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Masterton chefs rated with Wellington’s best

Koji Restaurant chef Lizzie Rogers and executive chef and owner Johnon MacDonald. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Masterton-grown chefs are featuring among Wellington’s best in hospitality. Koji Restaurant, owned by Masterton-grown Johnon MacDonald, is a finalist for the Most Outstanding Restaurant at the Felix Wellington Hospitality Awards.

Koji is up against established venues in Wellington, including Ortega Fish Shack, Rita and Amok.

MacDonald opened the restaurant in March this year with his partner Kat Shand on Majoribanks St, Wellington.

“We’ve only been open eight months but we’ve had great reception from the hospitality community and from the public.”

The Felix Awards are nominated by other hospitality workers.

MacDonald fell in love with Asian food when he worked in Sydney aged 17.

“I found it a lot more technical than other foods. Trying to balance the flavours, the salty, sweet and spicy.”

Before MacDonald opened Koji, he was an executive chef at award-winning restaurants in Australia.

The former Makoura College student believed in being a good employer.

“Looking after staff is the most important thing.

“I want the guests to walk into the place and feel a sense of freedom. No matter what’s going on in their lives they can have a bit of fun.”

Koji’s chef Lizzie Rogers is also in the running for Emerging Chef of the Year.

The former St Matthew’s student said the feeling hadn’t sunk in yet.

“I found out about three weeks ago. I still can’t believe it.

“I got a message on Facebook saying I’d been nominated and I was like ‘is this for real?’ is this a scam? Then my friend told me congratulations, and when I went to work my manager gave me a hug.”

The awards will be announced on September 11.

She said it was exciting to be part of the awards with other chefs who she looked up to.

“I’d heard of the Felix awards. The people who get nominated are usually very professional, been in the industry a long time.

She called the Felix Awards “like the Oscars but for hospo”.

“I’m looking forward to getting dressed up.”

Rogers has been a chef in Wellington for four years, but her journey began as a kitchenhand at Strada Cafe.

“While I was doing the dishes I kept thinking I want to be a chef. I worked alongside Aaron and Tori, I learnt a lot from them.”

Since training at Weltech, she worked at Portlander, The Hippopotamus in Wellington, and Paris Butter in Auckland. However, she knew Asian cuisine was her calling.

“I met a chef at Portlander, he was a Kiwi who had worked in Australia, but he knew how to cook amazing Asian cuisine. I kept thinking that I wanted to do that.”

Helen Holt
Helen Holt
Helen Holt is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age and enjoys reporting on a variety of topics, regularly covering Wairarapa events, tourism, local businesses, and the occasional health story.

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