Michael Hazelwood

Ones to watch: Michael Hazlewood

by Tom Shingler 06 November 2015

We sat down for a chat with Michael Hazlewood to take a look at his career so far, how his new position as head chef at Soho’s Antidote is going and what he misses most about his native New Zealand.

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Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

Michael Hazlewood has come a long way from the boy who only ever ventured into the kitchen to try and steal sweets. Growing up in Wellington, New Zealand meant his childhood was relatively easy going, sports-obsessed and left plenty of time for getting into mischief. After being ‘politely asked’ to leave high school, Michael – or ‘Hazle’, to his friends – got a job washing dishes in a café. At first, he saw it as nothing more than a way to make money; he had never been particularly interested in professional cooking, growing up on a diet of peanut butter, fish and chips and Chinese takeaways. But when Michael was promoted to making the sandwiches, he started to enjoy himself. ‘I ate pies and sandwiches all day,’ he explains. ‘The place was right in the centre of Wellington and a proper working man’s breakfast café. I worked hard and played hard.’

This taste of professional cooking marked the beginning of Michael’s career, and he worked tirelessly to rise through the ranks of the culinary world. He eventually got a position at Attica in Melbourne (widely regarded as Australia’s best restaurant) where he met Ben Shewry – a mentor who had a huge influence on his career. ‘I learnt a lot from Ben,’ Michael tells us. ‘But I think his style has evolved hugely since I left. He taught me a lot more than just how to cook. When I take a look at my kitchen, the team and how the people who work for me behave, there are so many things that relate back to Ben.’

Duck hearts at Antidote
One of Michael's dishes at Antidote
Antidote wine bar
Some of the wines available at the restaurant

Michael’s next big move was to London, where he was thrown into the deep end of the city’s food industry with a position at The Ledbury. He kitchen-hopped his way around places like Soif and The Green Man & French Horn, taking in all the lessons and experience along the way, with the aim of embarking on his first solo venture. This came when he met restaurant manager Alex Thorp, and the duo opened Toasted – a small, relaxed venue in East Dulwich.

By this point, Hazel had honed his cooking style and knew what made a great dish. All his recipes at Toasted were produce-led, with ingredients being sourced from small-scale farmers and micro-growers. The dedication to nature and its bounty also dictated the wine list; instead of bottles, the restaurant had four large, steel tankers, filled with natural wines direct from the source. It received rave reviews, and Michael started to make a name for himself in the UK.

After Toasted, Michael worked stages in Lyle’s in Shoreditch and Hedone in Chiswick, where he got to know Mikael Jonsson, the chef-consultant at Antidote, a wine bar and restaurant in Soho. In August 2015, Mikael offered him the role of head chef; he accepted and instantly set to work incorporating his produce-led ethos into the menu.

Antidote’s dishes are served as small plates, a concept which has taken the capital – and the rest of the UK – by storm. It’s something Michael thinks works very well. ‘Small plates are so popular for a lot of reasons, but price is obviously a factor,’ he explains. ‘I think people enjoy trying different things, instead of just tasting a large one-dimensional main.’

I ate pies and sandwiches all day. We were right in the centre of Wellington in a proper working man’s breakfast café. I worked hard and played hard.

Michael Hazlewood

Antidote Wine Bar
Michael Hazelwood
Michael at the pass
I’ve turned partridge into a dish that completely relies on four ingredients – partridge, orange, endive and raw ceps – and each one has to be absolutely sublime.

Michael Hazlewood

One of the deciding factors in appointing Michael head chef of Antidote was his dedication to using the best ingredients possible – plenty of which the restaurant has access to. Game in particular is something the chef has been eager to put on the menu. ‘It’s taken a few years for me to get into partridge,’ he says. ‘I never really liked it but promised myself I would really try it properly this year. I’ve turned it into a dish that completely relies on four ingredients – partridge, orange, endive and raw ceps – and each one has to be absolutely sublime.’

He may have travelled to the other side of the world, but in doing so Hazel has made a name for himself as one of London’s most exciting up-and-coming chefs. While he misses his family and the laidback, generous people of his home country, he runs a relaxed kitchen that’s full of energy, passion and a happy, easy-going vibe – much like his youth in New Zealand.