Interview: Sue Fleischl

Sue Fleischl – the culinary mastermind behind The Great Catering Company, has yet another string to add to her bow as the creative director behind Auckland’s newest boutique venue - Abbeville Estate.

Concealed from even the most curiously inclined, the beautifully restored heritage-listed buildings on the Estate offer the opportunity to tailor the most extraordinary events, whether it is an unforgettable wedding or an outstanding corporate function.

Opening at the end of the month we had the chance to chat with Sue about the gorgeous venue and her passion for it, and food:

When did your love affair with food begin?

When I was 11 years old, in form one at Napier Intermediate School. I loved our cooking classes. (I was not very good at sewing classes) Something just clicked for me…

How did you become involved with the Abbeville restoration project andwhat was it that drew you towards it?

It was 2 years ago that had a very memorable phone call from Sean Thompson from Auckland Airport Property asking if I would like to look at an old house and barn they owned. That triggered all sorts of images, interest and excitement!

How long did the restoration take and what was the biggest triumph?

This has been a 2 year project, lots of meetings and planning with a highly efficient team of people. The biggest triumph was seeing the old to new transformation.

Tell us about the inspiration behind the landscaping of Abbeville: The brief that was discussed with the garden designers was –

• To have flat open spaces for large marquees (yes the power is in place as well)
• Colour in the garden all year
• The ability to pick flowers/produce all year
• Easy walking access between spaces

What sort of occasions can the venue be used for?

The possibilities are vast as Abbeville has different spaces on offer– weddings, funerals, birthdays, corporate entertainment, conferences, concerts, wine/food festivals, art exhibitions, Christmas parties, car launches…

We hear the Estate has a resident pigeon living in the barn! Does he getinvited to all the parties?

Mr Hoo is a real interesting character. Not your everyday pidgeon. He greets me as I arrive; sometimes he follows me around, and lets me know when he is hungry. He rules the estate! The builders of the last 18 months named him.

Are you still hands-on in the Great Catering Company kitchen?

I would love to be! I am really in my element when I have my hands in the raw ingredients. My chefs are great at coming up with new ideas that are in the style of the business. I have a fantastic head chef who I can easily communicate with. I am honestly - busy with clients, decision-making, and finding new roads for business direction.

Cooking for the Royal Family…. On a scale of cool as a cucumber to fish out of water – how nerve-wracking was it?

Cooking for the Metro restaurant of the Year Awards is far more nerve wracking than cooking for the Queen! Royalty want simple, tasty, easy to eat food. They never complain and are always gracious. Lets say we simmer along nicely… The food is the easy part, getting the service right is the challenging part.

Your favourite ingredient is:

Any one that is/has worked with me will love this – good quality salt! I want everything seasoned to the nth degree. I truly believe that salt and acid brings out the flavour in food.

What has been your most triumphant dish at an event, and your biggest disaster?

Triumphant – There have been many
• a twice baked goat cheese and garlic soufflé for over 200 people
• Steamed banana puddings with butterscotch sauce
• But recently it has been interesting flavoured macaroons, baby chocolate mousse, rolled Pavlova. Old fashioned but perfectly cooked with little twists…

Disaster – This was years ago - when I didn’t know better… I was asked to cook fish and chips in a mobile kitchen for one hour to an unknown audience for the annual Fish and Chip Awards in Aotea Square. Why on earth did I accept this challenge? It was myself and one other chef. The queue went down Queen St as it was advertised on the radio! NEVER again!

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