Hailing from Darjeeling in India and a Kiwi by citizenship, Rockpool Dining Group’s Culinary Director of Casual Brands Don Lama is looking forward to opening the group’s first restaurant, The Bavarian, in New Zealand.
Don worked in Christchurch for 12 years until 2013, including with the Millennium Hotels & Resorts group, before crossing the ditch.
From leading the kitchen team at The Bavarian in Sydney’s CBD, one of the busiest restaurants of the burgeoning group, to becoming Corporate Chef for the entire Bavarian brand (36+ restaurants) and now Culinary Director of all casual brands, Don has soaked up responsibility for a growing number of restaurants as Rockpool Dining Group has metamorphosed into Australia’s largest restaurant group.
A man of many culinary talents, Don always dreamt of opening a restaurant in Auckland – a city that he believes competes with the best in the world from a dining perspective – and he’s relishing the challenge of this home-coming, of sorts.
“The Bavarian is perfect for Auckland,” he says. “New Zealanders love big, hearty meals and The Bavarian – with its huge, pork knuckles, plate-filling schnitzels and generous platters of traditional meats, sausages and side dishes – will fit in perfectly. Nobody is doing what we do in Auckland.”
The Bavarian’s famous pork knuckles are about 14 hours in the making, with each step in the lengthy process carefully completed in-house, resulting in to-die-for golden crackling that is at least half a centimetre thick. Schnitzels are another signature dish made from scratch using Don’s fine-tuned techniques: first tenderise the pork or chicken, then dust with flour, douse in egg wash and toss through bread crumbs, before pan-frying and continuously basting in hot oil to create a golden schnitzel with a perfectly, air-pocketed, crumbed crunch.
“I haven’t seen anyone else doing schnitzels like us,” he says. “From the way we make our schnitzels completely in-house, to the eight we have on the menu, and our eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary versions.”
Don’s first role as a Chef was at the Oberoi Group in Udaipur, after graduating with a Diploma in Hotel and Catering Management, specialising in Culinary, from the International Institute of Hotel Management in Kolkata.
As a young man, he had always wanted to cook professionally. The exploration of new opportunities took him to New Zealand, then the slow redevelopment of Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake nudged him towards Australia. Continuing to be based in Sydney, Don will be in New Zealand ahead of the launch of The Bavarian and immediately afterwards, with many trips back and forth thereafter.
“I’m thrilled to be heading back to New Zealand to train a new culinary crew,” Don says. “New Zealand has been good to me – opening doors and providing opportunities. I’m really looking forward to bringing something back.”