Originally from India, Punit D’Souza’s love for food and cooking came about at a young age. Since then, Punit has carved out an impressive resume working at many highly regarded restaurants in New Zealand including Wagamama, Hippopotamus Restaurant in the Museum Hotel, Matterhorn and most recently, Noble Rot Wine Bar in Wellington.
Punit now brings his wealth of experience to Elephant Hill Winery as their newly appointed Head Chef. We chatted to Punit about his career, culinary favourites and his move to Hawke’s Bay.
Punit, congratulations on your new appointment as Head Chef at Elephant Hill Winery! Please, tell us more about yourself.
I come from a city called Thane in the state of Maharashtra, India. I grew up observing my family and friends at the dinner table enjoying the food that was served. This ignited my passion for cooking and I paved my way to New Zealand in 2009. Over the span of 8 years in Wellington, I had the honour and privilege of working at some fantastic restaurants alongside chefs who shared in my passion. My love for food has only grown since I first decided to be a chef.
Where do you draw your culinary inspiration, and how does this influence the dishes you create?
My inspiration comes from everything that surrounds me in nature. I look at a particular flower and wonder what it will compliment on the dish. Sometimes my inspirations come from the heart of my childhood memories and they appear in different subtle ways on the plate. I draw my inspiration from books and restaurants from around the world too. This helps me explore flavours and emotions through food. The final dish is then a subtle journey in its own way.
Hawke’s Bay is renowned for being a destination offering quality, fresh produce. What’s your favourite Hawke’s Bay ingredient to cook with and why?
Indeed, Hawkes Bay is renowned for its produce and I am totally bowled over by everything it has to offer! Although it’s hard to choose one from all the abundant ingredients available, my current favourites are Scott’s Strawberries and Matangi Beef. The sun kissed strawberries from Scott’s taste divine and the Matangi beef is another inspiration in itself.
Why do you think using local produce/ingredients in your cooking is so important?
As a chef I believe it is my job to channel what nature offers. I am always leaning towards local and seasonal produce as I believe it translates well into what I intend to present on the plate. I am passionate about local ingredients as I believe the quality and produce of ingredients in New Zealand is one of the best in the world.
What is your proudest achievement or career highlight so far?
I have been blessed with many proud moments throughout my personal and professional life. Personally, my proudest would be when I held my daughter Myra in my arms for the first time. The sheer joy and pride that parenthood brings is indescribable. Receiving my citizenship and making New Zealand my home with my daughter and my wife Michelle standing by me is another pride filled memory. Professionally, receiving two hats and now featuring in the new category of 50 best discoveries in the world with Noble Rot are achievements that take a place of pride in my heart. Last but not the least is the feeling of pride I beam with when I walk through the doors of Elephant Hill. I am glad to have the opportunity to work with amazing people.
With an ever-growing foodie scene in Hawke’s Bay, what do you think people are looking for in a dining experience in 2019?
I believe people come to restaurants to relax and enjoy themselves creating wonderful stories and memories with the food, drinks and the company they arrive in. So, I would say irrespective of the year what people look for is an elegant and memorable experience.
With summer right around the corner, what’s your go-to/favourite food and wine match over the warmer months?
I like the colourful, warm ambience that summer brings along with it. During this season you will find me enjoying a plate of cured fish with a glass of Riesling.
If you were throwing a dinner party and could invite anyone, who would be seated at your table and why?
Food and family dinners were a large part of my growing up years. So, considering that I have been away from my family for so long, if I were throwing a party, I would invite my family here for a dinner at the table. I would especially like to invite the head of our family, Abba- my grandfather, mentor and inspiration in many ways to come here and experience the hospitality of New Zealand. I wouldn’t leave anyone out as my family’s unconditional support has helped me be where I have reached today. So, from my mum to my in-laws, I would love to have a big fat Indian-Kiwi dinner party.
What’s your culinary guilty pleasure?
This is a tough one. When I was a child, we had these small tamarind treats that I like to indulge in even today. I like the callebut and Whittaker’s pellets too. Oh! I can munch on those all day long. The one I can eat almost every day is ramen. Something about the simplicity of Ramen tugs at me. It’s my divine comfort food. I can fill up pages with guilty pleasures so I’ll stop here. Ummm, just remembered milk chocolates and short breads too. ;)
Now that you are based in Hawke’s Bay, what are you most looking forward to experiencing in the region?
Ever since I have arrived, I am in awe of everything in Hawke's Bay. The weather, the food, the people. I am overwhelmed by the incredible support and warmth I have received at Elephant Hill. I am excited to be here and to put down my roots. I am looking forward to gaining a better understanding of the region in terms of seasonal and local produce. The affirmative spirit and enthusiasm of everyone that surrounds me here is contagious. I am certain my journey here has only just begun.
Discover Elephant Hill for yourself!
Stylish, warm and inviting, Elephant Hill is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy delicious food and stunning wines whilst taking in breathtaking views over the Pacific Ocean and vineyard. Our dishes are made with only the freshest of seasonal produce sourced from growers and suppliers who share our passion for excellence in food.
You won't be disappointed!