Car salesman to international Chef

Market gardener, car salesman, chef, adventurer – what next?

Having worked his early years on his parents’ market garden followed by a few years selling cars and then a stint in the corporate world, Lindsay Thorpe was beginning to feel a bit bored – what to do with life.

“I had worked for myself for 18 years. Then a friend said to me – you’ve only 15 years work in you, why don’t you do something you really like – cooking,” He said. “I’d topped our cooking class at Otaki College and always loved cooking. I have all my grandma’s and Mum’s recipes.”

With a bit of advice from top chef, Ruth Pretty, he took 18 months off and went to the Weltec cooking school. There he topped the class of 2010, which won him a scholarship for six months specialising in patisserie – everything baked from biscuits and breads to cakes, desserts and pastries. “This rounded off my skills and knowledge.”

During his training days, he worked part time at Traffic Café and Bar, with Sam and Mark Burgess.

“I did a Saturday night dinner for Kapiti Island Tours for their end of year do. There were 25 to feed,” Lindsay said. “After a beer with them, Minnie Clarke asked me if I’d like to cook on Kapiti Island. I jumped at that and started within the week.”

The following year in 2011, friends in the States were organising a yachting cruise and were looking for crew for the trip from Mexico to Tahiti, Kath joined husband Lindsay on that trip. “That’s when I discovered I didn’t get seasick – important for a chef on a boat!”

From Tahiti it was straight back to the mania of Auckland and the Rugby World Cup, cooking for 400 at 11 games, including the final, over seven weeks. For bit of quiet, he went back to Kapiti Island over summer 2011–12.

While there Lindsay met two staff members from the research boat ‘Heritage Exhibitions’ who had just finished a season in the Antarctic and were heading to Russia for the Northern winter. “They discovered I had experience working at sea and they liked my food!” They contacted their head office, but someone had just been hired for the Russian season but they told me to keep in touch.

They came back with an offer for the summer of 2012–13 and he did two trips to the Antarctic – five months at sea, cooking three meals a day seven days a week!

“That was baptism by fire! It was very rough 25 out of 30 days at sea in the southern ocean,” he laughed at the memory. He did seven more trips to the southern ocean and around the sub-Antarctic islands. “It was very, very hard work, away from home and working those hours.”

Next it was time to set up for the Russian trips – eight two week trips around the Arctic Circle, Wrangle Island back to Wrangle Island. Visa requirements meant the season had to be split in half and employ two chefs – one each half season.

“I did the first half. I’ve done two seasons in Russia and just about to start the third, Kath’s coming with me this time as my sous chef.”

He’s been back to Kapiti this summer and is about to escort 10–16 American tourists on a two week tour around New Zealand as tour leader, followed by two weeks around Australia with Overseas Adventure Tours. Then it’s two more NZ tours.

Come March 20, it’s back to Christchurch to load 15 tonnes of dried and frozen supplies – meats, cereals, fish, everything needed for seven months on board for 50 passengers and eight staff, providing three meals a day. This season ends on August 3 in Anadyr Eastern Russia, where they get a charter flight to None in Alaska before flying back home to NZ.

There have been trips through the Pacific between seasons, Papua New Guinea-Solomon’s to Vanuatu for four weeks, This year they leave from Tauranga for six weeks in Yokohama and the “Russian-Ring-of-Fire – the islands above Japan, through the Sea of Okhotsk and the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Bering Sea. Last year, he took two charter trips to Berringian.

On his first Russian tour, the ship was involved with the Birds of Russia project tracking migrating birds and looking for the spoonbilled sandpipers. “When first counted in 2000 there were 2000 pairs, but only 56 pairs remained in 2012. We were looking for more nesting sites and camped in the tundra for 10 days. Quite an amazing experience!”

As for the rest of the family, Kath has completed 22 years working with Ruth and Paul Pretty and is now joining Lindsay on his next Russian summer tour. Son Tom has been a surf lifeguard with the YMCA and Big Bear for three years and is now studying at the Southern School of Natural Medicines in Melbourne, working towards being a naturopath. Daughter Meg has recently returned from the States where she was a student and ballet dancing. She’s home for a gap year and currently working at Commonsense Organics in Paraparaumu.

By Margaret Andrews