Living the Dream at Regatta

Phil Horne joined Regatta as head chef in August. He is delighted to have won a job he had wanted for several years, and to have had the opportunity to work with Danish Michelin-starred chef Finn Gybel as he prepares for another of Regatta’s Chef Series dinners this month, and its equally popular Melbourne Cup day in early November.

Phil wanted to be a chef from a young age. By the time he left school he was already well versed in dish-washing in local restaurants – and hooked on a career in hospitality. He trained as a chef in Liverpool and at the tender age of 17 was named chef of the year in the county of Wirral, between Liverpool and North Wales. Around the same time, he auditioned for the first season of Gordon Ramsey’s The F Word, and after a weekend-long cook-off was selected as one of the 12 (out of 1500 who auditioned) to appear on the programme.

Looking back, he says that while that may have been a formative experience, and that his best comes out under pressure, his approach to running a kitchen is very different from Gordon Ramsay’s. “As a professional chef you spend so much time in the kitchen, it’s not a job, it’s also your social life. I like a clean professional atmosphere, and we have a really, really good team here.”

After his season on The F Word he was offered a full-time role at Claridge’s in London, with dreams of focusing his talents on fine dining. Instead, he discovered he wanted to “serve good food well. That’s what people want.”

In this respect, Phil’s style is ideally suited to Regatta’s ethos: high quality, fresh ingredients, cooked right in front of the customer. “We look for the freshest, most sustainable food we can find… I love cooking seafood and I love cooking off the wood-fire, and that we can break the whole fish down and serve it really fresh. We do all our own smoking, cure our own charcuterie meats and bake all our bread fresh every day.”

“I like to experiment with different ways of serving, and to stay up with modern trends, like flavoured tapioca crisps, but we don’t over-complicate it. It’s all about finding the best ingredients.”

Since returning to Regatta, where he was previously a sous-chef, he’s been grateful for the mentoring he’s received from Finn Gybel in the complex planning and development of the Chef Series menus.

The Regatta Chef Series runs monthly from May to October and each event involves serving six wine-matched courses to up to 150 people. There’s a lot of theatre involved, with the guests watching six or seven chefs cooking and plating each course before they move straight on to the next course, and a similar number of front of house staff delivering meals and serving the selected wines.

Preparation starts months in advance, with discussions with the selected winemaker over the charcteristics and flavour profiles of the wines. The menu is then built around these learnings, designed, tested and tasted until each course matches perfectly with the selected wines. “You can taste the wine, but it’s only when you go into the kitchen, prepare the dish and taste the wine with the dish that you know it really works,” says Phil.

The Chef Series dinners are exciting, and the six courses are delivered to an exacting timetable over two hours. "The key is not to over-complicate it," he reiterates. "Too many elements on the plate only slow service and interfere with what is important, which is to make every element sing."

Regatta's Melbourne Cup day event, like the Chef Series,  has become a signature fixture on the Regatta calendar. It's fun and sophisticated,  starting with a glass of Mumm champagne on arrival,  followed by four courses over the afternoon (midday – 5.30pm). MC Jay Reeve hosts this year's event and ensures a lively entertaining atmosphere. Large screens that allow guests to watch the racing, TAB betting stations  set up in the venue, live entertainment, and a champagne cocktail bar all create a real “Cup” atmosphere.

For both events, says Phil, it’s all about delivering the “wow” factor and exceeding guests’ expectations. "It’s all about showcasing a high-energy and enjoyable dining experience with the best ingredients possible.”

Regatta Bar & Eatery, The Strand, Takapuna, 09 488 0040

Channel Magazine Issue 81 October 2017. Check out more Channel Magazine articles HERE.