Sunday, 27 September 2020


Highly accomplished chef stays grounded with pop-up bread project

Being able to use his experience and talent to produce wholesome, fresh organic bread for the local community, has been a source of joy and indeed solace over the past few months for temporary Kuaotunu resident, Jake Westacott.

The highly accomplished chef, who has been based in Los Angeles for the past 12 years, has been enjoying an extended if somewhat unexpected visit home as New Zealand, America and the rest of the world battles the coronavirus pandemic. Coming on the back of this, the impact of the recent social unrest associated with the Black Lives Matter protests has also hit home.

“I just found out that one of the test kitchens I use has been torched and basically destroyed,” says Jake. “A couple of the restaurants I work with have been looted and burnt out. It is quite shocking what is going on in Los Angeles and I’m finding it quite difficult to comprehend.”

While understanding the message behind the protests, Jake says the level of destruction is quite overwhelming.

Having caught a flight from LAX to New Zealand in mid-March, Jake was fully expecting to return to his normal life by April. “I just couldn’t believe how it all escalated,” he says. “I just had no idea. I thought I would be waiting it out for a couple of weeks and then I’d be heading back. I still have food in my refrigerator.

With time on his hands and uncertainty about when he would be able to return home to Los Angeles, Jake came up with the idea of baking some sourdough bread for friends in lockdown. “I have a starter that I got in South America and I always have some with me, so I thought I might as well put it to use,” he says.

The bread-making started using the kitchen oven of the family home in Kuaotunu, and loaves were delivered to the letterboxes of friends and neighbours. After some pretty rave reviews, Jake approached The Dunes restaurant in Matarangi, where the team welcomed the chef to use their woodfired pizza oven.

“Besides being private chef for a handful of elite clients, I work on contract as a crisis manager for the worldwide Soho House company, helping staff adapt to kitchens in all kinds of situations, so I found myself in an odd situation myself,” says Jake. “I do feel lucky to be able to do what I do right now and I’m very grateful to The Dunes. I can bake my bread, it gives me a purpose while I’m here.

“And this is what I love to do, cook and bake. It’s what I know, so being able to do something that is normal in what are extremely unusual times has certainly been a good thing.”

Deliveries are happening twice a week around Kuaotunu and Matarangi, and now Whitianga is getting in on the act with Jake’s breads available at the Earth Store in Albert Street every Wednesday and Friday.

“It’s exciting that people are enjoying the bread because it really is delicious, someone called it addictive,” says Jake. “I’ve sourced 1,000kg of the most amazing, all organic New Zealand flour from the South Island.”

As for how long his pop-up operation - Manantiales Bread, named after the village in Uruguay which he considers a second home - will continue, Jake says, “How long is a piece of string? At this stage I’m resigning myself to probably being here for the rest of the year, but it’s impossible to predict.”

With COVID-19 still raging globally and international travel likely to be a challenge for some time, Jake says he is focusing on enjoying his time in Kuaotunu. “I left in my 20s and I have only really had short visits, so having this amazing place in your back pocket at atime like this is not a bad situation to be in,” he says.

Pictured: Temporary Kuaotunu resident and highly accomplished chef, Jake Westacott, at work in America.


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