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The Bistro – an award-winning family affair

When Cuisine magazine handed out its coveted national restaurant awards, special mention was made of one chef’s children.

The Bistro’s celebrated chef-owner Jude Messenger is quick to share the accolade credit with wife Tiffany and the couple’s six offspring Xenon, Julio, Kalaya, Kayden and twins Pagelyn and Cohen. The youngest pea shuckers and garlic peelers in the family are destined to follow their oldest siblings’ lead and work their way up from dishwashing to table waiting, bar work or managing other staff. Their mum has been taking care of the office work and cleaning since the Taupō eatery opened in 2012.

“Family is a big feature at this gem of a spot,” the magazine reported. However, it also praised Jude’s culinary skills as well as the restaurant’s varied seasonal menu, its delightfully local wine focus."

All conveyed “with style minus pretension, at non-stratospheric prices. Award judges agree the whole Messenger clan is part of the establishment’s winning formula.

Something stellar

This is a chef who likes to steer away from the obvious, to perhaps pair fish with pomegranate or locally-grown limes instead of lemon. Smoked kina might be used in place of eggs in the mayonnaise that accompanies citrus-cured air-dried snapper. He has been known to throw a sorbet into the middle of a degustation menu paired with tea.

Jude relishes transforming a single staple into something stellar. So heirloom tomatoes from his home garden are placed alongside lacto-fermented tomato and chutney made from cherry tomatoes. In season, humble rhubarb is poached and separated. Long rhubarb batons are dehydrated to a chewy, lolly-like consistency and topped with cracked pepper, while softer portions become sorbet, and the skins arrive on the plate as long chips or a sweet and sour crumb.

“Choosing the prime cut or best part of something and using it as part of a dish is easy,” Jude says. “It’s much more challenging to use everything up.”

That birthday feeling

His desire to experiment and learn remains strong after three decades of working his way through demanding kitchens in New Zealand and overseas, from Taupō’s own Huka Lodge to Peter Gordon’s Sugar Club in London.

On days when The Bistro is closed, he frequently trawls through his contemporary cookbook collection before venturing into the kitchen or garage to trial new international techniques and flavours.

“Food really is my thing. I love the vast majority of what I’m doing, I’m still excited about going into the restaurant."

Chef Jude Messenger

“I still get that birthday and Christmas feeling when lifting the lid off the dutch oven to look at my sourdough in the morning. I can’t describe the anticipation.”

Jude also experiments in his home garden, trialling crops before approaching local growers with requests. He also supplements restaurant orders with seasonal produce from his own garden; gooseberries and beefsteak tomatoes, feijoas, cucumbers and squash.

Family talents

The chef says his interest in food was sparked early on in the vast vegetable patch behind his childhood home. As a boy, he would slip away from school at lunchtime to cut through the garden and pick his favourite produce through the back fence. Or marvel at the buckets of flounder that appeared on the back doorstep, courtesy of his father’s fisherman friends.

He and son Kayden often fish in Lake Taupō together. The young teen will often nudge his father to take the boat onto the water before school to catch trout that he will gut and smoke, then school lunches later in the week. All the Messengers know how to captain a boat, just as they all know how to play a musical instrument and serve a restaurant dinner.

In fact, daughter Kalaya could make wine list recommendations and run a section of The Bistro solo by the time she was 16. One of her brothers is a capable baker, two are working in hospitality while studying – they will help at The Bistro over summer - and the youngest two are chomping at the bit to earn their restaurant wage from age 12.

Best in the country

All restaurant staff are well looked after at his eatery. It’s part of Jude and Tiffany’s commitment to sustainability, which includes reducing food waste, recycling bottles and cardboard, saving table waste for a local farmer and paying extra for environmentally friendly.

The owners are also determined their restaurant welcomes diners in summer shorts and jandals as warmly as those dressed in special occasion finery. Everyone receives the same standard of service and fresh, seasonal food that fills bellies and delights palates.

Jude reckons the Cuisine One-hat award proves what they are doing works.

“It’s actually something real,” the restaurateur says. “Because it’s blind judging – I don’t know who the judges are – it’s a genuinely great snapshot of the best restaurants in the country. It’s peer recognition and acknowledgement for the passion and drive we have. ”

Five food favourite spots from the Messenger family

1. K’s Kitchen – a food truck located in a parking lot at 250 Spa Road. Mason and his team produce Taupō’s best burger; Korean fried chicken with pineapple and a cheesy mustard sauce (moon sauce). Mason also makes great Korean dumplings.

2. Lake Bistro at Suncourt Hotel – Reuben Lynn is making delicious French pastries, sourdough bread and a very lovely breakfast looking over the lake.

3. Taupō Cupcakes – Sarah Murray and husband Craig make the best cupcakes I have ever tasted. My favourite is the salted caramel. Order yours, and they will deliver them to you anywhere in town.

4. Volcanic Coffee – my favourite local roaster. They make great coffee, too. Catch them at Market Central Taupō on Sundays at the Northcroft Reserve.

5. Kona Kones – visit Kim and Steve Mananui and their daughters at 7 Tongariro Street, where they’re serving sustainably-produced Appleby Farms ice cream. The maple walnut is amazing.


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  4. The Bistro – an award-winning family affair