A talented visionary, Chris Bailey is the Estate Head Chef at Rathfinny Wine Estate who has already achieved, along with his team, a Michelin Plate for the Tasting Room in just his first year of service. In this spotlight, Chris gives an insight into how he has developed his craft, what inspires his menus, the affects of COVID on his friends in the hospitality industry and exciting plans for the Tasting Room this autumn and winter.
When did you decide to become a chef?
I have worked in kitchens my whole life, classically starting as many do as a kitchen porter and worked my way up. Originally, I had wanted to work in advertising but found I was spending more time making pasta at home than studying when I was at art college so I left to attend Westminster Catering College in London.
Can you remind us of your career prior to Rathfinny and what led you to join the Wine Estate?
After my various stints washing up, I became a commis at the original Hotel d’Vin in Winchester before I went to catering College. I then went on to work in London at Browns Hotel and Chez Bruce before moving to Spain to further my career. I worked at some great Michelin-starred restaurants, especially one called Zaranda in Madrid (now relocated to Majorca) where I learnt to really appreciate great produce, working in a small team with a great chef.
When I returned to the UK, I opened up a restaurant with a good friend in Winchester called The Black Rat where I was Head Chef. I worked with a small team serving produce-lead dishes using lots of small artisan suppliers and our own allotment. We went on to win a Michelin star for the restaurant after just a couple of years working there.
I left Winchester to move to Brighton and worked as a private chef for a few years which gave me a good insight in to what people really appreciated as well as seeing some amazing locations around the world.
I ran a series of pop-up restaurant nights which led me to doing one at Rathfinny in the summer of 2016 which went down really well. The space wasn’t being used as a restaurant at the time but I could see it had huge potential especially due to its fantastic view over the vineyard. By 2017 we had decided to join forces and open up the Tasting Room at Rathfinny.
What is your view on how COVID has affected the Hospitality Industry?
The recent pandemic has made it really hard on the entire industry. It has put so much pressure on both small and large business and made it hard for many to survive. I have many friends in the industry that have found this time challenging but luckily, for now, most have been able to bounce back. One of the many great things about our industry is that on the whole, is chefs really care about what they do and are prepared to dig deep when needed and adjust as required. This is definitely true of my team who have been excellent throughout and I am really proud of them all.
Due to COVID, we had to completely rethink our offering at Rathfinny this summer, but it has been a huge success so far and a learning curve for me. We are incredibly fortunate that we have the space outside in a stunning location to offer guests the safest possible experience; eating by the vines or on our balcony with multiple offering of picnics and a seafood kitchen. We have been at near full capacity every single day since we opened which has been amazing. Now we are busy planning for our next moves going forward.
What do you love to cook at home?
I love cooking at home but I normally keep it really simple. Lots of simple dishes of fantastic ingredients to share with a bunch of friends or a good quality roast chicken and salad with a few bottles of wine in the garden is what makes me happy.
Three ingredients you couldn’t live without?
Good bread, fresh eggs, extra virgin olive oil.
What inspires your Tasting Room menus?
The menus in the Tasting Room are all based around the produce and conversations with the farmers and suppliers who we receive them from. We use the seasons to guide us and then try and treat the ingredients with respect to keep the flavours clean and most importantly tasty.
What can guests expect when they visit the Tasting Room at Rathfinny?
I want guests to eat really good quality produce when they visit the Rathfinny Tasting Room and enjoy a friendly and relaxed service in our stunning Vineyard location. For me, eating out is about the whole experience not just one element. After that, if you can of try a new flavour, ingredient or style, then even better.
What’s your favourite dish to partner with Rathfinny’s signature Sussex Sparking Blanc de Noirs?
We are serving more of the Blanc de Blancs and Classic Cuvée to pair with the seafood at the moment. But, off the upcoming Harvest menu I would imagine it would pair well with a dish we are putting together using local game, to be cooked on the BBQ:
South Brockswell game confit, BBQ breast, wood roast pinot noir grapes, singed gem leaves and Szechuan buckwheat.
What are the plans for the Rathfinny Estate Dining experiences once the al fresco summer Picnics and Seafood Kitchen end at the end of September?
Harvest we shall be opening up a really exciting project, cooking in our Flint Barns Courtyard and Restaurant over an open fire. We are going to offer lunch and evening services with menus that are influenced by the Vineyard as well as the great autumn produce available at that time of year.
We shall be cooking game and fish over last years vines which we have dried out especially to bring a real flavour from the Vineyard. We will also be using the different varieties of grapes themselves and fresh pressings to create a link between the location and dishes.
It is a really fun project and is going to be a nice bridge during the Harvest time before we return to The Tasting Room normal service on November 5th. It has felt a long time since our last restaurant service!