The President Hotel has a new chef, and he’s serving up all sorts of Asian fusion to excite Cape Town palates. Phil Alcock is no stranger to the kitchen, having worked in Michelin star restaurants in France alongside food’s greatest culinary geniuses like Marco Pierre White.
We caught up with him to find out a little more about his culinary skills and what we can expect at the The President Hotel now that he is charge.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you found yourself at the President Hotel as the new head chef?
Born in Bicester, England, I got my first taste of the culinary industry at the tender age of 14. Night after night, I spent washing pots and pans in a local kitchen – not a lavish role I admit, but I was mesmerised by the methods behind the menu, from peeling carrots to crafting experimental dishes.
After receiving some experience at a Michelin star restaurant in the south of France and a degree in hospitality and catering, I continued to apply my craft in a selection of 4 and 5 star hotels as well as another Michelin star restaurant in the north of France. It was through this journey that I met French restauranteur, Albert Roux, and realised that to take my skills to the next level, I needed to work alongside the best in the business.
I got a job working for Marco Pierre White opening Quo Vadis, then the fastest restaurant to gain a Michelin star; I think it took us all of 4 months.” Thereafter, I climbed the ranks beneath one of Britain’s most respected chefs, Raymond Blanc, starting as a sous chef and after just 3 months, received a promotion to head chef and assisted in expanding the Le Petit Blanc restaurant chain.
With an itch to travel, I, packed my bags and knives and headed to Thailand to experience the cultural and culinary wonders of Asia. It was here, that I was contacted by Cellars Hohenort in Cape Town with a job opportunity, and without really knowing South Africa got on a plane and came over.
I fell in love with the Mother City. I spent several years working in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, developing my experience and lifting the culinary standards in various hotels and trendy restaurants. I was inspired to work at the President Hotel due to the forward thinking and direction of management – a place where I would be able to uphold the high culinary standards with the freedom to revolutionise the menus.
2. What changes can patrons expect to find on the new menu?
I will be leading the hotel into more tapas and a la carte style menus, which follows my personal quest for sustainable cooking. The foundation of the menu speaks to the different cuisines I have experience around the world and that have created fond memories for me including anything from fresh oysters to Bulgogi Korean beef short ribs.
With the introduction of the new menu I’ll be able to change it often to complement the seasons as well as fresh produce available. The menu will also reflect the demands of our diners and food trends – if a dish is not up in sales, then it goes. If a new and interesting product inspires me, then it’s on.
3. How do you define your style of cooking and how is that going to influence the food you create?
My style is a more modern approach to classic cuisine. This will influence the food at the President by bringing in classic food from my travels to a new exciting modern level.
4. As a SASSI trailblazer you are very passionate about sustainable seafood. Do you remember when it was that you first fell in love with fish?
When I worked with Marco, the kitchen section in summer that all the chefs dreaded the most was the fish section because it was insanely busy. In a service, 90% or more of the main courses would be fish within a 400-seater restaurant. I saw so many chefs leave because of the pressure. When my day finally came to work that section, I refused to be another chef who succumbed to the stress – and worked my butt off. Funny enough, that’s when my love for fish began. The whole art in preparing fish and cooking it became imbedded in me, and I have carried it with me ever since.
5. How would you describe Cape Town’s culinary scene and how does your food fit in (or not)?
Cape town’s culinary scene is just amazing; we have so much talent here, and are defiantly on par with the best foodie countries and cities around the world. As far as my food goes, let’s see if it fits, but in I’m pretty confident it will.
6. What has been the highlight of your career as a chef?
There have been so many within my career from working with the Roux brothers, Raymond Blanc and Marco Pierre White, to spending time in New York learning the art of making traditional pizza bases to spending time in Italy sourcing products. Above all, one of the most fulfilling parts of my career has been training and watching staff grow into Michelin rated chefs.