Centro in Takapuna has a new head chef. Johannes Carroux has been in the job only a month but he’s already launched a new menu – one that’s he’s aiming will make a big impact.
The breadth and depth of the new flavours reflect Johannes’ background. Trained under two-star Michelin chefs in Germany and with scholarships in Spain, he confesses an obsession with flavours, flavour combinations and sauces, second only to his obsession with plating.
He started cookery when he was 17, in Hamburg, with an apprenticeship at the prestigious (five star) Hotel Louis C. Jacob. From year two of his apprenticeship, this clearly talented youngster was creating an amuse bouche to start the menu, which he says helped him to be creative as his career progressed. He then met the man who became his mentor, Johannes King, and went to work for him at a five star hotel on Sylt, a German island in the Frisian archipelago in the North Sea. With Johannes King’s encouragement he applied for and won a scholarship to spend a year in Spain where he worked at three different Michelin starred restaurants before returning to Sylt.
Johannes rose to the position of senior chef de partie, responsible for a “complex and beautiful” French and Scandinavian inspired menu. Thoroughly immersed in fine dining and exquisite cuisine, he then moved to Dresden, to work for another Michelin starred establishment. At about that stage, he realised that in “chasing his obsession for food, he had forgotten to live”. Chasing a better work/life balance, he travelled and cooked his way around Australia before arriving in New Zealand where he immediately felt at home and knew he wanted to stay.
Work here has included helping develop the menu at the newly opened Ostro and serving up to 500 covers a day, then moving to Olaf’s Artisan Bakery and Café. About three years ago, he created and started the much-praised Rosebank Coffee and Kitchen.
Gradually, he says, he’s understood that while fine dining is “beautiful”, there is equal art in fusing fine food with “more ease”. Rosebank Coffee and Kitchen was the start of that epiphany; it’s a philosophy he’s taking to the next level at Centro, where he has also had total control of the development of Centro’s new menu that launched in January.
He’s aiming for “the ease of café food, plated artistically, using high quality ingredients sourced locally. I work it technically to remind people of fine dining, but without the degustation formality.”
Johannes wants diners to enjoy their meals at Centro, yet feel that each dish is an example of fine cuisine. He hesitates when asked to recommend specific dishes, then says, “Our avocado is amazing.” And indeed it is. Smashed and served covered with fine slices of pineapple and apple, and accompanied by salted buffalo curd, peas and a delicately piped sauce, it’s served with sourdough bread and sous vide eggs. Delicious.
He also recommends the Chirashi salad, a Japanese take on the now-ubiquitous poke bowls, with lemon-marinaded quinoa and barley, edamame beans, miso, and kumara, topped with miso-glazed fish, and bonito flakes. Then there’s the Clevedon buffalo bocconcini, with heirloom tomatoes, greens, pickled pears and a watermelon daquiri granita. Most of the main menu sounds equally delicious; most is or can be gluten-free and/or vegetarian. There’s also a kids’ menu. And if you really can’t choose from the main menu, there’s a make-your-own-breakfast menu.
Choosing drinks may be equally challenging. Centro offers a wide choice of coffees and “urban blend lattes” (chai, beetroot, green matcha…) as well as iced coffee options, a selection of teas, and a range of smoothies and cold-pressed juices as well as more standard kombucha and juices, all of which include a taste twist that takes them beyond standard café fare.
With Johannes' extensive experience and fine dining obsession behind everything that comes out of this busy and very public kitchen, Centro looks set to change more than a few perceptions around the expectations of “café” food.
Centro, 447 A Lake Road, Takapuna 09 200 2277
Open weekdays 7am-3.30pm; weekends and public holidays 8am-4pm