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Josh Helm – beekeeper & restaurateur

Posted by BC on


Josh Helm and Tom Hishon are leaders in an exciting new generation of Auckland restaurateurs. They take eating locally and ethically to a whole new level at Orphans Kitchen, which is partly the reason they attracted so much attention in the recent Metro Peugeot Restaurant of the Year Awards.

Dumping his carry-on luggage to lug 20kg of bull kelp back from a wild South Island beach to Ponsonby Road for their Root to Petal vegetarian month is just the kind of thing that won Tom Chef of the Year in the awards.

Tending their own beehives on the building’s roof, foraging around the local neighbourhood and supporting the Kelmarna organic community gardens would all have counted towards the whole Orphans Kitchen ‘family’ attracting the runner-up position in the Supreme Award for Restaurant of the Year.

When he’s not up on the roof, Josh – co-owner with Tom – seamlessly manages front of house and the restaurant’s beguiling wine offering. He provided us with some perfectly succinct answers to our questions on how it all came about, and where they want to take it.

Was it always your dream to own your own restaurant?

No I wanted to be an accountant, believe it or not. But after university I was certain I didn’t want to be an accountant anymore so went on my OE and after a lot of soul searching, I knew I wanted to do something with wine …

How did the idea of Orphans Kitchen come about?

The idea came about over many a long black and vino with my mate Tom Hishon. After we told too many friends and family what we intended to do, we felt the pressure to actually walk the walk and not talk the talk.

Describe Orphans Kitchen for us in one sentence.

Unadulterated food and naughty wines.

Tell us a bit about your recent Root to Petal project, and other initiatives you’re involved in.

It was a month focussed solely on vegetables. We gave them the same level of dignity that is so often bestowed on a prime meat cut. Of course the social and sustainable significance of how we eat hadn’t escaped us either. We hoped that diners were inspired to elevate the vegetable in their cooking at home too. We did an Orphans BBQ last Sunday at Kelmarna Gardens to help fundraise for these community gardens to stay open. If you haven’t been to Kelmarna, go and check it out – it’s an organic oasis in Ponsonby!

Running a restaurant is a tough job. What makes it all worthwhile?

Customer satisfaction. It’s also a great feeling knowing that you’re doing your bit to make Auckland a better city.

What constitutes a good wine list to you?

It must be interesting and different, and challenge the customer. Affordability is also thrown in for good measure.

What is your personal favourite food and wine match?

My favourite wine match is not with food but with an open fire in winter. There’s nothing better than sitting in front of a crackling fire with a great bottle of wine to contemplate life.

What is the restaurant’s signature dish and what is your perfect wine match for it?

We don’t have a signature dish; our food keeps evolving. If we had a signature dish we would be resting on our laurels.

Can we ask you to match a wine supplied by Planet Wine to a dish on your menu?

The Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage we have on goes with many things, but right now it goes down well with our potato dumpling dish. The dish comes with a seaweed, black garlic and mushroom broth, braised bull kelp, crispy bull kelp fronds, mushrooms and black Burgundy truffles.

We’ve also got their Terras Gauda O Rosal Albariño on our list.

Which are the most popular drinks in the restaurant at the moment?

Pinot noir and pinot gris, sadly. Come on people!

How did your relationship with Martin and Planet Wine begin?

I had the Kanonkop Pinotage at Apero on K Road. I’d worked a year in South Africa in the vineyards and fell in love with South African wines. This was the first decent South African wine I’d had back in New Zealand … The rest is history.

What is it that you appreciate about Planet Wine as a supplier?

Without blowing smoke up Martin’s arse, he is a great human being. It’s a bonus he sells farking good plonk.

Which wines/regions are currently under-represented in NZ (and could be an opportunity for Planet Wine)?

Natural wines. Interesting and different wine styles, like sous voile.

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