The Culinary Odyssey of Sam Campbell
If ever anything would tempt you to be a chef, the career (so far) of Sam Campbell would convince anyone to down tools and join the profession. Unfortunately for the masses, it has taken bucketloads of talent and a strong family heritage of cooking and eating well to develop the kind of mad skills that get you such an esteemed career, at such an early stage of the game.
He started cooking on the farm he was raised on in Taranaki, surrounded by family, cooking and eating what was grown on the farm. The best meals are a perfect synergy of food and the company you are with, and from the sounds of things, an invitation to a Campbell family dinner is a highly coveted honour. Sam’s cooking reflects the home-grown values instilled in him by his family, with a hint of his high-rolling food adventures across the globe.
He has cooked for as long as he can remember. A particularly notable early effort was a pumpkin pie in an attempt to impress his Mum (his food hero), and already bold enough to go off book, he described it as lasagne style, with layers of roast pumpkin. This was followed closely by a spaghetti bolognese - wanting to utilise some of the less-used spices in his Mum’s collection, it featured a heavy dose of cayenne pepper.
His skills have been honed significantly since then. He has cooked all over the world, in a variety of styles and for the most discerning of tastes and restrictive of diets. If we didn't know it to be true, it almost sounds too good - just like Sam himself - but we can assure you, he is just as exceptional as he sounds. After training in Swiss Hotel Management, his career has taken him on a journey which would leave everyone bar Marco Pierre White green with envy and each step is reflected in his now signature style of food.
His first stop was One Aldridge in central London which brought out the bon vivant side to his personality, discovering a taste for the champagne lifestyle (he claims on a lemonade budget). Next stop, the St Regis in Aspen followed by the W Hotel in Sydney, the former of which provided a grounding in classic before cutting loose in the fun and loud environment of the W.
From there just a casual journey from a ski chalet at Meribel to Majorca cooking on super yachts - budget, what budget? Starting each day at whatever market was local, Sam cooked seasonally and locally all around the Mediterranean and further afield, waking up in such exotic locations as Panama or the Galapagos, cooking whatever was caught on that day’s dive. As if this wasn't ridiculously amazing enough, the next voyage was as the private chef for a Saudi Prince, travelling from his summer property in the Seychelles to France. We know, right. Amazing. It gets better still, not least because his next job brought him back to us lucky folk in New Zealand, but sadly (for us) Peter Jackson and The Hobbit had the exclusive pleasure of his cooking prowess.
The public of New Zealand breathed a sigh of relief when finally it was our turn, when after a stint as Howard Shaw’s private chef cooking macrobiotic food in the Bay of Islands, he joined forces with immensely popular baker Jordan Rondel (The Caker) and Pop Dining to give the people what they want in a series of pop up dinners. If this hasn't made you immediately contemplate a career change and you not are currently occupied googling “How to become an epic chef”, you can find Sam’s food on a daily basis by eating at Orleans, where he is currently the Executive Chef or if you are exceedingly lucky, at one of the one-off events he now has the luxury of handpicking.
But wait, there’s more - a month long sabbatical was spent doing an internship at Alice Waters’ legendary Chez Panisse, giving him an insight into the slow food movement and strengthened his commitment to eating and cooking seasonally and sustainably, which originated as a budding chef cooking with his family on the farm.
Sam, quite frankly, rules at food. And hearing his story, its quite evident why. But what it may not communicate, is how humble he is and and how easy it is to spend hours on end listening to him talk about food, or anything really. His solid grounding, his experience and training have resulted in a genuine love of food, and care of where it comes from and how it is used. Most importantly, he cares about who is eating his food. Whether royalty, rockstars or hungry Kiwis, his focus is on who is eating the food and their enjoyment and this thoughtfulness, combined with his high professional standards mean eating any food he has had a hand in is a glorious experience, which satisfies on all fronts.
Despite such an illustrious journey so far (and it has basically only just begun), Sam maintains that the roots of good food, living and eating were instilled in him by his family in Taranaki. If you ever have the opportunity to eat anything Sam has cooked, go with an empty stomach, and if you get the chance to talk food with him, make sure you have a few hours to spare. And if you manage to get that invitation to dine in Taranaki - clear your schedule.