About Lizzie's

white wooden kitchen cabinet near white wooden kitchen cabinet
white wooden kitchen cabinet near white wooden kitchen cabinet

By Kris Herbert for Dish Magazine

When Lizzie de Lambert finishes the day in her busy Christchurch catering business, she walks into the next room, pulls the door behind her and is home.

The idea of uniting Lizzie’s Cuisine with Lizzie’s home was born on the hills above Lake Geneva, where she was attending the La Varenne cooking school with her long time friend and architect David Childs.

“We cooked up this little scheme that I would come home, find the site and he would come back, build the house,” Lizzie says.

The Kitchens of Lizzie de Lambert

Though the hilltop conversation was initially in jest, that’s exactly what happened, because Lizzie soon found that much of the commercial kitchen space available in Christchurch was unappealing. “Lots of kitchens are horrible places to work from – no air, dark, smelly, dirty old.” So Lizzie created for herself something exactly the opposite of those unappealing kitchens on a section in the leafy suburb of St Albans.

The catering kitchen is bright and airy. Screened windows open to Lizzie’s manicured courtyard. From one window, you can see the glint of the swimming pool while the other is a frame of greenery. A semicircle of light shines in from a high wall window. On this sunny day, artificial lighting isn’t necessary. “It had to be a nice space, for the hours you work,” Lizzie says.

As she talks, her hands are busy, cutting, weighing and tying up parcels of beef. Behind her, three staff, including her sister Diane, work from each of the three other workstations. It’s the day before Christchurch’s busy show weekend, and the kitchen is buzzing with preparations for a weekend of catered indulgence for Lizzie’s clients. Order pages for the weekend’s parties, weddings and family reunions line one wall of the kitchen.

I ask if there are things she is particular about in a kitchen and her sister answers for her. “She’s neurotic about mess,” Diane chirps in. “Well, you have to be,” is the response. The kitchen has been designed to dispense with mess quickly - stainless steel benchtops, cupboards of lacquered metallic car paint (which are polished daily), and even the appliances. Lizzie chose the Rosieres Paul Bocuse built in range cooker because she couldn’t stand the idea of an oven on legs. “They’re filthy underneath and how are you going to crawl under there and clean that out?”

A self-confessed control freak, Lizzie designed the size of the kitchen to contain the business. “We never wanted to be a food factory. I’m just too fussy,” she says. Lizzie’s Cuisine uses fresh, organic ingredients as much as possible. They make absolutely everything from scratch, including dressings, chutneys, jams and sauces, and many of the herbs come fresh from Lizzie’s garden.

In the kitchen, tidiness rules. Nearly everything is tucked away – either into the rows of under-bench cabinets or the expansive adjoining pantry and cool store. Organisation is the key to a successful catering business, Lizzie says, and that is one of the skills that she transferred from her first career as a nurse.

Lizzie left New Zealand in the late 1970s to work as a nurse in the UK. From there, she went on to a couple of jobs cooking and cleaning for wealthy country families. When she returned home a few years later, caterer Ann Stanaway encouraged Lizzie to take up catering work. “Basically, she made people phone me up.”

Lizzie carried on nursing while the catering calls became more and more regular. Eventually, she had an opportunity to go to London to do a course at the Cordon Bleu. When she returned, she cut her nursing to two days a week while the catering business was developing. Then, the course at La Varenne solidified Lizzie’s new direction and planted the seed for an architecturally designed home and business in one.

Lizzie’s love of food was instilled from an early age. “My mother was a really good cook and we grew up with really different food. We always had blue cheese in the fridge. Mum cooked bread, made muesli, made yoghurt. We had a huge vegetable garden so we always had nice fresh vegetables. We were quite a big family really and we always ate great food.” Large family meals were always central to family life. “We would always sit and have dinner and talk and eat and that’s still what happens,” Lizzie says.

Cooking all day for a living doesn’t dampen Lizzie’s passion for food. Her personal kitchen is the hub of her home and she uses it regularly to entertain large groups of friends and family. “This kitchen is great when you’ve got friends around. Everyone inevitably gathers around the bar.” The kitchen flows into a large, dining room surrounded by glass and the doors open to the garden and lap pool. One of Lizzie’s other great passions is art. The focal point of the dining room is a steel sculpture by Neil Dawson. Lizzie’s art collection also includes paintings, garden sculpture and a collection of John Parker vases.

When the house was designed 10 years ago, commercial kitchens had to be separate from private ones. That rule has now changed but Lizzie wouldn’t change a thing. “The reality is that it’s actually really nice having a separate kitchen for home and being able to go home, shut the doors and not use this kitchen,” she says. Like having a separate phone line for the business, the second kitchen helps Lizzie balance work and home life. “It’s that whole deal of not working 24 hours a day,” she says, “though sometimes it feels like we do.”

Lizzie’s home kitchen is smaller, and has a few homey touches, but is otherwise very similar. The same cabinets and stainless steel benches, the same Hans Grohe pull out tap and even a second, identical Rosieres double oven. “You can’t come home and use things that are inferior,” she laughs. “The business got all the nice things so then we had to have them at home. We had to have the same tap, which a lot of people told me is hugely extravagant, but I don’t think so. What would I do? Have a crappy one at home and a good one in the kitchen? Because all I’d do is work in the business kitchen.”

Lizzie’s love of food is clearly great enough to fill two top end kitchens – Hans Grohe taps and all.

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