The Vinatta Project's Michael "Kiwi" Camplin on Moving to New York and Cooking in the Old Florent Space

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Photo courtesy Michael Camplin
Just call Michael Camplin "Kiwi."

The Mulberry Project has gained a boozy following largely because of its bespoke cocktail program, which lets imbibers pick several favorite flavors and the bartender does the rest. Complementing the cocktails is a menu of small plates designed for sharing. And now the team behind the Mulberry Project has launched a follow-up venture in the Meatpacking District called the Vinatta Project. We called up chef Michael "Kiwi" Camplin to learn more about the restaurant and what it's been like moving here from New Zealand.

So how'd you get the "Kiwi" moniker?

It's just a nickname that any New Zealander gets. It just comes really quickly. I came to New York four and a half years ago. It was a bit of an accident. A friend of [former Boqueria chef] Seamus Mullen was on a yacht I was working on and asked if I wanted to be a chef in New York so I jumped off the boat and took the first flight here. I didn't grow up wanting to be a chef; I just wanted to be on a yacht.

Do you miss any foods from New Zealand?

I miss everything -- its being small and quiet, the countryside. That it takes two hours to drive anywhere in the country. I miss it, but I'm not sure what it would be like going back if I did. I'd be adjusting from a city of 8 million to a country of 4 million.

What's been your tastiest meal since moving to New York?

Hands down, Daniel. Not only the food but the company. My parents came in from New Zealand and I hadn't seen them in three years. It was beautiful, and they served us so well. My parents are simple people, and they'd never dined out with that kind of service or quality of food.

OK, so on to your cooking. What's the concept of the Vinatta Project?

The concept we want to do is small plates and family-style dining. We have people sit at big communal tables and share the food with their friends. Coming out with the menu, I'm not into one cuisine. It's contemporary American, but it's a bit of everything, with some French items and Italian items. It's just what I enjoy cooking.

You're located in the old Florent space. Did you ever hang out there late-night when you were a chef?

No, I didn't. It closed my first year in the city, so I was just getting acquainted. It's a legend I'm always thinking about. Thinking I've got big shoes to fill.


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