As executive chef at three of the Queenstown area’s top restaurants, Steve Sepsy is a busy man. In 2019, he joined Ben Bayly to open Aosta in Arrowtown, combining techniques from northern Italy with South Island ingredients. This was followed in 2022 by Little Aosta next door, and The Bathhouse, which opened in a heritage lakeside building in Queenstown this year.

Growing up with two siblings on Dunedin’s coast, food was a huge part of Sepsy’s childhood – especially kaimoana. “Some of my fondest memories are of watching my mother diving for pāua as we fished for blue cod on the rocks,” he tells Broadsheet.

Here, he shares his favourite culinary spots around the Queenstown and Arrowtown area to visit in the rare moment he’s got to spare.

What’s your go-to for a quick takeaway?
If I’m going to have a quick takeaway, I want it to be as good as what you can get dining in at the restaurant. My partner and I regularly get takeaway burgers from a local staple, Slow Cuts, in Arrowtown. They’re juicy and flavourful – and being 500 metres down the road from home, we can’t go wrong.

How about lunch on the go?
Lunch on the go is every day; with days full of deadlines, we don’t have the time to stop.
Arrowtown Bakery does an amazing butty with bacon, sausage, egg and a hash brown in a brioche bun. It’s everything you need if you’re going to power through a day hitting the slopes up Coronet Peak or The Remarkables – which I’d love to be doing, but usually have to settle for it while working.

And for a drink and snacks?
I go to The Lodge Bar on Lake Wakatipu’s waterfront – a brilliant restaurant overseen by chef Matt Lambert and sommelier Cameron Douglas. It’s got a hunting-lodge feel in the middle of town, and the Tora pāua is a must-try with a Gin Sour to match.

If it’s a special occasion, where are you headed?
The Headwaters Eco Lodge. A very inspiring man, Pete Gawron, was the previous owner of Saffron restaurant in Arrowtown – where Aosta now stands. He’s heading up the restaurant at the eco lodge in Glenorchy, just an hour’s drive from Arrowtown. Stay overnight, and eat food curated and cooked by one of the legends of Central Otago’s food evolution.

Where’s your favourite destination for great baking or pastries?
You can’t beat a great pie! The best in town are from Fergbaker. My favourite is the lamb and kumara. For great pastries, you can’t beat the French bakery Ma Boulangerie in Remarkables Park for a pain au chocolat and a croissant with a shot of espresso. The French way to start the day.

And where do you think does the best coffee in town?
I’m blessed enough to have a local coffee roaster just 50 metres from Aosta. Wolf Coffee Roasters on Buckingham Street creates caffeinated heaven on our small town’s main road.

Do you have a go-to for a long lunch?
Nestled in one of Central Otago’s original wine regions, Gibbston Valley Winery was first planted by Alan Brady in 1983. I’d go to the winery’s restaurant for bistro-style food, casual and easygoing service and locally produced organic wines led by head winemaker Christopher Keys.

And what about the best food close to where you live?
It all depends on what you have the urge for. You could go for those burgers at Slow Cuts, casual dining at The Bunker on Cow Lane in Queenstown, or head to award-winning restaurant Amisfield. I’m over the moon and super excited for my close friend Giulio Barducci, who has been my right-hand man at Aosta for three years – his new spot Toast & Oak is coming at the end of the year. This will be a must for anyone visiting Queenstown.

What’s your personal favourite dish on the menu at Aosta, Little Aosta or The Bathhouse?
This is a hard one. I’m my own biggest critic – everything always needs improvement and development, and nothing is ever perfect. Because I have to choose … from Aosta, I’d say the venison carpaccio, cured in mulled-wine spices to bring the warmth of winter to a cold dish. It’s served with pickled onions, dehydrated blood pudding for texture and a cod roe mayo. It’s my Kiwi spin on vitello tonnato – veal and tuna. At Little Aosta, it’s all about the pizzetta. My favourite is the Remarkable Fungi, with a 48-hour proofed sourdough base, local mushrooms, truffle and house-made porcini salt. And The Bathhouse is something different. Taking ownership of such a historic building is a big responsibility, and we’ve honoured the classic coronation chicken sandwich with our version that contains curried chicken and sweet and spicy pickles, served between toasted sourdough bread.

And is there a hidden gem that you think is underrated?
Kappa Queenstown is definitely not underrated by the local crowd. In the middle of the Queenstown mall, you’ll find one of the most authentic Japanese experiences you’ll have anywhere in New Zealand. Climb up the tight stairs to the second floor, walking into a cosy A-frame room. It’s a small family-run business. Get sashimi, sushi and karaage chicken all made to order with freshly poured sake – warm or cold, whatever agrees with you more. You can’t go wrong with the odd plum wine, either.