Foodtown Magazine Aug/Sept issue
Natural-born Foodie Chef Mark Dronjak has loved the whole process of preparing and cooking food since he was a kid. Mark Dronjak reckons he's been a foodie from birth. The Auckland chef grew up in a household where everything revolved around food and family life was played out in the kitchen.
My mother is a fantastic cook and my father's from a German-Yugoslav background. Life for him was all about making and sharing food. He was insane about chicken soup and always had a pot simmering on the stove, Mark says, laughing and commenting that it's a miracle that he doesn't have some sort of allergy to the broth, given the amount he consumed as a child.
Mark left school in the fifth form to take up an apprenticeship as a chef and by the time he was 21 he had been promoted to the position of executive chef at a top hotel in Sydney.
I have always been fascinated by the different flavours of food and I have always loved experimenting, he says. I have a very eclectic approach towards food and I love trying new ingredients and combinations of flavours.
Mark is the first to admit that, to be successful, chefs need to be committed and put in the hard yards. He certainly knows all about the rigours of training. Eight years ago, after clocking up another punishing 112-hour week working for his catering business, he saw an advertisement in the paper for a training adviser in the hospitality industry.
I knew it was time to make a change, Mark says of his decision to channel his many years of experience working in hospitality in new directions. His application for the job was successful and he now works as a schools manager for the Hospitality Standards Institute and manages the qualifications process for NZQA courses in secondary schools.
As a result, Mark has a unique relationship with all the budding young chefs starting their climb up the steep ladder of achievement in the food industry.
There's some exceptional talent out there and I get a kick from seeing kids who started their careers at school go on to finish their qualifications and then pop up later doing great things in kitchens professionally.
As well as managing the qualification process of hospitality training in secondary schools, Mark is also in demand as a consultant, cooking demonstrator and a masterclass chef at Auckland's Seafood School. Working at the Seafood School is my way of giving back. I get a huge hit from seeing people who turn up to a class terrified of the kitchen and then leave feeling full of inspiration. Everyone has the ability to cook. There's nothing to be frightened of, after all, it's not as if you're driving a car and the wheels have fallen off and you're swerving into the fast lane, he jokes. It's my job to give them confidence, to help them to learn the process of creating good food.
This encompasses everything from tricks of the trade, such as knife skills, to understanding how flavours work together.
I love cooking seafood as there's so many different flavours and combinations that you can try. A lot of people only ever think of panfrying a fillet of fish but there's so much more that you can do.
The school recently released The New Zealand Seafood Cookbook, which shares some of the recipes perfected by Mark and his colleagues at the school, John Campbell, Peter Chaplin, Petra New and Steve Roberts. Mark has also recently launched a new website (www.markdronjak.co.nz) on which he shares recipes and foodie tips.
Being able to influence how people think about food and approach cooking has been a fantastic experience for Mark. How you prepare and cook food is a bit of a journey. It's not just about cooking a meal in a couple of minutes. People want to be able to create something special and the key is to learn about and respect the different qualities of the ingredients and understand how flavours work together. To cook good food, there needs to be a bit of romance about the whole process.