Headed by Emma Mettrick and Welshman Paul Howells, 27 Steps is one of the hottest new kids on the culinary block. Metropol talks to these formidable foodies about stepping up and their recipe for success.
Can you tell us about your culinary journey and how Twenty Seven Steps began?
Emma: I remember my parents bribing me that if I learnt to eat with my knife and fork I could have a meal at a restaurant. I remember loving the whole experience. My first job was at the Astrolabe in Akaroa working for Tui Joblin, a fantastic woman whose daughter Madi now works for us. Chicken, cranberry and brie was revolutionary and the aim was to get the highest, frothiest cappuccino. For me, food has always been intertwined with people and experiences and realising that everything we know is fluid and constantly evolving – nothing is a given and rules change.
Anne Edmond and Annie’s Wine Bar showed me NZ wines, put me through art school and sent me travelling. In London, working for Lisa and Agnes at the Jazz Café meant seeing amazing musical acts whilst being paid and a restaurant attached to a fringe theatre in South London introduced me to a whole other world. Finally, Aiobheann MacNamara at Ard Bia in Galway, Ireland (where Paul and I met) showed me the worth of celebrating and having pride in what is in your local environment.
We originally set up an Akaroa restaurant naively thinking we could live six months there and six months back in the UK however, Finn coming along changed that. Post quakes, I got very nostalgic about Christchurch. After falling in love with our space, we sold up in Akaroa, went to battle with bureaucracy and got the doors open.
Paul: I was always destined to work in the food industry in some way, shape or form. My elder brother was in catering college when I was 6/7, so his cook books and chefs whites were always strewn across the bedroom we shared.
My mother was, and still is, a tremendous cook. Her ham hock soups, corned beef and tomato pie, Manchester tarts and homemade breads were amazing. For me the journey started at home. It’s testament to her that both her sons would go on to be chefs and restaurant owners. Her pumpkin, feta and rosemary bread she taught me to make when I was eight is the house bread at 27.
Inevitably my brother got me my first job in a kitchen. I’d spend my summer holidays topping and tailing countless boxes of green beans, shucking oysters and de-podding mountains of fresh peas. I loved the cut and thrust of kitchen life; the mickey taking, the banter and the industrial language.
Having a smaller restaurant before taking on 27 was particularly important for me – I really did learn a hell of a lot in the five years we had it however, for me personally, I think from a food sense we had taken it as far as it could go. It was time for a fresh challenge
How would you define Twenty Seven Steps?
Emma: We wanted to create a classic restaurant that needs no explanations nor has any pretensions. We have been magpies grabbing what we thought worked at previous jobs and melting them all together into a place where we would like to eat.
Paul: Honest, classic, natural, simple.
You’ve become one of the city’s hottest dining establishments, what has been your recipe for success?
Emma: That’s a very generous statement! We have just done what we know and done it with integrity. That and a lot of elbow grease and luck. It helps that between us we have both sides of the restaurant covered, are hands on and are blessed to be surrounded by likeminded people helping us do what we do. And, of course, that people chose to spend their money and come and dine with us – without that we have nothing.
Paul: The most important part for me is that you have to be totally consistent in everything you do.
What attracted you to the hospitality industry?
Emma: There was something about hospitality that I always thought was cool. You worked hard and played hard. You can work anywhere and the people are great – most of my closest friends I have met through this industry. There is something that gets under your skin. After 22 years I genuinely still get a kick when our diners leave happy at the end of the night or by introducing a customer or staff member to a different wine that they really like, made by someone cool. There’s a bunch of fab people in this game whether it is those creating/growing what you sell, manning the grill or those on the floor beside you
What do the next 12 months have in store for you?
Emma: Who knows?! If it’s more of what we are doing currently, I am happy. Paul’s been talking about a cookbook for years so you never know…