Mel Jean-Pierre Huang is ready to take local catering in new directions, with his love of cooking and rich background in world cuisine

The taste of new beginnings

by Andy Bryenton

Dargaville’s newest catering service comes courtesy of a recent arrival to the region who is reinventing his career with tasty consequences. Mel Jean-Pierre Huang refuses to back down from challenges and says he is inspired by his love of food.

“I love cooking; it’s therapeutic for me,” says the Singapore-born Kaiwaka entrepreneur with the newly launched catering business. “You need a lot of love in your food, to make it tasty and to communicate a passion for cooking to those you’re serving.”

Culinary skills are a natural talent for Mel, who, in his first line of work, was a mathematics teacher. Coming to New Zealand, he learned that he’d need to resit all his education exams to teach, so he started at the bottom of the food industry, as a kitchen hand at Ponsonby’s famous Chapel bistro.

That passion for cooking shone through — soon he owned his own cafe.

Two businesses later, and now in trendy Birkenhead on the North Shore of Auckland, problems with a leaky building and a landlord unwilling to maintain it meant that for the second time in life, Mel had to start from scratch.

A love of the outdoors and nature saw him move north. “Dargaville is a beautiful place. So green and surrounded by the natural world,” he says.

It was a big move, and to support it Mel worked harvesting kumara, as so many locals do in the booming season. This influx of workers was to prove a pivotal topic when Mel’s eye was badly injured, and he could no longer work in the fields.

His case manager at the Ministry of Social Development noted his 14 years of culinary experience and mentioned that a chance to cater a forthcoming MSD event, focussed on local and seasonal employment, could be the chance to start afresh. The results were, to quote one patron ‘next level’.

Another said ‘this spread would be expected at a red carpet event in Hollywood’.

So, with a commercial-grade kitchen to use, Mel has launched his catering business.

He’s available for weddings, parties, corporate and sporting events, and can tailor a menu, which blends European, eastern and fusion cuisine elements to fit any taste and budget. Find him at mjph2608@gmail.com.