Meet our Head Chef, Phil Elliott

Phil began his culinary journey in Rotorua after spending his high school years camped out in the home economics room, even hanging out with the cooking teachers whenever he got the chance. It was clear in these formative years that Phil had found his calling, especially when he chose Home Economics over English, a decision frowned upon by his English teacher. “She told me English was a priority and cooking wouldn’t get me anywhere in the future.” says Phil. Well, eat your words teach! A few years later that same English teacher showed up for dinner at a restaurant Phil was cooking at. ” She had the best meal ever and could see me in my element with a big grin on my face.”

After 20 years in and out of various café-style positions in the sunny Hawkes Bay and Tauranga, including the acclaimed Church Road Winery, next was a move to Matamata. Phil helped build and open the Kaimai Cheese Café and there he learnt the fine art of cheese making. Working in conjunction with Ruth Pretty, Kaimai quickly became a very busy place and a popular stop for travellers looking for good food and hand crafted local cheeses. Next came a step out of the kitchen when he took on the Food and Beverage Manager position at Hobbiton. “Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire,” says Phil, “Hobbiton was experiencing massive growth at the time and we constantly chased our tails trying to keep up.”

Rotorua’s outdoor lifestyle coupled with an offer of Head Chef at Atticus Finch bought Phil and his family to settle here. It’s a reuniting of sorts and a return to working for Cherry, who along with her sister Kay, own Atticus Finch. Phil worked for Cherry early in his career when she first stepped into the hospitality game and opened a café. “Atticus Finch offers a modern dining experience, with food that challenges me as a chef,” he enthuses. After 22 years of cooking, Phil feels he is still learning and expanding his culinary knowledge. “I guess that’s part of why I still love being a chef. I can’t think of anything else I would rather do.”

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