We recently had the privilege of hosting culinary and viticulture legends, Simon and Lisa Levy from INATI, and Edward Donaldson from Pegasus Bay Winery for our second instalment of Amplify: The Creator Series. In this insightful interview, we chat to the trio about their intricate processes, challenges overcome, and the dedication they pour into their crafts.
Kia ora Simon and Lisa, welcome to our Quarterly Edit! As architects, designers, and creators, we share a common passion for design excellence, so thank you for joining us.
Tell us all about INATI – where did the name INATI come from, and can you tell us about the concept for your restaurant?
Lisa: Thanks, great to be here! We are Lisa and Simon Levy, husband and wife and co-owners of INATI.
Located in Ōtautahi Christchurch, INATI translates from Te Reo Māori, 'to share a portion of food or to be exceptional and exciting'.
We designed the concept of INATI with several ideas in mind, bringing the theatre of the kitchen front-of-house. Our guests see the food being prepared and can interact with our team, breaking down barriers or conceptions of ‘formal dining’ - that it can be fun and interactive.
We entertain around our kitchen at home. INATI is an extension of our home, and our desire to ‘invite you in’, cook, entertain and drink wine, as we do at home with friends and family.
It truly is a memorable experience for guests. In your creative process, what inspires you?
Simon: Seasonality of produce, and what is available to use at certain times. Mentors that I have worked with, my team around me, and other chefs. I take inspiration from childhood memories when creating dishes. Food should feel like a ‘hug’ when eating, it should inspire memories of your own.
What does your creative process look like?
Simon: I work on a paper-to-plate creative process. I sketch out ideas by hand, which helps explain my thought process to the team. INATI’s menu is all about heroing what’s in season - and if not in season, we have picked, pickled or preserved these ingredients to be able to use on other plates/dishes throughout the year.
Sometimes being inspired is hard and I do get ‘writers block’, where I struggle to come up with ideas for new dishes. Taking time out of the business, doing something fun with the kids or friends (when the restaurant isn’t open) helps get the creative juices flowing again.
What does a great experience mean to you and your brand?
Lisa: Our brand is all about the experience! It starts from the minute a guest makes a reservation. We make contact via telephone to confirm their booking details to ensure they have engaged with one of our team before walking through the door. Then the experience truly begins. The whole evening with our team, the food, wine, stories, and entertaining our guests all mesh to create the experience of INATI.
To us, a great experience is something memorable, something you talk about and want more of. If it’s memorable like that then it’s great for your brand - people will return time and again for the experience.
When you build a brand, you have key values and a culture and ethos that is important to you, and it becomes important to your team. For us, they have the INATI family, and that experience is just as important too!
Tell us about the importance of partnerships and collaboration?
Simon: These are very important – both personally and to our business. We ensure we choose the right people to partner or collaborate with. We only offer wines or products and produce at INATI where we believe in the brand and the people behind the label, where their ethos is similar to ours - and this has led to many great friendships.
W+M: Hey Ed, welcome to our Quarterly Edit! Your parents founded Pegasus Bay when you were just a young lad, and have played an integral role in the business ever since. Tell us about yourself, and your role at Pegasus Bay.
Ed: Thanks for having me! I’m Ed Donaldson, the third in a line of four brothers who all work for our family business, Pegasus Bay.
Our family moved back to NZ from London when I was just a year old, where my parents planted the first vineyard in Canterbury with some friends after falling in love with wine while in Europe. 10 years later we planted Pegasus Bay, in 1985.
Between me and my three brothers, we were all actively involved in the process – at this point I was 10 years old with no choice in the matter! In later life, I went on to train as a chef and spent a few years going back and forth between NZ and London working in kitchens over there and bringing ideas back to the Pegasus Bay kitchen. Eventually, I took over as head chef and managed the winery restaurant for about 15 years, while also juggling the marketing. As luck would have it, I hired a Maître that eventually became my wife. We’ve been married for almost 20 years now and have two teenage boys. Belinda eventually took over my role with the hospitality side of the business so I could focus full-time on marketing.
Pegasus Bay is now distributed to over 20 countries around the globe. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to see a lot of the world over the years - and more than my fair share of restaurants, bars and airports. My parents are still actively involved - although they have pretty well handed over the reins to us boys now and focus on working closely with our viticulturist and on the extensive gardens around the property.
W+M: Very fortunate indeed! What inspires you in your work?
Ed: Being around interesting people who see the world through a wide lens. Checking out people’s personal style, and music in a big way. Creating spaces that can positively change the way you feel. Entertaining, cooking, and learning about and discovering new wines. Being outdoors and travelling.
W+M: What does your creative process look like?
Ed: Like most people, I have times when I feel really inspired and easily come up with creative ideas, while other times there’s a blank space - as much as I might try. These days I don’t fight it. When it comes it comes and when it doesn’t, I don’t beat myself up about it. The creative side of marketing our wine is the part I enjoy the most. Coming up with a concept for an event or a project of some kind and then seeing it through to fruition is what I find really rewarding.
I have OCD tendencies - so when I do something I generally get quite obsessed with it. I want it to be as good as it can be. I’m not interested in doing something average because that seems like a waste of time to me.
I would say one of my strengths is knowing my weaknesses - so I have made a lot of contacts over the years with people who are exceptional at what they do in their own field, and most of them are good friends. I love working with them to bring a concept to life and giving them space to do their thing. I’m not one to try and do everything myself. I believe in using the expertise of specialists because the results are so much better.
W+M: Completely agree – through collaboration and partnerships is often where you’ll find the best outcomes. Tell us about the importance of partnerships and collaboration to you and the Pegasus Bay brand:
Ed: I think it’s just as important who you don’t collaborate with as who you do. I have learnt long ago that you can’t say yes to every opportunity that comes along. I need to work out if it’s the right fit. It’s not about being elitist; it’s about finding partnerships that make sense to our brands and to our sense of integrity. Coming from a sales background, I can tell when I’m being sold to a mile away - and a lot of potential collaborations are just that - someone trying to sell a concept or an idea to me that alternately has no real benefit, or quite often the opposite.
That said, collaborating with the right people and businesses has a huge upside and can help everyone involved to do something next level that either couldn’t achieve by ourselves. We do plenty of it, and I love the process and seeing where it goes. The trick is knowing a real opportunity from the multitude of offers that have no value or relevance to our business. I guess that’s just the world we live in today. It seems like everyone is trying to sell us something we don’t want, regardless of the industry we are in.
W+M: What does a great experience mean to you and your brand?
Ed: A great experience is just that: GREAT. Not good, or okay, but something exceptional.
I eat out a lot and coming from a hospitality background I know how much work goes in behind the scenes of a restaurant and how much skill is involved in pulling off an exceptional dining experience. It doesn’t have to be a fancy restaurant either. When it all comes together it transports you to another place where space and time disappear, and you’re simply in the moment. It doesn’t take much to ruin this experience - such as a dish being overly fussy, a waitstaff not reading the table properly, a wine list lacking interest, the music being off, or a huge raft of other pieces of the jigsaw puzzle just not fitting together quite right.
While because of personal tastes and preferences it’s just not possible for everyone to have a next-level experience with every wine we make, I at least hope that we can achieve the sensation of space and time disappearing, and a sense of joy and overwhelming satisfaction for the majority of people that consume our wine. I believe our wines are quite generous in terms of being dialled up on flavour and texture and I’m really proud to stand behind them.