Fashioned by Flavour
As New Zealand has become more multi-cultural, Kiwis have been introduced to more varieties of food then ever before. Boundaries have been pushed, senses heightened, taste buds changed forever, and the question on everybody’s mind has been, “How did we ever live without it?” Our tastes have been revolutionised, and without a single shot being fired! How did that happen? How did we go from traditional boil up to green-lipped mussel, horopito and spinach soup? From greasy fish and chips to Moroccan prawns with chermoula? Well it happened by way of a new breed of chefs, inspired by great Kiwi ingredients and the flurry of new flavours arriving to our shores. Adventurous and somewhat improvisational, these chefs were key in changing our food landscape – and Mark Dronjak was among them.
Mark has been a participating member of this culinary revolution for more than 25 years. He is passionate about flavour, which is evident in his recipes, and loves experimentation. Understanding flavour combinations is key to any dish, and Mark is a master! He can take even the most simple of dishes and elevate it to a mouth-watering sensation by using the right combination of ingredients and cooking techniques.
So where did Mark ultimately get his fascination with food? He credits his parents, both good cooks in their own right. His father’s Yugoslavian background meant that the family home was filled with the tastes and smells of Eastern Europe, from spicy salamis and sauerkrauts to the ever-percolating pot of chicken soup that kept permanent vigil on top of the family stove. His mother’s British roots provided counterbalance, but it was pretty early on that Mark realised his house tasted and smelled just a little bit different to that of his friends. It was this exciting mixture of two different food cultures that would inspire Mark on a life-long pursuit to reach out to us all and broaden our palates with rich and interesting foods from around the world.
Mark began his cooking apprenticeship in 1980, and from the beginning he always had the freedom in the kitchen to create and explore. Throughout his career he was never instructed to hold back from experimentation and he encourages it most amongst his own students and audiences. Of course sometimes experimentation comes with consequences, especially when alcohol is involved! Just ask him about the sherry beef incident. Apparently this was an experiment involving homemade wine of Yugoslavian extraction combined with cream sherry to braise a few cuts of beef. Forgetting to flame off the alcohol, it was popped into a hot oven and boom! The alcohol ignited and blew off the oven door! Of course the wine WAS strong enough to run a small tractor. Talk about flambé! It was chalked up to a learning experience and added to the collection of ‘war’ stories every chef carries around, such as ‘how I got this scar and/or burn’. Of course experimentation is how great cooks learn what works together and what doesn’t.
Mark has cooked in many restaurants throughout his career and briefly opened his own business in 1998, Prestige Catering Company Ltd. He has been featured in magazines such as Your Weekend, Foodtown Magazine, Gourmet Traveller and Australian Fare. While living in Australia Mark was the host of the radio talkback show “Fine Food Down Under” which ran in conjunction with weekly newspaper editorials of the same name. More recently Mark was one of five chefs to have contributed recipes to the New Zealand Seafood Cookbook, and currently is a presenter of master class cooking at the Auckland Seafood School and at events such as the Auckland Home Show where his enthusiasm for flavour and presentation leaves guests inspired and entertained.
If you have a desire to cook with Mark, he can be found at the Auckland Seafood School about three nights a month. He enjoys pushing people outside their traditional culinary comfort zone with his exciting blend of freestyle and fusion cooking, so be prepared to roll up your sleeves and have a lot of fun! His passion for flavour, presentation and visual appeal are always evident in his live demonstrations, and his audiences always walk away incredibly inspired. Check out Mark’s schedule for upcoming events!
Mark is passionate about his work and loves sharing that passion with others. After spending time as a consultant he discovered a love for teaching. Since 2001, Mark has been involved with the Hospitality Standards Institute (HSI), an Industry Training Organisation (ITO) involved in developing talent in the hospitality industry. Most recently he has been appointed Schools Manager to the HSI Schools Team, which promotes classes designed specifically for schools so students can begin their career training at an early age and gain credits on the National Qualifications Framework.
Empowering students to grow in the industry is something that drives Mark forward. His work with HSI takes him all over New Zealand, giving him the chance to meet and influence the young, upcoming chefs of tomorrow. His advice to everyone: experiment, try it, get out of your comfort zone! He encourages all of his students to go on their OE, to experience new flavours and to bring them back to New Zealand through their own unique style of cooking.
Mark is a member of the World Association of Chef Societies (WACS) and the New Zealand Chefs Association. He is a keen outdoorsman in his free time when he isn’t working on his other loves: photography, gardening and writing. He lives on a lifestyle block amongst the Waitakere Ranges of Auckland with his wife Kirsty, and is currently working on his second cookbook.