Sam Mannering is a man of almost unparalleled creative talents, working successfully as a writer, chef, actor and restaurateur at the Pah Homestead. But does he burn out? How do these disparate fields intertwine? And what’s next? Don Rowe spoke to Mannering to find out.
The thing that struck me the most about you when I was having a quick Google was that you work across a few intensely creative fields, and it made me think, in your opinion is there any such thing as a creative burnout? Can you run out of creativity? Which is to say, is it a finite resource?
I always get the feeling that instead of doing one thing well I’m doing eight things badly, but because I’ve got my fingers in a few pies, my work tends to be more project based than anything. Of course with the writing and my restaurant that’s kind of a little bit different, but I’ve always felt that I work best dipping into each thing which sounds like a very spoiled child way to approach things if that makes any sense. So I suppose I’m always kept stimulated by several projects often always going on at once.
That was something I was going to ask – does working across several fields mean that you don’t burn out?
No it doesn’t really. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and when we opened homestead it was just a matter of finding a happy medium, but sometimes it is quite hard to juggle everything on my plate. But because what I do is so varied, it seems to all slot together and - if I’m not blowing my horn too much - I seem to never really hit much of a brick wall.
Is there a crossover in the kind of thinking that you need to employ in these different fields?
Absolutely. It’s quite fun really because while I play around with things in the kitchen with my chefs not only are we coming up with ideas for a new menu or a new event, I can often take those ideas and apply them to the newspaper or a magazine article or something like that. There is quite a bit of double up there which often makes my job quite a lot easier. But yeah, I kind of enjoy that as well, the fact that I can just pick something out of a hat. I do a lot of workshops and cooking classes and so on, and just going back and looking at things and saying ‘Ok, right, that column was quite successful, I might take the recipe for that and apply that to a class’ or whatever. So I’m quite lucky in that sense. It looks like rather a lot of work but sometimes it isn’t.
With the writing and the cooking and so on, that’s all very creative work and usually people say creatives are good at creating and that’s about it, but you also operate a business. How does your multidisciplinary approach effect running something like the Homestead.
What an adult question. The thing is that we work very hard at Homestead to build up a really solid team behind us to support us. It’s the kind of business that requires a considerable amount of support and we’ve got that in a general manager and a head chef underneath me who runs the day to day operations in the kitchen and so on. It’s about having that support network and also being able to delegate, which for a creative can be quite difficult. I’ve certainly learned how to do that over the last couple of years though.
In the past I’ve published all my own books and more or less steered things from the initial concept right through to printing and shipping and distribution and all of that, so I’m very used to working independently and not delegating, but you just have to. In the case of Homestead, when the whole book thing expanded, I had to really learn how to let some of that go, which is very important. I’ve got a lot of friends who are infinitely more creative than I am who really struggle with that delegation, but I think it’s very important.
I read that you are particularly fond of Central Otago, and that maybe you’d make a good winemaker. Is there any plan for that in the future?
I almost studied viticulture at university but my grades weren’t good enough. I hated maths, hated biology, hated physics, and of course you need to be able to do all of that. That was what put me off eventually. But I’ve always had an overly romantic view of it, and I certainly know that when it comes down to it you’re sort of on your hands and knees weeding and everything, it’s not all sunkissed strolls through vineyards with a glass of pinot in hand. But we’ve got a lot of family in Otago and we’ve made a habit of every year going down there in the autumn and at that time of year it’s just glorious, you fall in love with it more than anything. God, if I could do what I’m doing up here down in Otago I’d be there in a flash. It’s something to work towards I guess.
If that’s off the table for now, what projects in the near future excite you?
I’m working on a book at the moment which is a collaborative project with a publisher and I suppose that’s a bit less despotic, but I’ve got another one in the works as well that’s a lot more mainstream and is a continuation of my earlier work. My approach with food has always been very much about simplicity, simple is best. It’s not necessarily about mince on toast, but it’s also not about intimidating people into thinking something is good. I’ve got a serious hatred of food snobbery, and it’s about mitigating that and making as many ideas as possible accessible to your average home cook.