28 June 2010

Revolutionizing Waterfront Dining: Chef Paul Haitana at Wharfside Restaurant

An experienced chef who has cooked for royalty, Paul Haitana has revolutionised waterfront dining during his time at Wharfside Restaurant. He shares with drama on the waterfront his vision for the cuisine at Circa’s quality dining establishment as well as the recipe for one of his favourite desserts, a quick and easy – and delicious! – Mars Bar Cheesecake.

Wharfside Restaurant Chef Paul Haitana

DOTW: What is your background? What did you do before you came to Wharfside?

PH: I’ve been cooking for 33 years; I started out at the Putaruru Timber Museum when I was six years of age making chocolate, cakes and pies. I’ve worked throughout the world, traveling around as a chef. My highest aspiration was working for the Royal family back in 1989 with Princess Anne’s entourage. I’ve worked at the Regent Hotel, I have had 127 hotels underneath me at one given stage. I have now taken a step back for myself and have returned to New Zealand, starting off small to see where it goes.

DOTW: How long have you been with Wharfside?

PH: I’ve been here for just over five months, since January 2010.

DOTW: I understand that you implemented a new menu when you came to Wharfside. What was your vision for the menu here?

PH: My vision was to make it a little bit lighter, a little smarter. To dress up the meals to the point where they’re as appealing to the eye as they are to the palate. Clean up some of the flavours, keep them a lot crisper so that when you’re dining and you order the lamb you actually taste the lamb not the rosemary or so many different flavours that you don’t know what you’re eating.

DOTW: What is your favourite meal to make, both on your own time and at Wharfside?

PH: My favourite meal of all time for myself would be a pork von strana which is a pork steak with bacon, melted gruyere cheese and a red wine and black pepper jus. I usually serve this with a Waldorf salad and nice glass of wine. Here at Wharfside, my favourite to make would probably be the salmon; it is seared salmon on a bed of lime and coconut rice with baby spinach. And then it’s topped off with a very light, summery mango salsa. It’s an interesting meal.

Seared Salmon, Wharfside Restaurant

DOTW: What challenges, if any, does working at a fine dining establishment in a theatre provide?

PH: Being theatre-oriented, we’re restricted to the timelines by which people dine. Therefore, when they come in, we have an hour to have all of their meals out to them. Which puts a bit of a restriction on the way things are done in the kitchen but with speed and agility and planning yourself out well, it is accomplishable. It’s just not easy.

DOTW: What would you tell someone who had never been to Wharfside? What should people know about Wharfside?

PH: One thing they should now is that the staff here at Wharfside are all very friendly, they’re all very approachable. Be prepared that we are a theatre, so we could have anywhere between zero to 250 guests at any one given time. But it is well worth coming down – the food’s great, the people are great, the atmosphere is great and all of the shows are absolutely wonderful.

DOTW: Why did you choose the Mars Bar Cheescake recipe to share with DOTW readers?

PH: I’ve chosen this one because it’s not so over-the-top. Everyone likes a bit of decadence now and again, and this is a nice way to have it without overpowering your sweet tooth. It has a nice balance between the tart of the lemon zest with the richness of the Mars Bars. And you can swap the chocolate out with any of your favourite chocolate bars.

Chef Paul's Mars Bar Cheesecake

Mars Bar Cheesecake


250 g plain chocolate biscuits
120 g butter, melted

3 tsp gelatine
¼ cup hot water
500 g cream cheese, softened
½ cup caster sugar
½ cup thickened cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lemon (small), zest and juice
3 Mars Bars (thinly sliced)


Crush biscuits in food processor or with the end of a rolling pin until it resembles fine crumbs. Add melted butter and stir to combine. Press biscuit mixture into base and up sides of a 20 cm springform cake tin. Refrigerate.

Dissolve gelatine in hot water for 3 minutes then beat until thick and white. Add castor sugar and cream and mix well. Beat in the cream cheese, vaniall, lemon rind and juice until smooth and fluffy. Fold in sliced Mars Bars. Pour cream cheese mixture over biscuit base. Tap the cake tin gently to even out mixture. Refrigerate for 3 hours to allow cheesecake to set properly.

Dining at Wharfside

Wharfside Restaurant is open for pre/post theatre dining for every performance at Circa Theatre. Reservations are recommended, please call 801-7996.

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