Warren McKenzie fell into teaching after his career as a chef took him to Australia, England, and Brazil. He sees when people have a natural understanding of how food comes together and loves helping them unlock that talent.
Warren became interested in cooking from a young age, and credits his mum’s great baking for influencing him.
“For my eleventh birthday party I wanted to put on an eight course meal for the family. It didn’t end too well, but even at that age I had an interest in cooking,” says Warren.
Warren got his start in the industry as a kitchen hand and it didn’t take long for him to get involved in food preparation. He went on to train as a chef at Whanganui Polytechnic (now UCOL) before landing a job at Auckland’s Copthorne Hotel. After a couple of years there, he moved to the renowned Cin Cin on Quay.
“Cin Cin on Quay was one of the top restaurants in New Zealand at the time. It was really popular for fresh oysters and had the first ever wood-fire pizza oven in the country.”
Warren then took his skills overseas, working at restaurants in Sydney and a hotel in England. Between English summers, he travelled to Brazil to learn about churrasco, a South American style of barbecuing meat over charcoal.
“I really enjoy charcoal cooking and using open fire because the fire is in control and you’re just working with it. It adds another dimension to cooking and you need to be thinking ahead.”
Warren’s first taste of teaching came while working at the International College of Management, Sydney (ICMS), where he oversaw the catering for functions.
“We had students working alongside us, so I kind of fell into teaching through that. I started feeling more of a buzz about cooking again because I was teaching and interacting with the students.”
While at ICMS, Warren also had the unique opportunity to lead pre-season cooking workshops for the Manly Sea Eagles rugby league team.
Warren joined the UCOL team not long after returning to New Zealand in 2012, and currently teaches the
New Zealand Diploma in Cookery (Advanced). For him, the best part of the job is how he and his students can learn from each other.
“I like to learn from my students, whether it’s about food or life in general. We have a lot of international students so I’m always open to new ways of doing things. I just enjoy getting to know people and connecting with them.”
A UCOL highlight for Warren was when he won two categories at the 2013 New Zealand Culinary Fare.
“Competitions have never been a focus of mine, but it gave me a thrill to do that and be in a situation where I wasn’t in control. Even though I had been cooking for many years, I felt nervous!”
Away from work, Warren loves making sourdough breads and pizza, and even built his own masonry oven at home to cook them in.