By Pauline Stewart.
It’s colourful, it’s vibrant and there is a buzz of conversation at the many tables. There are colourful tables outside but on this it was cold, and customers were comfortable in the warmth inside. “We had been looking at this space for a while, and it became available,”. It looked like it needed to be a restaurant and that exactly what we were after. Says restauranteur, Christian Schuler who owns Cooked with his wife, Hayley.
“We didn’t want to move out of the area, but we were looking for something on this side. We love the Mercury Bay community.
Christian talked about his many holidays here as a child. Growing up in Matamata, “Every year we would come here and visit the beaches. I wanted very much in my youth to one day Iive in this area and that came true in 2019. We set up Cooked at Cooks beach. It was great but then Covid came and then followed a very lean and hard summer economically. We decided to make the move to this side - to Whitianga.
Christian is Swiss and Haley’s parents come from Hungary and their restaurant is Mexican which is not a logical result for cuisine. Christian travelled extensively using his skill at cuisine and it was in Barcelona that an elderly Mexican woman showed him the detail and recipes and spices of Mexican cuisine.
“I watched her and watched her and wrote it all down. She was very pleased with my attention and focus and ever since then, I have been perfecting the tastes. As a chef, you have to adapt to the local context and that includes the sourcing of the natural products locally. Also, there is another aspect which I watch very carefully - you must have something on the menu, true to the culture of the restaurant that everyone loves, but also help people become comfortably acquainted with new tastes, a new cuisine culture. Mexican is one of the oldest cuisines in the world, and there are so many different tastes.”
There is everything from very mild to very spicy on the menu and everything in between plus a good variety of snacks under Amigos.
Then, there’s the Quesadilla and the Burrito and the Gordita’s and Tacos – always a regular part of Mexican restaurant menus and under all these headings are many varieties. Christian’s favourite is the pork cochinita. The churros of course is the dessert offering and a great favourite.
“My cousin ran a restaurant in Cambridge. I would go after school every afternoon to do dishes but gradually I became involved in helping prepare food. It was when I was in Barcelona that I got this commitment to Mexican, and I thank my Mexican friend for that.
Haley is not a veteran in hospitality “I’m great at doing all the administration – that’s my background in Fonterra. But of course, I’m a great kitchen assistant as well. We are a family business, and we look forward to people just enjoying themselves at our restaurant.”
That it’s a family business is literally true, as sometimes at the counter, Hayley is carrying their wee daughter, Frankie, in a pouch in front of her. Jade, Hayley’s daughter, is a big help after school. It is a family restaurant and a family affair and right in town being situated at 2 Mill Street, Whitianga.
The artwork adorning the walls of Cooked is something out of the ordinary. Hayley says, “I saw this great art on a mural, where my daughter goes to school – Whenuakite; found out it was done by a local artist and engaged her. Sarah had a free hand but with Hayley’s broad-brush suggestion of a Day of the Dead theme. It’s colourful, childlike and bright with that very theme mixed with a Mexican style. Customers will love the brightness and positivity.
Cooked is open from Wednesday to Sunday lunch and doing a thriving trade in takeaways as well as their sit-down menus. Mercury Bay wishes Christian Schiller and Hayley Kekisi and their family every success and happiness here.
Caption: The entrance to 'Cooked' restaurant at 2 Mill Road, Whitianga.