New Zealand cooked up a ‘best-ever’ incentive itinerary exploring the country’s finest fare for the foodies of JOEY Restaurants.
New Zealand is such a unique country and we found a lot of ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities there, especially in terms of hospitality. It made the choice easy.
Elysse Chaffe, JOEY Restaurants
Every two years the North American company takes a group of its chefs and general managers from Canada and the West Coast of the USA to different parts of the world. The objective is to educate and inspire them with different foods and culture they can bring back to their restaurants, as well as recognising and rewarding the JOEY team.
The 60 JOEY staff members flew from Vancouver or Los Angeles to Auckland, before setting up ‘home base’ in Glenorchy, near beautiful Queenstown.
A warm welcome
The group were greeted with a traditional Māori pōwhiri welcome ceremony, before the men of the group were taught to perform the haka (war dance). “Then we had a hongi (greeting involving the pressing of noses). People really enjoyed that unique welcome into New Zealand.”
Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat (one of TIME Magazine’s 2019 World’s 100 Greatest Places) is set between two soaring mountain ranges, a glacier-topped peak and beautiful Lake Wakatipu.
“The setting was fantastic, and there was an excellent variety of different activities around Glenorchy that we could use for team building,” Chaffe says. “The venue allowed a group this size to all be in one place, plus the fact we had a kitchen we could use was great.”
Chaffe worked with local incentive and events specialist HQNZ to come up with a number of special food experiences and food challenges combining the area’s natural environment and history.
- Making Rēwena bread, a traditional Maori sourdough bread. This version was made with a potato starter that is 100 years old and has been in the host’s family the whole time. The bread was then used for the lunch the JOEY Chefs prepared for their team.
- Visiting a local High Country farm for a guided tour of the woolshed, and learning about Merino sheep, wool and the family history of the farm, followed by a lunch of lamb chops on the BBQ and local beer.
- A workshop on growing vegetables in a bio dynamic and sustainable way. The guests also learned how to make homemade teas, before gathering greens for the evening’s dinner.
- A visit from a local honey expert, a beehive learning experience and honey tasting to explore some of New Zealand’s world-renowned honey.
- A fishing excursion trawling stunning Lake Wakatipu for salmon and brown trout for the evening’s meal.
“They took these amazing raw ingredients and we made some incredible meals,” Chaffe says.
Putting down roots
While half of the group enjoyed the food challenges one day, the other half participated in local activities: exploring with Funyaks (inflatable canoes) on the Dart River, or jet boating and a 4WD experience. The groups then swapped the next day.
The third day started with an exhilarating ride on the Shotover Jet - “That was a great way to wake them up!” - before a trip to Akarua Winery in the Central Otago wine region for tastings and activities.
Leading up to the trip JOEY had built a business partnership with Akarua to serve their award-winning wines in JOEY restaurants.
“We got to plant vines in their new vineyard, which was an amazing experience,” Chaffe says. “Now we have this story we can tell our customers and guests in North America; that we went to this winery and planted the vines. We have that depth of knowledge, that relationship, which is unique.”
The view from the top
Afterwards, the organisers sprung a surprise on guests. Expecting a bus trip back to Glenorchy, a detour for a pretend “break down” took the buses to O’Connell’s Point, where they were instead met by helicopters.
“Everyone was blown away. The cherry on top is that we did a peak landing, with everyone enjoying bubbles from the winery at the top of the peak. We had people at the event crying, it was just breathtaking.
“A lot of people in our group have grown up together in the business but don’t get to see each other very often. To have an experience like that in such an incredible setting was very special to them.”
Chaffe notes the bonding element was greatly cemented at Glenorchy. “Often when we do these incentive trips people are in hotel rooms and there’s not really a spot to be together. At Camp Glenorchy, after we made our own meals, the group got together to wash the dishes. And we had a camp ‘Talent Show’. This event was really fun, really team-oriented.”
The next stop was Auckland, where guests were taken down to the Viaduct Harbour before boarding America’s Cup Yachts and sailing across to foodie haven Waiheke Island.
The group was divided into six cars and travelled across the island visiting renowned vineyards and restaurants for drinking and dining experiences, including Cable Bay, Mudbrick, Te Motu, and Stonyridge.
“The wine and food was incredible - the fresh ingredients, the creativity, it was great. Waiheke was a real highlight.”
Guests were then transported to an Auckland airport hotel for a quick getaway on their early morning flight out.
A triumph of teamwork
Chaffe says guests keep saying “this has been the best trip yet”.
She adds: “The experience of working with the right people makes a real difference.
“The fact that Tourism New Zealand supported me with a familiarisation trip before we did the programme really helped. Being able to see things first-hand was so helpful. We had initially planned to hold our itinerary in the Waikato, but when I discovered Camp Glenorchy it was just the type of venue we were looking for so we shifted the itinerary so we could stay there!
“The focus here wasn’t on spending top dollar, but on bringing together the best experiences for this group, and enabling that teamwork and connection. It totally showcased Kiwi hospitality.”