London, New York, Tauranga – foodies can savour big-city experiences right here in the Bay of Plenty thanks to local pop-up restaurant phenomenon Kitchen Takeover.

Stacey Jones and Shane Yardley are the creative geniuses behind these unique dining events that sell out within hours of tickets going on sale. The location remains a mystery until an hour before you dine, and the six course menu is nothing short of exceptional.

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“People put so much trust in us,” admits Stacey. “You don't know where you're going, what you're going to be eating or drinking, or who you're going to be sitting next to... and I think people really love the spontaneity and the adventure of that.

“They enjoy the excitement of having something turn up in front of them that they know will be unique, delicious and sometimes a little bit crazy! There’s nothing else like it here. It’s quite satisfying to bring something fresh and unique to the foodies of the Bay. And we must be doing something right as it’s getting really popular.” 

Each Kitchen Takeover event has a special theme such as Hunter Gatherer, Let It Snow (Christmas edition) or Eat Your Memories – and the fully-immersive experience starts from the moment you step through the door. An enormous fireplace with Santa stockings and Christmas wreaths greeted Let It Snow diners, while the Eat Your Memories venue transported you back in time to your Nana’s lounge full of macrame, fringed lamps and vinyl records.

Kitchen Takeover Let it snow Stacey Jones

Stacey’s early career as a marketing executive in London for one of the world’s biggest network advertising agencies saw her work on huge brand campaigns for Nissan, Sony and Tesco.

“That’s where I really learned how to build a story and create a concept, and roll it out through every touchpoint – from the little vintage spoons that you eat your sorbet with at Eat Your Memories, to the garden weed refresher at our Hunter Gatherer pop up – it’s how you create that experience. I worked on some big experiences in London like the Devil Wears Prada premiere so I think that has given me a great foundation.”

Her creativity and organisation skills, combined with her family’s long-held passion for food, prompted Stacey to launch Kitchen Takeover in Tauranga in February 2018. Her UK-based mum, Caryl, is an accomplished Cordon Bleu-trained chef, while her sister, Lyssa, has always pushed boundaries in the kitchen by cooking with unusual ingredients.

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Childhood dinners were often fine dining affairs. Stacey’s earliest food memory is making meringues with her mother and being amazed at how an egg can transform into a white, glossy, sculptural masterpiece.

“It’s a really strong memory for me and my Mum was always really into getting us involved in cooking. We’d make choux buns and pavlovas and smoked salmon mousses and all sorts of crazy things!  

“My mum absolutely loves entertaining; she’s obsessed with it. And she's a great entertainer as well. I do think I get my thoughtfulness around the details from her. She’s very committed to going all out to make sure that it is lovely. It’s a no expense spared, whatever it takes, type approach.” 

Kitchen Takeover’s first event – a Vietnamese banquet – catered for 24 diners for one night only. Now, over 1000 tickets fly out the door and each pop-up runs for two months’ duration.

Kitchen Takeover Shane Yardley

While Stacey takes care of the overall event experience, the food is truly the star of the show and that’s just how she planned it. Renowned New Zealand chef Shane Yardley is the man responsible for designing each pop-up’s fine dining menu – something he says is an absolute pleasure and a creative culinary challenge.

“Stacey comes to me with a theme and my mind goes straight to work. ‘Okay, what are we going to do? How are we going to do it? What’s in season? Who’s local? Who can we talk to or collaborate with?’ I never shy away from something being difficult… We did a plant-based theme and that was well out of my comfort zone but I was really proud of the result.

“I think by the nature of being a chef, I’m good at stepping outside my comfort zone. A challenge is one of those things that you embrace. For me it just comes naturally.”

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Shane was Simon Gault’s right-hand man for decades, having worked as head chef at Auckland’s Euro and Fish restaurants, and been a guest judge on Masterchef. He returned home to Tauranga in 2015 and is now a chef lecturer at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology where he originally trained after studying at Otumoetai College.

Stacey credits Shane’s ability to put unique ideas onto a plate and make them look as good as they taste, as the reason for Kitchen Takeover’s success. The pair originally met through her best friend – Stacey realised she needed a professional chef on board, and Shane needed a creative outlet that would fit around his Toi Ohomai role and family life.

“My motto is ‘better never stops’. You keep going and get better and better and better. I think Stacey embraces that saying as well. She’s the type of person that keeps striving to go forward and to get better. I’ve had a few highlights in my career over the years but I love how organically Kitchen Takeover has grown. It’s been stressful, but I’ve enjoyed it as well. I’m excited to keep going and pushing forward to see what else we can come up with.”

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The pair have worked incredibly hard over the past three years to get Kitchen Takeover off the ground and have now gathered a team of talented staff around them – including Al Brown’s former executive chef at Federal Delicatessen, Rob Forsman.

“Rob is awesome,” Shane says. “He’s been there and done it, and he’s still got a lot to give. You couldn't ask for a better person by your side.”

With a successful formula and huge social media buzz around their events, the sky’s the limit for Kitchen Takeover and Stacey says there will be plenty of taste-tingling experiences in store for 2021. Their next pop up event ‘Taiao: Food of the Gods’ will explore their first ever celebrity collaboration with Maketū sisters Kasey and Karena Bird. 

“I strongly believe there is a huge community of cultured foodies here that have lived abroad, been to some incredible restaurants and experienced the big city vibe,” Stacey says. “Kitchen Takeover gives them the chance to do that all over again on their doorstep.”

Hunter Gatherer Kitchen Takeover

So what’s next for Kitchen Takeover? Stacey is focused on offering a range of edible experiences that showcase the best of our region. For Winter 2021 they are giving locals the opportunity to go truffle hunting, learn the art of cocktail making and experience forager workshops. They have also just launched local food gift boxes featuring 100% local artisan makers.

“I’m seriously passionate about showcasing the best of the Bay of Plenty by offering brave foodies unique edible experiences. Bring on 2021!”


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