Peter Gordon

Peter Gordon

Peter Gordon

Often described as 'the godfather of fusion cooking', New Zealander Peter Gordon has been championing international flavours in the UK since 1995, with food that holds flavour and texture, rather than tradition and provenance, as its central tenets.

Peter Gordon, who is of Maori and Scottish descent, was born in New Zealand – a nation of migrants where 'we didn’t have great food traditions', as he describes. Although the food cooked at home was simple, he was raised in a family where everyone was involved with cooking. Their vegetables were grown in the back garden – 'we kids each had our own patch and we were competitive gardeners' – their eggs were from their own hens and meat carcasses were butchered in the garage. Spring and summer saw them on the beach 'to help bring in the fishermen’s nets' and the kitchen was always well-stocked with local seafood. Peter spent a lot of time in the kitchen with his mother, who preserved much of their bounty, but it was his grandmother’s more formal food and presentation that helped him realise 'the importance of a proper meal'.

His 1981 move to Melbourne, with its mix of Asian and European populations, signalled the beginning of Peter's passion for world flavours – 'suddenly there were Vietnamese, Burmese, Ethiopian and Italian foods'. It also saw him enter the kitchen for the first time. Working in a restaurant, he saw all the chefs in their whites and concluded 'that’s what I want to do'. A four-year cookery apprenticeship in the city’s restaurants followed, then a year travelling around Southeast Asia where he further developed his love for fusion ingredients.

In 1986 he returned to New Zealand, setting up the kitchen of the original Sugar Club restaurant in Wellington. Three years later he moved to London, working in several UK restaurants before establishing the Notting Hill Sugar Club in 1995 and a second Soho branch in 1998. These restaurants were acclaimed by many, but for some traditionally minded reviewers it was viewed as a little contentious, with some raising authenticity objections to his fusion cuisine. He left these restaurants in 1999 to pursue solo projects, before opening the now legendary Providores and Tapa Room in 2001, which sadly closed in August 2019.

Peter still has restaurants in his native New Zealand and he is involved in many different food and drink projects, both as a consultant and investor. He has seen off his detractors with every new success and was awarded Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit – the New Zealand equivalent of an OBE – in 2009 for his skills as a chef and restaurateur, but also his tireless fundraising for leukaemia research.

Since 1999 he has held an annual charity event, 'Who's Cooking Dinner?', which brings together chefs such as Tom Kerridge, Marcus Wareing and Angela Hartnett to raise money for leukaemia research, an issue close to Peter’s heart since successfully donating bone marrow to his sister. Together with restaurateur Chris Corbin, they have raised over £5 million (and counting!). He is also patron of RAFT (Restoration of Appearance and Function Trust) which helps pioneer treatment for skin-disfiguring conditions and injuries, an issue which also has personal resonance in Peter Gordon’s life since suffering horrific burns after pulling a pan of hot fat onto his head aged seven.

Peter Gordon has also found the time to write nine cookbooks and contribute to at least a dozen more. He both writes every word('I love the process of writing, but it’s a hard slog') and tests the recipes himself in a domestic kitchen – no small feat for a man with so many other demanding projects on the go.

Often described as the godfather of modern fusion cooking, Peter Gordon’s food reflects the reality of today’s globalisation. 'Fusion food takes, as its starting point, the belief that any ingredient, from any part of the world, has the potential to be cooked and eaten.' He rejects the fixed notion of traditional food – the idea that real British food, for example, is only what was cooked in an imagined past – a fiction that belies the reality of historical exploration and trade, colonialism, immigration and the widespread pollination of foodstuffs, far away from their true place of origin ('culinary xenophobia', as he describes it).

Peter points out that 'Worcestershire sauce, which is a very traditional British condiment, has tamarind in it – which is a very Middle Eastern and Asian ingredient. Yet we don’t consider the sauce a fusion dish'. It is worth noting that we Brits also have the Peruvians to thank for the potato, as just one example. Flavour and texture are the elements that drive Peter’s fun, playful cuisine, rather than provenance: 'I don’t come from a long line of foodie snobs and like to have fun with flavour.'

Although this doesn’t mean that Peter’s food is characterised by eye-watering air miles – his restaurants source the most interesting ingredients from around the world – 'the global pantry is my inspiration' – but these are served with the very best of seasonal, local produce. Sustainability and high animal welfare are of crucial importance and his restaurants have been recognised in the sector for their commitment to these important principles.

The future for Peter Gordon is one of exploration and learning. Having travelled through Central and South America for inspiration, as ever he is on the look out for new tastes and textures 'just waiting to be discovered'. While The Providores and Tapa Room may now be closed, we certainly haven't seen the last of his inimitable cuisine in the UK.