Entering the sleek black doors leading into Wanaka’s conscious dining restaurant Ode is like stepping into the future with its stunning marble bar stretching across the room and the black timber and leather décor stylishly on point.
But that’s where any similarities to a traditional restaurant end. Instead, the wide-open kitchen serves as the hero of the room, an unexpectedly calm focal point where an audience can watch an artist at work.
The redefined yet relaxed atmosphere is exactly what acclaimed chef Lucas Parkinson wanted to achieve when he and his partner Larissa McDonough developed Ode, a conscious and ethical restaurant specialising in organic, sustainable and innovative cuisine.
Lucas says Ode isn’t just an experience for the senses, it’s an awakening of the mind.
Its flagship eight-course menu encompasses the best produce from the region, from the buttery walnuts picked from a 180-year-old Luggate tree to the wild Fiordland venison and the “orgasmic poached pears” from Ettrick.
The progression of the menu tells a story, a triumph over adversity narrative which begins with the fire that devastated Ode in August 2018 and ends with the jubilation of its reopening in July 2019.
Although Lucas’ expertise in complex cooking techniques, flavour combinations and presentation are integral elements of the eight-course experience, the foundations of it were built on the couples’ strong environmental, health and social ethics. The wine list, curated by Larissa, suggests only world-class biodynamic and organic varietals.
Lucas and Larissa are passionate about generating change and believe eating local, organic and sustainable produce is one way that everyone can decrease their footprint for a healthier planet.
“Ode has only 1.8 per cent food wastage compared to the typical industry level of 15 to 30 per cent,” says Lucas. “We all need to do our bit in living a more sustainable life and mitigating climate change. As well as the health benefits, it’s important people turn to organic to preserve the soil for future generations. Eating organic produce which is sourced locally helps to slow the effect of global warming because there’s less carbon usage in the growing and transportation of it.”
Each dish of the eight-course experience is a work of art with various tastes, colours and textures working unpredictably in sync. Lucas personally delivers plates to diners and details the ingredients, their origins and how they are best enjoyed.
It is this human connection, as well as the care and respect shown to every single ingredient, that raises Ode to another level. The restaurant is a catalyst for meaningful conversation, not just over dinner but in the days after dining.
“Food is our art form and each plate is an ode to the Earth, the present and the future.”
Community wellbeing and social responsibility are important aspects of the holistic Ode experience.
Throughout the year the restaurant participates in various philanthropic events and collaborations, with more than $20,000 raised to date for charities including Kahu Youth, Everybody Eats and Garden to Table.
Lucas has successfully adopted the Dine by Donation initiative established by renowned New Zealand chef Michael Meredith. Diners are asked to pay what they feel is fair for a “trust the chef” three-course menu with all proceeds going to charity.
Garden to Table is a non-profit charity which is particularly close to Lucas’ heart. The programme provides hands-on experience for children to learn to grow and prepare their own food and Lucas himself runs Garden to Table workshops at Hawea Flat Primary School.
“We have 250,000 Kiwi kids that go to school without lunch every day and if they can learn to grow, forage, preserve and cook their own food these children will never go hungry and it breaks the negative cycle,” he says. “It’s really special seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces and their sense of achievement.”