David Napier brings a wealth of experience to his role as a cookery lecturer at UCOL | Te Pūkenga – from London’s vibrant culinary scene to owning his own restaurant and becoming an Executive Chef in the Maldives, David’s career has been filled with exciting experiences.
Driven by his love for food and wine, David’s culinary path has led him from Hawke’s Bay to London, where he honed his skills working for top chefs at the Mandarin Oriental and the Berkeley Hotel.
“I had the opportunity to work in two Michelin-starred establishments like Heston Blumenthal’s ‘Dinner by Heston Blumenthal’ and ‘Marcus’ by Marcus Wareing. It was challenging work, but it was incredibly rewarding, and I gained a lot of valuable experience for my career,” said David.
Returning to New Zealand, David purchased the Christchurch restaurant he was once a Sous Chef at, Saggio di Vino, at the age of 23. With support from his talented staff, the restaurant later won a Cuisine Chef Hat award in 2017.
“It was a massive learning experience for me. I was quite young at the time, and I owned a high-performing fine-dining restaurant with 25 years’ worth of trading history to live up to. I went from being a chef hiding in the back, to becoming the face of the restaurant. It came with a lot of pressure and responsibility to deliver.”
David was also busy building connections within the wine industry and later represented New Zealand on the global stage in the World Blind Wine Tasting Challenge hosted by Vin de France Magazine in Burgundy.
“I was joined by some amazingly talented New Zealand Sommeliers and we were placed 4th in the world as a result,” he said.
After owning his own business, David received a job offer to become the Executive Chef in the Maldives where he operated five restaurants across a 5-star resort called Kandolhu.
“We earned the number one hotel in Asia on TripAdvisor and the number two hotel in the world. It was a massive achievement.
When COVID-19 hit, David started thinking seriously about returning to New Zealand.
“I came back to New Zealand for six months at the start of the pandemic for the birth of my son, but returned to the Maldives shortly after to assist in opening the resort to back up guests.”
“With my family and a house back in New Zealand, I realized that I needed to start reassessing my priorities and what’s important for my family,”
Returning to New Zealand once more, David started consulting for local restaurants before taking up his role at UCOL.
Inspired by his experiences and a desire to make a difference in the industry, David joined UCOL as a cookery lecturer in February 2023 with a goal to enhance the training experience for aspiring chefs and give back to the industry that shaped him.
“I’ve been chasing status and lifestyle for a while, but it’s not all about the extrinsic rewards in this career, it’s about what feels right for me and what I can do to give back to the industry. That’s the main reason I came to UCOL.”
David aims to create a supportive and engaging learning environment where students can discover their passion for cooking and develop practical skills.
“I have some course material that I’m trying to customize to fit my specific group of chefs. I’m trying to make sure I cover what everyone wants to learn and give them the skills they need to reach their own career goals, either locally or abroad.”
“As a lecturer, I’m on the younger side at 31, but I still believe in showing off a selection of important, traditional dishes along with more modern, industry-relevant techniques.”
Wanting to make a lasting impact on the industry, David plans to embed himself at UCOL for a while longer.
“When I undertake a responsibility, I believe in giving it my all. I know there is still so much for me to learn when it comes to teaching at UCOL and I look forward to refining my mentoring skills and empowering the next generation of chefs.”