Content created in partnership with Honest rum
We’re big fans of the work (and words) of food and beverage creative Sam Low, who’s written for us previously on the flavour of love. A welcome returnee to Aotearoa after a scholarship to study with David Chang was scuppered by Covid he brings passion, excitement and a breadth of knowledge back into the country. Sam shares with us a childhood spent on a wok, and his love of coffee - and rum.
Tell us a little about your background – what you do now, what you’ve done in the past?
It all starts from a very young age for me, having parents that spent most of their career in hospitality and food production really did influence the professional and cultural choices I have today. My earliest memories of growing up in an Asian household in Fiji were in my parents noodle factory (yes, I grew up around the production of noodles) and working the woks from a very young age.
Before I was old enough to work legally, I would help out my parents in their Polynesian takeaway in Mangere town centre making Polynesian Chinese stir-fries and working the deep fryer and wok for Baine Marie service. If I wasn’t at school I would be doing this.
After high school I was lucky enough to complete a food and beverage apprenticeship at SkyCity Auckland which helped me dabble in pretty much every food and beverage item served in hospitality. The field that really piqued my interest was coffee. The lack of public knowledge and information attached to coffee made me curious to find out more about the product and industry.
After my apprenticeship I got a job at Atomic Coffee in Kingsland as a junior barista and slowly worked my way up to head barista. During this time I was encouraged to compete in National coffee competitions organised by the NZSCA (NZ Specialty Coffee Association), where I had the opportunity to focus on the mastery, develop my palate, understand the influences that terroir (growing conditions) had on agricultural products and be able to present these masteries to an audience.
I was lucky enough to be able to represent NZ multiple times on the world coffee stage in different disciplines, latte art being one of them (pretty patterns on top of the coffee). I’ve represented NZ twice in this field and both times placed in the top 10 in the world, competing in Gothenburg, Sweden and Nice, France.
In 2015 I moved to Melbourne and obtained a job as a coffee trainer for Code Black Coffee where I learnt a whole lot more about the industry and objectifying flavour on a universal scale. I competed again in the New Zealand Barista Championship (think mixology bartending mixed with quick fire cooking and a Sommelier competition, rehearsed and presented on stage for a panel of judges), which I won and went on to represent NZ in the prestigious World Coffee Championship in Ireland.
After 2 years in Melbourne I moved back to Auckland and worked as an operations coordinator at Mojo Auckland. Being back in Auckland I got to dabble in my latest passion; Chinese food cooking/gastronomy and I started a Chinese pop up restaurant concept where I took over cafes, bars and restaurants to hold one off services promoting the awareness of Chinese gastronomy, food and culture. This ran for about a year and a half before I moved to Vancouver in 2018.
Being in Vancouver taught me a lot about the early integration of ethnic communities into a predominantly western society. Witnessing the influence of this on the food scene and other industries has opened up my mind on the potential of the future of cuisine in multicultural cities.
After being in Vancouver for a year, I moved back to Melbourne to be head barista trainer for Code Black Coffee. During this timeI spent about 8 months researching and preparing for the next barista championships hoping to represent NZ on the world stage again, however this was cancelled due to Covid.
That same year, 2020, I had won a cooking scholarship in Italy to cook and learn with David Chang at the Culinary Institute of Slow Foods and Gastronomic Sciences in conjunction with Air BNB, however due to Covid-19 this has been cancelled as well.
This year marks my 10th working in the coffee industry where I’ve accomplished many personal achievements and goals. I got to represent NZ on the world competition stage 3 times in different countries. I was titled the NZ barista champion in 2016 and two time latte art champion in 2013 and 2015.
What do you do now?
I’m currently a freelance food and beverage creative, working with different brands that align with my ethos and ideology. I'm working with De’Longhi NZ as a brand ambassador and several others.
I’m also a private coffee trainer for cafes and businesses that want to further their team knowledge and skillset by having me go through training programs I've created over my years in the coffee industry.
What have you been working on recently?
I have been networking and meeting new people to potentially get some work that would be ideal for my career growth.
I am also potentially planning to do more contemporary Chinese pop up events selling food that hopefully sparks conversations and destigmatise the negative connotations that’s associated with Chinese gastronomy.
Coffee is your passion, and obviously Melbourne is extremely coffee proud. How would you compare it to Auckland and Wellington?
The biggest difference would be population size; the large amount of people in Melbourne allows the hospitality industry to try new ideas, concepts and create more niche coffee shops that cater towards the coffee connoisseurs - such as black coffee only espresso bars, or coffee shops serving a multitude of single origin coffees from a frozen coffee selection list. (Similar to picking wines from a menu, but instead it's coffee that’s been preserved via freezing and vacuum packed, then brewed on demand).
NZ coffee culture is majority milk-based coffee drinkers and with the history of “strong” coffee (usually dictated by the very concentrated espresso and low volume of milk in a small vessel), most roasteries have their coffees roasted relatively darker to give the milk based drinkers a perceived “stronger coffee”, with mostly mallard flavours (sugar browning flavours such as chocolate, nuts and caramel notes).
The options for lighter style roasted coffees are far more accessible Melbourne and allow consumers to enjoy a lot more of the fruity characters in black coffees. However there are a good handful of roasteries in NZ that are giving us the best of both worlds, lighter style options and darker “stronger” milk based coffees.
Very tough question: who does the best coffee here in Auckland?
This question is too tough to answer haha! But the approach to coffee and the people at Candyshop in Newmarket make it my go-to place for coffee.
Favourite food and drink places in Auckland right now?
So many places to choose from! Dominion Road in general is a place every person who enjoys food needs to go at least once a month. Top of the list there for a large group of diners is Go Go Music Cafe, serving northern Chinese cuisine – get the spicy chicken with hand pulled noodles and large lamb skewers. They might make you tear up with the high spice levels but mostly it's tears of joy. Oh and the décor is rodeo cowboy themed!
Ramen Do has a place in my heart for some of the best ramen in Auckland.
Selera’s laksa and fried prawns coated with oats are to die for!
Other favourites are Depot at SkyCity (oysters, fresh seafood, crispy pork hock and sugar pie to finish, can't go wrong). Pici, Celeste, Hugo's Bistro and Clay are serving up some pretty good simple food with a killer wine list focusing on natural, minimal intervention wines.
Satya Chai Lounge for a powerful punch of Indian flavours, great ambiance and extensive beverages that aren’t commonly found in establishments focusing on authentic ethnic cuisine
Some pretty amazing Cantonese roast meat establishments are a must mention on my list; Golden Jade on Manukau Road, Huami at SkyCity and BBQ Duck Cafe in the CBD are roasting some crispy pork, BBQ pork and ducks that could challenge places in Hong Kong and China.
Places doing some of the best Yum Cha in my opinion would be Lucky Fortune in Three Kings and Pearl Garden in Newmarket.
How did you discover Honest Rum? What did you like about it?
I discovered Honest rum from hopping around and seeing different renowned hospitality establishments stocking them on the shelves as well as through various channels on Instagram. The incredible packaging was what made me stop and take a look at their product closer. The closer I looked the more I started to fall in love with the product, the ideology of the brand and the flavours, which are incredibly complex yet delicate. It was the perfect rum to either drink on its own or mixed into interesting cocktails.
What memories do you associate with rum?
My usual spirit of choice isn’t generally rum because they’re usually quite heavy, too sweet or not complex enough. I've always remembered rum for being a mixer spirit for very intense and sweet cocktails. I feel like people are starting to pay a lot more attention to rum nowadays and doing great things with it. With Honest, choosing the right botanicals and balancing it makes it so much more than the preconceived notion of “rum” I’ve previously experienced with the spirit.
Favourite way to drink Honest rum?
I love this rum on its own served with a nice big ice cube. However through several experimentations Honest rum in coffee cocktails is phenomenal, as hot or cold, including the classic espresso martini.
How would you incorporate coffee into a rum cocktail? Favourite recipe to share?
Rum works so well with coffee, especially Honest rum. In fact I won a Coffee and Spirits competition hosted by the NZ Specialty Coffee Association not too long ago. Here is a recipe that I won the competition with:
30g Single Origin Brazil Espresso (or any not acidic espresso)
10g Montenegro Amaro
10g Dark sugar simple syrup
25g Honest rum
20g coconut water
Shake everything with 3 large cubes of ice until foamy and very cold, double strain and serve.
Do you like entertaining at home? Do you have any great tips on what makes the consummate host?
I love entertaining at home! In fact it's one of my favourite things to do.
My tips would be to prep prep prep! Do as little cooking as possible when the guests arrive, this way you can share drinks, chat and catch up when they arrive so you don’t need to stress if things are going to be okay.
Some things that can be prepped beforehand or the night before are dressings and sauces, drink mix concentrates and par cooking ingredients, especially food that takes a long time to cook like a leg of lamb or pork belly.
Remember if you’re stressed the guests will be too. Also - what is said at the dinner table stays at the dinner table!
Favourite style of entertaining?
It really depends on the guests that are coming. If it were a bunch of hospitality people and mostly chefs, a potluck is always a great time for them to bring something creative and delicious to the table, it always leads to good conversations as well.
I generally just love to cook a large amount of sharing plates in the middle of the table and the guests will just choose to eat at their own pace and go through plates of creations that I've been working on recently.
How do you serve drinks to the guests?
I generally try to start with a cocktail as a pre-drink to loosen up the guests from the beginning of the night; usually it's a cocktail made with whatever I have in my fridge. Most of the time it’ll be seasonal fruits turned into a concentrate and spiced or something that will transition well into the food that will be served. Over the top garnishes are a must.
Content created in partnership with Honest rum