Chef Rey is the Culinary Director at The Pavilions Phuket. From humble beginnings in New Zealand, his pursuit of all things gastronomic led him on a round-the-world career, from honing his craft from Australia and Abu Dhabi to Vietnam and Malaysia. In this interview, Chef Rey shares his food philosophy, favourite food gadgets and best and worst food-related experiences.
Why did you decide to get into the restaurant industry as a chef?
My Dad is a pastry chef, his dad was a sausage maker, and his brothers were chefs, so you could say it runs in the family. When I was younger, my dad would participate in the culinary nationals in New Zealand, so this piqued my interest to learn more about being a chef. At the competition stage, I found the atmosphere and competitive nature incredibly exciting. When it came the time to leave High School, I made a choice to ditch university and go to cooking school.
Your career has taken you around the world, from New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia to Abu Dhabi, Vietnam and now Thailand. How have these destinations influenced you personally or as a chef, your cooking style, appreciation for cuisine?
I think this industry is amazing. You get to travel, learn about new cultures and, of course, taste new flavours. Travelling has changed me personally and it’s changed my management style, too, I am calmer these days. You could say my food has always been French or Mediterranean based, but moving to these locations made me look into incorporating ingredients that I would never have seen or used in New Zealand or Australia. I like to look at traditional dishes but play with the original flavours and give them a twist to present a modern interpretation.
What’s a meal that stands out in your memory?
When I was a demi chef, I was working in an all-German and French kitchen for the first time. I had black truffle pomme puree and the simplicity and flavour blew me away. It really got me. I will always remember that day because my Chef De Cuisine at the time thought I was nuts!
What is your must-have food when on holiday?
Simple family food. A good BBQ with good steak and an amazing potato salad.
At the Pavilions, you’re overseeing The Plantation Club, Firefly and 360°Bar as well as in-villa dining. How are you taking the culinary experience to new heights? What can guests expect?
My vision at The Pavilions is to make sure we deliver consistent excellent quality. I want to make sure our guests get top ingredients, that they know where we source them from and at the same time surprise them with creative and amazing dishes.
Do you have a favourite cuisine or type of produce to work with?
I love French but Asian cuisine will always be my first love; both have amazing ingredients and you will always learn something new. For me, the essence of a great menu consists of the classics. Simple dishes that guests know will rekindle memories from their past, whether it’s the smell or flavour. I love incorporating some theatre within dishes to give each of them a story and having an interaction with guests always puts a smile on their faces.
Do you have a philosophy behind your food? How does that fit with the philosophy of The Pavilions?
For me, it’s always been the same: keeping things simple with flavours, not over complicating the dishes and making sure each outlet has a theme that guests understand.
Do you have a favourite culinary destination?
I love travelling and eating throughout Asia, but I still have a lot of exploring to do here in Thailand.
Can you tell us your worst food-related experience? And the best?
I’ve worked in hotels since I was 17 years old and I have seen so much food waste. It’s amazing how much is thrown away despite countries around the world having problems with starvation. The best experience would be winning “Best Restaurant 2006” at the culinary nationals in New Zealand. We had to cook a mystery box of ingredients and we were the underdogs against giants. We didn’t think we had a chance at winning, but we knew we had given it our all 24/7. On results day, the biggest shock was read out: The Langham Hotel Won. The hotel went on to win for three more consecutive years, it was an honour and a great memory
What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?
Sous vide machine and vacuum pack bags. Without a doubt, these things help in so many ways and I’m all about making things easier and more efficient in the kitchen.
Do you have a favourite chef or someone you look up to in the industry?
I have a few chefs I like, but Spanish Chef José Andrés and Gordon Ramsey in particular. While they’re entirely different, they’ve both done amazing things and accomplished so much outside the kitchen as well as chefs; they have given so much to communities and educated us on real-life issues.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing as a career?
I would be a barber. I like the creative side of it. I think it’s similar to being a chef in some ways.
For reservations or to inquire about our delicious food menu, contact The Pavilions Phuket at [email protected]