Mark Hartstonge, executive chef at the prestigious Wellington Club, 49 years old gets up early to work the breakfast shift at the club on weekdays because after thirty years in the business he still gets a big buzz from providing service and having happy customers.
“Many of the people who come to eat at the club have been customers for years,” he says, “following me around from place to place wherever I have been working.”
Hartstonge has been at the Wellington Club since 2019 after ten years at Wellington’s Boomrock, a corporate retreat and function venue on Wellington’s west coast, and two stints at Dockside, a seafood restaurant in the old harbour, and a spell at the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club restaurant before it was sold to Martin Bosley.
He likes his new gig. “I enjoy the challenge. I have 16 chefs under me, and we do à la carte, breakfast, lunches, dinners, cocktail parties and special dinners.
“The work is varied and with 1,500 Club members, the pressure to perform is constant. I have been here for two years and I feel I am just starting to hit my straps.”
The members are very pleased with him. Immediate Past President of the club, and well known Wellington bon vivant, Brett Newall says members are delighted with his work.
“We are continuously impressed by the day-to-day fare, catering for business lunches, cocktail parties, private dinner parties and the outstanding meals produced for the Club’s large events.
“Mark’s passion for seasonal produce from excellent suppliers is a tribute to the links he enjoys with them. It’s always a special part of an evening if he agrees to come out to receive deserved acknowledgement of his and his team’s efforts. His modest nature makes this something of a mission but he has thankfully become more relaxed about discussing his work in recent times.”
Mark’s an Otago farm boy, a boarder at Otago Boys High School while his parents lived and worked overseas for the BNZ variously in London, Fiji and Sydney.
“When I finished at OBHS I wanted to get into tourism. I loved hospitality and food, so I studied tourism at the Otago Polytechnic and in 1991 I was working at the Gardens Park Royal in Queenstown as a trainee manager.
“I did a three-month stint in the kitchen as a kitchen hand and I loved it and so carried on with the cooking thing because I loved food.
He then moved to Wellington, working at Death by Chocolate as the dessert presenter, followed by five years as the commis chef at Wellington’s Shed 5.
At 21 he found himself, head chef, at the Greta Point Tavern, and then worked for five years at Dockside from 2004 to 2009 “during its best days,” Mark says.
After three years at Keelers restaurant at the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club, the next move was ten years as head chef at Boomrock, a retreat on Wellington’s west coast he describes as “extreme experiences in an exclusive location.”
“It was an incredible place to work. Johnny Eastwick, the owner, was passionate about quality and we were doing 50 weddings a year, sometimes back to back. Guests flew in by helicopter. I particularly remember a Russian billionaire who came in from his luxury yacht.
“I have cooked for a few celebrities. At the Wellington Club, there is an endless stream of dignitaries. Denzel Washington came to Dockside, and at Boomrock, I had Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr.”
Mark loves anything fresh. “I love seafood; we get it fresh twice a day. At home, I like anything that is good quality: wagyu beef, Bostock chicken. I live by myself so I keep it simple. Often dinner is a nice piece of steak on the BBQ.
“I admire Rick Stein – I love his style of food, fresh, natural, uncomplicated and tasting great. For me, it has to be high quality and then keep it simple.”
Mark is still keen to expand his skills.
“I’d like to hone my skills in breads and baking generally. A group of us (chefs) get together regularly and swap notes, talk about trends and discuss new products. Wellington is a great place for sharing.
“We change the menu regularly in the a la carte restaurant, and the hardest part is coming up with new ideas all
the time. Dietary requirements are a massive thing for chefs these days. If we have a hundred covers, there might well be 20 different dietary requirements.
“Veganism is huge and growing and plant-based diets are surging in popularity. I just love my work. I love the buzz of service.”
- First published by Hospitality Business – November/December 2021