Darren’s fast-food revolution

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Pluck and luck: Queenstown chef Darren Lovell inside his new restaurant, Love Chicken, an idea he's been hatching for almost 20 years

At the age most people start thinking about saving for retirement, Darren Lovell changed countries and careers. He talked to Tracey Roxburgh ahead of opening his restaurant, which is full of love, at Queenstown Central today.

 

Twenty years ago Darren Lovell was a print journalist living in Hollywood, rubbing shoulders with A-list celebrities like Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and Robin Williams.

Around the same time he read a book which ultimately inspired a new restaurant he’s built from the ground up, opening on Saturday.

As a teenager in Brisbane, Lovell says he wanted to be either a chef or a journo, but in those days a chef was someone who “cooked fish and chips at the golf club”.

He was instead shipped off to university to become a member of the fourth estate and was working for the Brisbane Mail on a general news beat when he got his first taste of Queenstown during an Air New Zealand junket in the mid-90s where he learnt to ski.

By 1998 he was living in Los Angeles heading up New Ideaand TV Week‘s office there, where he got paid to schmooze.

In the early 2000s, after the internet became “a thing”, he relocated to Sydney and spent four years as entertainment editor of Who Weekly before he decided to put down his pen and follow his heart to Queenstown and the food industry, hoping to one day own a restaurant.

“I look back and I think ‘what the hell was I doing thinking of changing careers at the age of 36?’

“I didn’t know the first thing about cooking in a commercial kitchen, so … I got a job washing dishes at what was then called Pier 19, earning, like, $10 an hour.”

Lovell says it wasn’t long before he asked co-owner Vicki Onions if he could come in, in his own time, and make the soup of the day.

“If I started at 10am, I’d get there at 8am and make the soup … every day I did something different; I never repeated myself for a whole summer.

“That’s how it started.”

He had a meteoric rise through the ranks and within a year was second-in-charge.

Trying to save money to build a house, he decided to get a second job, washing dishes at Fishbone.

It wasn’t long before then-owners Mike Hill and Paul Stevenson hired him as their head chef.

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tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz