in the kitchen so they can see how things are done behind the scenes.
“I plate the meal up and serve it straightaway and we sit down and have a glass of juice together.
“Often they are surprised at what our team can do.”
The organisation involved with preparing the 400 meals in the village each day, plus 300 morning teas and afternoon teas, whilst offering a balanced diet which caters for a range of needs but with plenty of variety, has prompted admiration from André and poses a new challenge he is ready to face.
“The whole system is quite impressive, providing variety throughout the four week cycle involves a lot of planning,” he says.
Having come from a background which included working in five star Kempinski Hotels and fine dining restaurants in Switzerland, André relishes the chance to show off some of his creativity and flair at the village’s fortnightly fine dining nights.
For his first official fine dining night he offered up a three course meal including a vegetarian entrée of roasted cauliflower puree, topped with goat’s cheese, brown butter, water cress and toasted almonds, a main of beef cheeks and braised carrots on ageing wholegrain mustard mash and rounded off with a delicious crème brulee with berries.
“I got a standing ovation!” he says proudly.
And while he loves catching fish in his spare time, when it comes to work his favourite dish to prepare involves braising meat.
“Cooking a steak, beef cheek or lamb shank. I like it to be tender but not falling apart. I really enjoy this type of cooking.
“And those European dishes are really where my strength lies, I know it inside out and I can do it with confidence.”