The Warnes family

As our series on fascinating families continues, the food-loving Warnes tell us what whets their appetite for good living, naturally.

Take one ambitious 20-something chef, add a pretty and smart young female colleague, marinate for eight months in a hot, hectic professional kitchen and you've got a recipe for something good... something really good.

Victoria and Elliot met while working at Auckland's Hammerheads Restaurant. Elliot quite liked the look of the new girl so he asked the sous chef to put Victoria on his roster. Three months later they were an item.

Fast forward 12 years and they've swapped those heady days of working hard and playing harder, for a family of three boys, and their own newly opened business - Vevo Café in Auckland's bush-clad Titirangi.

It means, instead of the anti-social hours restaurants demand, they now have an income that lets them work hours to suit the family. Although they admit the kids were affected for the first few months as they got the venture off the ground, employing a live-in au pair has helped ease the burden. Plus they're lucky to have both sets of grandparents living just two minutes on either side of them.

Couple time for Victoria and Elliot has been on hold for a while, but they say they're now getting more free time and love to go out for dinner "to high class restaurants to bask in the ambience and luxury".

A night out at a five-star restaurant is a far cry from the craziness of life at home with three boys. There's soccer-mad Oliver, the always effervescent Vincent, and baby Joel - the strong, silent one.

Victoria admits she'd love another baby "especially a little princess", but for now their plate is pretty full.

Raising food lovers
Issue 18Family1As you'd expect, food plays a big part at the Warnes' house. Victoria and Elliot do their best to give the kids whole, natural foods, and try to retain the nutrients "by not over-cooking or using a microwave".

There's a treat after dinner, but that's a healthy option too - fruit and yoghurt rather than ice-cream. As Victoria explains,"Add a dash of sprinkles and they're amazed!"

"But that's not to say these food lovers don't have the battles that all parents face.

Victoria says, "I always thought that with both of us being chefs our children would grow up eating anything put in front of them but sadly that's not the case.

"Oliver is a great eater now, but it took some time. He'll always try something once, but not necessarily a second time. Patience is the key, if they try a little of something every night they usually grow to like it in time."

The two older boys spend a lot of time in the kitchen. They can both make scrambled eggs and love to bake.

Elliot would like the boys "to grow up immersed in food because cooking is such a great skill to have and like anything it's easier to pick up if you start early".

In winter you'll even find the family out foraging for mushrooms in their local park.

Victoria grew up on a classic Kiwi diet - meat and three veg - but come the weekend a teenage Victoria and her sister had the task of cooking for the family. She quickly found a home in the kitchen whipping up lasagnes and moussaka.

Elliot remembers he and his brother making oatmeal pancakes and bran muffins. But the revelation came watching the TV show Chef starring British comedian Lenny Henry. Elliot says that show made him want to be a chef, he went to AUT and, after graduating, fell into a job. At just 25 he was Executive Chef at two of Auckland's award-winning restaurants - Ottos and Tribeca.

Elliot believes working in a professional kitchen sets you up with some great life skills: "You learn common sense, how to work well under pressure and how to manage personalities."

You might think it's all good practice for being a dad to three rambunctious lads, but Elliot jokingly admits parenting is quite different from being a head chef where you have to "babysit a bunch of idiots". 

The high-flying couple spent a year living and working in Melbourne, before returning to Auckland when Victoria was six months pregnant with Oliver.

Back to basics
Victoria holds some strong views on healthy eating  during pregnancy. Admittedly she was blessed with pretty easy pregnancies and didn't have any real morning sickness.  But the only change to her diet when pregnant was to cut out wine. "The joys of having a chef husband too is that you get the freshest fish and high-quality meats. I ate raw fish and my meat medium. People were shocked to see me eating blue cheese, but I think women now over-think being pregnant. I believe if you eat seasonally and not out of a packet then why change a thing?"

Elliot and Victoria may have spent many years serving up some of the finest food in Auckland, but for now, they're cooking up a recipe for great family living - a thriving new business and three happy healthy boys. And hopefully a little more time to smell the rosewater cupcakes.

See the Warnes' fabulous ways to liven up a classic family meal-time dish of baked beans.



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