Mat McLean shares his favourite things about the Waikato

A nudge from his mum and a burning desire to get out of Hamilton and head overseas pushed Mat McLean into the hospitality industry.

Looking at him now in his classy Hamilton restaurant Palate, a successful chef and polished professional, you would suspect a passion for food was fostered from an early age.

He left school with no particular direction in mind, took on various jobs, then did an electrical pre-apprenticeship. An accident put paid to taking it further.

"I was off work for a long time until mum gave me a bit of a prod and I started looking at courses at Waikato Polytechnic. I chose hospitality mainly because I wanted to travel."

Front of house sounded ideal, beverage credentials would guarantee bar work overseas. "But I really enjoyed cheffing and got more and more into it. I liked the strategies and the teamwork, and I've always been a real night person – you need a lot of energy for that."

The course was well structured, and he took inspiration from outstanding tutors from all over the world.

"I couldn't boil water when I went to polytech. I remember cooking a roast when I was flatting in the early days and calling Mum and getting her to talk me through it.

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