09 January 2012

New at Circa: Encore Bar | Restaurant | Cafe

Get to know the face – proprietress Jacinta Saeki – behind Encore, the new bar, restaurant and café at Circa.

Jacinta Saeki, while working for the Ambassador of Norway in Tokyo.
DOTW: Please tell us a little bit about your background in the food and beverage/hospitality industry.

JS: I was born in South Australia to a Japanese mother and Ukrainian father so I grew up eating food from contrary cultures. Although my father had a simple palate he passed on his love of food to us by regularly taking us to the Central Markets (in all its abundance and glory) and night fishing (where I learnt to gut my first fish). My mother is a Classical Japanese Dancer so multicultural festivals were also part of my annual diet and exposure to international food and cultural arts.

I spent four years in a convent in Sydney between the ages of 9-13 where I first learnt how to really cook. Much to the contention of the other girls I was always chosen for kitchen duty and even evaded going to mass to tend the ovens during Easter and Christmas baking phases. A talent was born.

A Jacinta Saeki cake.
After returning to Adelaide my mother bought a Japanese restaurant and at 15 I started working there as a waitress, learning all about the family business and the long hard hours that it required. By the time I hit hospitality school post high school, I pretty much knew my way around a restaurant and bar and went on to working front of house for several years in hotels, cafes and restaurants.

I wanted to be an artist. I was good at drawing, drama and music but was deflated when I failed a dance audition to get into a performing arts school. That year I started in earnest in the kitchens at work and discovered that a plate could be a canvas. By the time I was 21, I was head chef at Kibbi’s Cafe Hyde Park and never looked back. I met Matt, my dear Kiwi husband, and we travelled to Melbourne, Wellington and then onto Tokyo where I was the Chef De Cuisine for the Ambassador of Norway, who gave me creative license (the best job ever!) to cook for some very distinguished guests.

We decided to return to NZ a couple of years later to raise our 8mth old daughter away from the smog and big city living she was born into. Since then I have worked part time here and there, ran a catering outfit and worked ad hoc as a personal chef. In the last several years I have set up Motoko Aotearoa Health through Education Foundation which offers cooking and art workshops for community groups and youth at risk. The best role has been raising my three tamariki. They have certainly helped me hone my birthday cake making skills!

A Jacinta Saeki cake.
DOTW: What are your thoughts about theatre dining?

JS: I think what a fabulous opportunity to complement the performing arts with culinary arts. They share parallel values and feed the soul.

DOTW: What is your vision for Encore? What can patrons expect overall?

JS: I want to provide a place where patrons feel welcome, where they are greeted with a smile and get great service. A place that doesn’t mimic the general Wellington café service scene, but rather sets a benchmark for others to follow.

The food has to be excellent but affordable with room to be creative and complement the shows. Using local produce and healthier raw ingredients we will be making most items on the premises from scratch and supporting artisan suppliers where we can.

I’d like to support NZ winemakers and brewers and offer quality off the beaten track beverages. Fair-trade, real trade and organic will feature on our menu and winelist.

I expect the best from my staff and the best for my customers J

Chocolate box of chocolates by Jacinta Saeki.
DOTW: What do you anticipate will be some of the most popular menu items at Encore?

JS: Well, I had been making some of the counter food last year and so far my spinach and cheese rolls, apple/raspberry crumble slice and tiramisu seem to be the house favourites. Once Don (Chef Donavan Hamilton) comes on board (back from the UK working as Sous Chef in one of Peter Gordon’s London restaurants), I’m sure between us there will be a whole range of delicious things coming out of our kitchen for the restaurant, bar and cafe.

DOTW: How does it feel to partner with Circa Theatre?

JS: I am very excited to partner up with a team that has such a wide range of knowledge and experience. I’m sure that our strengths will complement our work together to enhance Circa Theatre’s fabulous entertainment with wonderful hospitality.

Encore Bar | Restaurant | Cafe opened on 3 January for the 2012 season of Aladdin, with bar service and counter food. The full restaurant will open on 21 January with the opening of The Motor Camp, and the daytime cafe will commence 22 January. For full restaurant information, including hours of operation, please visit www.circa.co.nz/site/Restaurant. To make a reservation, call 801-7996.

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