Waikato district's Profs @ Woodland's Cafe celebrates one year as a favourite cafe spot for locals and visitors.
When Hamilton couple Kate and Allan Wilson decided to swap their long-established careers to run a cafe, it was predictable that many people thought they'd gone bonkers.
Allan was an electronics engineer and Kate was an intellectual property strategist, the managing partner of intellectual property law firm James & Wells.
The Wilsons share what Kate describes as "an intense obsession with food" that began when they were newly married and working at Ruakura Agricultural Research Centre. They'd buy cheap-as-chips meat packs from the centre's abattoir and they taught themselves how to turn unfamiliar cuts into tasty meals.
Fast forward a few decades to greater culinary experience and skills, and they've happily reinvented themselves in the hospitality industry.
Exactly one year ago they took over as owners of the cafe in the glorious grounds of Woodlands Historic Homestead, near Gordonton, on the outskirts of Hamilton.
They rebranded the business as Prof's @ Woodlands, they refurbished the charming cafe building on the edge of a cricket oval, they introduced a menu bright with seasonal produce and creative flavours, they gave the cabinet food a thorough makeover, and they did the same with the beverage selection.
On this Wednesday morning Kate sits outdoors at Prof's talking about "a year in the life". She says although she and Allan had prepared thoroughly for their switch to hospitality, they found the reality didn't quite match the theory. It was more complex than they'd imagined.
And there are some things that you just can't prepare for: they were burgled in their first week, the thief stripping their chiller ahead of Sunday breakfast service. They coped under pressure, and got a warmly sympathetic reaction from customers.
A few weeks later, on their first hugely busy Mother's Day, their barista rang in sick. Allan and staff member Simone stepped into the breach.
Kate says that while they've always enjoyed play-time in the kitchen as a family, the customer demands and compliance requirements of a commercial kitchen are so much greater than perfecting the taste and technique of a home-cooked meal. "There's a huge difference in cooking at home and cooking here."
Prof's kitchen is headed by chef Matt Armitage. The Wilsons' son, Ben, a trained chef, cooks part-time, as does Allan. Kate runs front of house and works with the team on menu development. Daughter Rebecca, who's just completed a genetics degree, is a dishy and waitress.
Kate and Allan's aim, always, is for delicious food and excellent service. They sous vide their beef so it is meltingly tender and can be quickly seared for rustic sandwiches. Salmon and chicken are smoked in-house, they use a pressure cooker for a tender, flavoursome lamb tagine, and they grow their own herbs and edible flowers.
Prof's @ Woodlands is celebrating its first anniversary after a year of ups and downs.
Future plans include opening a second city-based Prof's cafe and launching their own condiments range, starting with their chilli jam (see recipe).
Kate says their greatest pleasure is seeing customers relax, laugh, enjoy the food and the unique family-friendly surroundings at Prof's. They love good feedback, and get plenty of that.
The worst occasions are when they don't get things quite right. "Seriously, it kicks us in the guts."
Would they do it again? Yes. "It took longer than I thought to get up to speed. It's a different life but a good life. And it's great for us to have a project to work on together."
PROF'S CHILLI JAM
Makes 2.5 litres.
40 dried red chillies
4 apples, cored
4 cloves garlic, peeled
750ml white vinegar
500ml tomato sauce
Remove chilli seeds to reduce heat if desired. Whiz chillies, apples, garlic and some of the vinegar in a food processor. Pour into a pot with remaining ingredients. Cook for an hour and ladle into sterilised jars. Keeps for months in pantry. Great with cheese, pork fillet, poached eggs, homemade pies, savoury muffins.
- Profs @ Woodlands, 42 Whitikahu Rd, Gordonton, ph 0274690694; profs.co.nz.
- Open seven days for breakfast, lunch and refreshments, plus quiz nights on Fridays.
Image source: TOM LEE/FAIRFAX NZ