Meet Sam Clark, Owner and Head Chef of Napier's newest dining establishment, Central Fire Station Bistro.
Sam, welcome to Hawke’s Bay! Please, tell us more about yourself.
I’m husband to Florencia, father to Lachlan, we lived on Waiheke for 10 years till earlier this year. I started cooking at 16 in Raglan, spent time in kitchens in Auckland & Melbourne, latterly Cable Bay on Waiheke and two stints at the now closed Clooney in Auckland city. I love fishing, watching cricket, cooking charcoal bbq & geeking out on chef programs.
You made the move from Waiheke Island to open Central Fire Station Bistro in Napier this year. What drew you to Hawke’s bay?
Mostly the opportunity to do a restaurant in the space on the ground floor of the CFS, we have a family connection with the landlord and now our business partner Rod Earnshaw. But also getting out of Auckland had been our plan for the last few years, Hawkes Bay just felt right when we came down in 2018, the food and wine scene is incredible, I’d say it’s the best in the country.
For those booking a seat at Central Fire Station, what can they expect from the dining experience?
Relaxed service, honest but refined cooking, hyper local wine list and a chic environment.
Do you think that using local produce/ingredients is important when creating your dishes? And if so, why?
Yes, this is probably the most important influence on a restaurant’s cuisine. Having a connection to the environment where your food is produced gives you a far greater appreciation for produce and understanding what’s good. For example, a strawberry grown in Bay View by a small farm picked and delivered to you that day vs a strawberry from a national company distributing from a warehouse in Auckland – what’s better? If you want to put the best product on your plate it starts with the producers, they need to be supported.
Do you have any culinary heroes or chefs that have influenced your style?
Des Harris at Clooney, otherwise I became a head chef at 25 and spent a lot of my career trying to figure out things I should have learnt working for other people. Now I read a lot of old cook books, I try to not fall into fads or copy what everyone posts on Instagram, rather I try and stick to the classics.
What is your proudest achievement or career highlight so far?
Along with my wife, opening our own restaurant, this is far and away the hardest challenge I have accomplished. Being in the building when it was a shell, doing demolition work, cleaning up every day with the builders, painting the walls, designing the kitchen and dining spaces, plus preparing to open a second business immediately after the restaurant opens. We set ourselves a big goal, and so far, we’ve succeeded.
What’s one kitchen gadget you believe everyone should have in their kitchen?
A heavy cast iron fry pan. I dread cooking in someone else’s kitchen if they don’t have a decent pan. I use my old Lodge cast iron every meal I cook at home, steaks, deep frying, Bolognese, it’s the best cookware for almost every job.
With summer right around the corner, what’s your go-to/favourite food and wine match over the warmer months?
Vicky’s vineyard chardonnay from Bostock with our seeded chicken schnitzel from Bostock. We brine the chicken, crumb it in panko breadcrumbs with crushed coriander seeds, sesame and sunflower then we fry it in clarified butter.
What’s your culinary guilty pleasure?
Eating cake leftovers and offcuts from my wife’s baking late at night.
Now that you are based in Hawke’s Bay, what are you most looking forward to experiencing in the region?
Simple things: taking my son fishing, going to wineries and restaurants, exploring the regional parks.
Discover Central Fire Station Bistro for yourself
One of Napier’s most iconic historic buildings has been reimagined. The Central Fire Station has opened its doors for the first time in October 2019 as a modern bistro. The restaurant, aptly named to acknowledge its art-deco heritage has been invigorated into a casual yet elegant dining space.
The menus showcase our local suppliers using the freshest organic and sustainable produce highlighting the very best of Hawke's Bay food and wine. The bistro also includes a private dining room seating up to 12 guests for intimate dinners or day meetings.