Hopgood’s Restaurant or as everyone calls it ‘Hopgood’s’ is a restaurant you can rely on to deliver great quality food and service every time, something that is very difficult to do in any business let alone a hospitality business.
I first met Kevin Hopgood when a friend introduced me to a chef who wanted some advice on where to get local wines for a new restaurant he was opening. It only took me a few minutes to realise Kevin Hopgood knew what he was talking about, he knew what he wanted to achieve and all I had to do was give him the names of local wine producers who made wines that would work well with his style of food. When he contacted those wineries he was welcomed with open arms because this is the style of restaurant that serves food designed to enjoy with great wines, a restaurant where the whole dining experience is important not just the food.
So what is the secret? I think it is the vast experience Kevin has garnered over the years as well as his commitment to fresh, quality produce and well trained staff that adds up to a successful Nelson restaurant. Mentoring young chefs to achieve great things is important to Kevin.
Food is something that has always excited Kevin, he started is cooking career in the UK at the tender age of 17 with a year at catering college. His first job saw him working as a junior chef at the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) in London’s Pall Mall, just a block behind the Queen’s London home, for two years where he cooked classical French style food.
His next job had him working the very modern restaurant of the time, L’Escargot in Soho. Owned by Martin Lam and Jancis Robinson (MW), his passion for wine and food matching was ignited. Being inspired by a top chef and a Master of Wine for three years was invaluable experience for a young chef.
Kevin’s first experience in a Michelin Star restaurant was at Rue St Jacques inn Charlotte St, London with Gunter Schlender where he worked in the fish section for two years before moving on to Rules, the oldest restaurant in London. This is where Lilly Langtree used to date the king of the day, using a secret passage in the restaurant to access a private dining room.
The opportunity arose to work for the Roux brothers Albert and Michele Roux senior as their protégé at Le Gavroche, he trained with them honing his skills before they appointed him as a relief head chef in various restaurants they owned. This saw him cooking as head chef in many of London’s finest hotels and restaurants, the Roux brothers obviously had faith in his talent.
Kevin was approached to run a restaurant in Charlotte St with the doyenne of London dining Elena Salvoni in 1992. Elena had retired but was bored so two months later opened a restaurant called Elana’s L’Etoile (means the stars in French). The then almost 70 year old Elena and Kevin worked together as maitre de and head chef for 10 years before he moved to NZ.
During his time at Elana’s he won the Wedgewood Chef & Potter competition in 1998 from more than 200 chefs entered. The prize was worth some 15,000 pounds and included a full set of monogramed glasses, a 12 piece setting of Wedgewood crockery and 10 days at the stunning Le Toussrok resort in Mauritius. This trip became his honeymoon after he married Jane in 1999 and the Hopgoods moved their young family to Nelson, arriving on the 1st January 2005 and establishing Hopgood’s Restaurant in October that year.
One of the things that makes Kevin Hopgood very proud is the success many of the chefs he has mentored over the years have achieved. A recent review in Melbourne says “Matthew James, Melbourne’s first and only Michelin trained chef to offer MasterClasses in the comfort of your own kitchen reigns from London and has been classically French trained by some of the best Chefs in the world, Jacques Rolancy, Albert Roux, Kevin Hopgood and the renowned Gordon Ramsey”. Luke Dale-Roberts of Cape Town’s The Test Kitchen which was given the prestigious ‘One to Watch’ award at the 2013 San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards. British born Luke has appeared twice in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants during his time as Head Chef of La Colombe, taking it to 12th place. Luke has a strong Kiwi connection; one of his early mentors was Le Roux Chef Kevin Hopgood.
Kevin Hopgood’s skill as a chef and mentor is recognised in many corners of the globe and we are very lucky indeed to have this quiet, unassuming man running one of the finest restaurants in New Zealand right here in Nelson where he gets immense satisfaction employing staff and seeing them succeed, being part of a strong community, seeing his family grow up, being able to bump into suppliers and customers in the street and knowing where the food and wines he serves come from.