Ten minutes with Andy Ruzich, host of the latest Regatta Chef Series!

Regatta’s famous Chef Series returns with a bang this week! This series is presented by Yalumba, Australia’s oldest family owned winery – if you haven’t discovered them yet, you’re in for a perfectly crafted treat.

The expertly curated six-course degustation includes carefully considered wine matches, and an opportunity to enjoy a unique experience at one of Takapuna’s most esteemed eateries. Remix owner Tim Phin sat down with host Andy Ruzich to pick his brains on this not-to-be-missed event and Regatta’s new direction.

Tell us about the new menu? What were the motivations behind the change?

We want to further develop our responsibility and reputation. In line with Pernod Ricard, we banned plastic straws to reduce damage to the environment. We were already sourcing sustainable seafood, such as ORA King Salmon, but we really wanted to make it our signature as a responsible seafood destination, right on the beach.

Mussels for example, given my French origins, seemed a great way to hero sustainable seafood. The French serve mussels everywhere from flash eateries to beach bistros, and obviously, we have the best in New Zealand – Green Lip Mussels. We serve them with Moules Frites (bottomless!) and a selection of sauces; choose from French style blue cheese sauce, Asian infused, or the classic creamy white wine style.

We are also focusing on making our menu more open as we’ve become quite occasion driven; the design incorporates with celebrations such as graduations or birthdays. But we also want you to be just as comfortable coming in off the beach on weekends in your flip flops or boardshorts, and sit down for a pint of beer and a bowl of fries.


Tell us about the Chef Series; what makes it so unique in Auckland?

It came from the fact that our clientele love wine, particularly higher end wines. We thought we could play on that in the winter months and give those who like good wine some events. We work with our wine partners and see if there’s something special out there we can do, also with a little bit of education.

It was interesting with our first series – I was expecting people not to want informality. We try to talk to everybody and people actually loved the chit chat with the winemakers, and just wanted to come out and try some great food and great wine and learn a little bit about it. We found that a lot of people attended every event last year, so we’ve created a season ticket.


What can the guests expect from the six-course degustation meal?

Each course has a wine match obviously, with 100ml pours so you end up with almost a bottle of wine each. We also wander around with cheeky top ups with left overs from each course. It’s a great night out! We work really closely with the winemakers to understand the style of wine and where it comes from to create perfect matches with our dishes. A great example would be Yearlands last year. They were actually the most coastal winemakers; they get oyster and mussel shells to crush and use as organic fertilizer for the vines, and the mineralities come through in the wine.


What other wine brands do you work with in the series?

We started off with New Zealand brands and now have interest from Australia. We have Yalumba coming from the Barossa Valley this year and Beresford, which is in McLaren Vale. It’s nice to step out of our normal portfolio and diversify; we have a Marlborough, Central Otago, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley and Nelson.


 Tell me about the evening itself, is it good for couples, or groups?

Everyone. We ask people when they book what experience they’re looking for – they can choose a shared table or to be on their own. We’ve had really good feedback from shared tables over the years; attendees really enjoyed meeting new people. We did also put out tables of 10 for family and friend groups. We get a really eclectic mix. It’s a great opportunity to bring corporate clients as well.


What’s your philosophy when it comes to creating a menu?

We learn about the wine and its story and build the dish around it. Many other chefs do it the other way; more showcasing the chef and dish then consulting the winemaker. I think that’s our biggest point of difference. When the wineries give us feedback, they find it really refreshing that we want to taste the wines before you create the dishes. Through this, the flavor matching is unparalleled.

It’s our third year this year, so it will be bigger and better.


Should we expect any other surprises?

We have Mercedes Benz North Shore as a key sponsor this year. We will actually be giving away a Mercedes Benz experience for each series throughout the five months, which is exciting!


What about Auckland’s food scene in general? Why do you think it has been punching above its weight recently?

I think because we’ve gone back to simplifying. There’s less of a market for fine dining now. Our food is presented beautifully and the quality of the ingredients leans towards fine dining, but the service is more relaxed. We’ve developed that here and I can see in the industry that they’re going back to not overcomplicating what’s on the plate. That makes it more approachable.

I also remember one of my favourite things in the food scene last year, which is still there, is the peel to pip. It’s about using the whole ingredient, such as not chopping the tops off carrots and preserving the vitamins and minerals in the skin. It’s also about figuring out how you can best showcase the produce you’re using. The vegetable itself is the biggest at the moment; everyone’s about making it the hero on the plate, as opposed to the protein. I think that’s helping the industry promote healthy eating too.


The Premiere Chef Series starts 26th July.

Regatta: Main Beach, The Strand, Takapuna, Auckland