The author, Kasey Coory, is a New Zealander of Lebanese and Italian extraction; an ex bikie gang member, motor mechanic, restaurateur and part-time cabbie.
As a child he suffered from the ignorance and prejudice of mental illness. His mother, a chronic manic depressive (bipolar disorder) was ostracized by both sides of her family. The deep maternal bond for her eldest child and the abandonment of her subsequent children is the underlying theme of his first novel.
Kasey conveys the consequences of indifference and the social condemnation of the mentally ill in their struggle to survive. His childhood is etched with a sensitivity to the plight of women of his mother’s generation and the inequality and abuse suffered by the previous generations.
Beginning with an interpretation of his grandfather’s diary, he takes the reader into this pilloried world through the eyes of a voyeuristic bystander.
The author, forced to curtail his education, drifted into the lawlessness and comradery of a bikie gang, which drew him out of his introverted persona. As a self-taught chef and restaurateur he operated a number of award winning restaurants. He was wiped out in the 1987 stock market crash and has been living in Australia since 1991.
This is Kasey’s first novel and was written in three months while convalescing after a life-threatening illness.
From the book The Eating Houses of Wellington (published 1983)
(Compliments Michael Fowler Architect and Mayor of Wellington NZ)
The Bacchus Restaurant 1983
It has been said that no-one ever leaves Bacchus completely behind. All who eat at this incredible restaurant take away something of its quality and presentation. As with a splendid opera or amazing ballet, lingering’s of a composition hover within the senses.
Organiser, administrator, host and chef de cuisine, 34-year-old Kasey Coory was born and brought up in New Zealand from a Lebanese and Italian background. This one-time bikie, ex-mechanic, now works in his kitchen with the zeal and passion of an artist; which undoubtedly he is. He seeks and demands perfection. Presentation, service, ingredients must all be components of a total creation. His friends talk about his love for Bacchus and the passionate force which drives him to produce superb food. Kasey shrugs off praise and is almost self-deprecating. ln 1971, he got “talked into” putting aside his mechanic’s tools and assisting with capital to form a partnership with Ross Waters – previously a waiter at Des Britten’s Coachman Restaurant.
A dilapidated fish shop in Courtenay Place became, in Kasey’s words, “a grotty little restaurant with a coffee bar on the side.” When the Waters-Coory partnership found it was impossible to get the license they’d hoped for, a wine and cheese bar, they sold meals at three tables and coffee at another three. They were amongst the first of the non-advertised, unlicensed – underground in fact – “bring-your-own” eating houses.
Then Waters died suddenly and Kasey’s sole aim was to keep the place going long enough to get his money out. However, alongside his determination to survive was a germinating desire to run a “civilised” restaurant. He applied for a restaurant liquor license six months after Waters’ death. It was granted, provided he carried out renovations. Reconstruction plans amounted to $17,000 which ballooned to $55,000 by the time the licence was granted.
So, for the next five years he carried on with customers bringing their own wine, undeterred by occasional police raids and subsequent fines. But at the end of that five year period, with every cent he made being put towards the necessary structural changes, Kasey Coory’s repertoire had grown, dish by dish and menu by menu, to one of the most comprehensive and flamboyant in this country.
Fanatical experimentation alone in his kitchen, with pots and sauces around him as a scientist would gather plant and equipment, led to exacting interpretations of classical French cookery. Dishes such as Caneton a l’Orange (roast duckling with orange sauce) were flambéed and sauced at table. Rable de Lievre Grand Veneur (saddle of hare roasted and garnished with sauce poivrade), Carre d’Agneau Armoenonville (rack of lamb) and Filet de Boeuf Bouguetiere (roast eye fillet prepared for two) were carved in front of customers at their tables. Whole fish, poached in a bath of wine and fresh herbs was then presented, filleted and deboned at table. Crepes Suzette, and Kasey’s own specialty of Flambéed Strawberries were likewise flambéed at table. There was choice, not only of meat cuts and types but of sauces, toppings and garnishes. Selecting one’s dinner was something Kasey estimated should take about half an hour.
Kasey, the complete restaurateur supervises the kitchen and front of house with aplomb, carves and flambés for his guests with the savoir faire of a dedicated artist. A performance much appreciated by his loyal patrons. However, this whole theatrical experience of dishes presented on silver platers, the fine crockery and crystal is extremely expensive in terms of staff and commodities. With an extensive and unique French wine list, menu prices range accordingly.
With the availability of fresh and perfect ingredients diminishing. (He is despondent and irritated that poultry monopolies eliminate the chance of small-time duck farmers or whatever, supplying the right kind of succulent, tender bird for his dishes. Fresh, interesting salad vegetables are also few and far between).
It became necessary for Kasey to modify and simplify his menus. But always the supreme perfectionist, his economic requirements worked towards a new dynamic. Hare and duck are still carved at guests’ tables but dishes he cooks are now more natural, less spiced and garnished, with sauces enhancing rather than tending to obliterate. Instead of a roux for sauce beginnings, more use is made of reduced stocks, cream and butter, allowing the flavour to permeate but not invade. His, Saute de Crustaces a la Caprice and Langouste a la Bacchus are amongst especially delightful dishes cooked at Bacchus. His Souffle au Grand Marnier has been described a tantalizing gossamer taste delight – and only prepared at the whim of the chef.
But Kasey’s menus will continue to change. His zeal for creating marvellous taste sensations means he must keep experimenting and mixing in his kitchen-laboratory. Seating is for 36 with the dining areas broken into a series of individual rooms. Decoration is subdued and intimate. This is a place one saves for, in order to take part in, remembering that the moment one enters, one is enveloped . . . the Bacchus experience is on.
(Compliments Pauline Clayton assisted by Jeff Kennedy)
Dorina with three of her five children
The host of the Baccuus Restaurant