Seaside kitchen brings people together

As Wood-fired pizzas and a laid-back vibe are the drawcards at Luke’s Kitchen in Kuaotunu and Luke has shared two recipes with Waterfront readers.

Wood-fired pizzas and a laid-back vibe are the drawcards at Luke’s Kitchen in Kuaotunu.

IN THE SMALL SEASIDE VILLAGE OF Kuaotunu on the Coromandel’s upper east coast, coastal property is in hot demand, the camping ground is packed over the holiday season and a surf shack eatery and beach bar anchors the community.

Kuaotunu is a former goldmining town, just over the hill from Whitianga, and its modest permanent population swells with holidaymakers over the summer.

Luke Reilly is a Kuaotunu boy through and through. He’s carved out a huge following at Luke’s Kitchen, where he and a loyal crew pump out great food and hospitality, on the site where his dad used to run a mechanic’s workshop – directly across the road from the beach.

Luke’s Kitchen began in a humble caravan and the business has expanded organically to become the life and soul of the coastal town. Luke has ultimately succumbed to the magnetic pull of the town after years of living and working away from the area in his younger days.

“I love its diversity, its sun-soaked north-facing white sandy beach with epic sunsets over the Moehau range, and the native bush close by.

“I’ll never get tired of this ever-changing ocean to dive, surf, and fish in.”

Luke says if you’re looking for something to do in the area, have a chat to a friendly local.

“You never know where you might end up – and it’s the simple things that are the most fun.

“Hunt for crystals in the stream with the kids, climb a tree or check out one of the local bush tracks to get the heart rate up.”

Kuaotunu is a thriving little settlement with the necessities of life and an emphasis on local. There’s a general store, a café and art gallery with coffee by Kuaotunu coffee roasters, Coffee LaLa, and a community food forest which flourishes at the hands of residents in the area.

With the woodfired pizza oven at its heart, Luke’s Kitchen is a great leveller – everyone’s welcome, there’s no dress code and regular live music keeps toes tapping.

Fresh seafood is the hero with pots of mussels, bowls of chowder, Kiwi classic fish and chips, and fish pizzas hitting the sweet spot after a day at the beach.

“Make pizza, not war” is the venue’s mantra and Luke says pizza is the answer to most questions.

While very happy to generously share his tips for stellar seafood pizzas, he simply can’t reveal where his favourite surf break is.

“Sorry, no can do – that’s too precious!”


If you don’t have a wood-fired pizza oven in the backyard, Luke says you’ll still get a decent result from a home oven or lidded barbeque.

Put a pizza stone (buy one at a kitchen store) into your oven, or barbecue with the hood down, and crank it up to the highest heat. You’ll be cooking the pizzas hot and fast.

Ideally, make your own pizza dough – failing that, grab some thin crispy-style bases from the supermarket or if you’re near Kuaotunu, ask nicely and Luke will sell you some of his epic pizza dough.

Luke says free-wheeling the toppings to use whatever you have in the fridge – along with some fresh or smoked seafood, is the way to go.

The Never Fail

Based on the Luke’s Kitchen best seller


• thin pizza base
• tomato base sauce
• red onion – slice finely
• mushrooms – slice finely
• fresh fish – snapper, gurnard or tarakihi are best
• kaffir lime leaf – shredded very finely
• grated cheese – one that melts well
• chilli aioli, (mix a little of your favourite chilli sauce with some mayo’ and a squeeze of lime)
• fresh coriander – chopped
• salt and pepper
• fresh lemon


Start with the tomato base sauce and build your pizza as follows: red onion, mushrooms, fish, kaffir lime leaf then a handful of cheese (just enough to “glue” the toppings together).

Make sure your oven or pizza stone is as hot as it will go before you put the pizza in.

Cook until the base is crisp, and the cheese has melted – but keep an eye on it, as you don’t want to overcook that lovely fish.

Once done, top with the chilli aioli, coriander, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

The Smoking Good


• thin pizza base
• garlic oil – blend two garlic cloves with half a cup of olive oil
• fresh spinach leaves
• red onion – finely sliced
• smoked salmon
• feta or brie, diced/sliced
• grated cheese – just enough to hold the toppings together
• tzatziki dressing (yogurt, grated cucumber, fresh lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper)
• fresh dill


Start with your garlic infused oil on the pizza base, then add the spinach leaves, red onion, salmon, feta or brie, and the grated cheese. Cook as above, then finish with a healthy amount of tzatziki and a sprinkle of fresh dill.


[Download PDF guide]