Simon Phillips d'Alti Gusti

Simon Phillips – Chef Patron – d’Alti Gusti

Simon Phillips

In this interview, Simon Phillips, chef-patron of d’Alti Gusti, shares with us anecdotes and life behind the scenes of a food and beverage professional.

What do you do?

I entertain. 

I was speaking with a guest last week when she said, “You’re the CEO!” My puzzled look prompted her to continue, “You are! And I am too! We are Chief Entertainment Officers!” And it occurred to me, even being as successful as she is, it all boils down to entertaining. Be it motivating staff or pitching clients in the corporate world, or even in the traditional somewhat lost sense of providing hospitality.

So, yes, I am Chief Entertainment Officer of d’Alti Gusti. Sometimes, the best way to achieve my entertainment KPIs is through my love for preparing food. Other times, I am helped by little things I have learned along the way, about ingredients and flavours, the history of the dishes I present, the culture of the people who first thought of them, and the places where they first enjoyed them.

How did you get into the industry?

As a student of history, I came to see food as the common denominator across all civilizations, the one thing that could reliably be counted upon to bring people together, from kings to peasants, both in times of trial and jubilation. For me, the logical next step was to walk through history in a chef’s shoes, and in the process, bring the people of today together to experience dining as our own history in the making; as our participation in a culinary and social heritage that we, perhaps unwittingly, record every time we upload a photo of our dinner to Instagram. 

What food memory from your childhood stands out?

This one is easy! My first buffet. We didn’t have such things in England at the time. So when, as a 10-year-old, I encountered one on holiday with my family, on a road trip between Seattle and Vancouver, I really went to town! A little soft-serve ice cream cone was something I looked forward to as a treat back home. Imagine what happens when a child has a whole soft-serve ice cream machine all to himself! The result was explosive. I’m pretty sure it also scarred me sufficiently to steer well clear of the pastry station for much of my career. It also taught me that too much of a good thing can be very, very bad, which possibly explains my preference for highly curated table d’hôte experiences that take guests on a balanced journey over sprawling à la carte menus, or buffets for that matter!

What is the best and worst part of your job?

The best part of my job, until recently, has been imagining dining concepts, experiences and menus that would appeal to our different markets. The corresponding worst part is that my job always ends on opening night when I move on to the next project or city. By contrast, at d’Alti Gusti, I am deeply involved in the day-to-day delivery of our product and with our guests, which I can say is my newfound joy. The only downside to that would be the limitations of our small scale, which include me having to chop onions again.

What is the scariest thing you’ve seen behind the scenes?

An A5 Kobe filet mignon cooked well done. A quite distant second would be discovering that there is such a thing as a lefthanded knife while slicing off the top of my finger.

A day in the life of Simon Phillips…

My day begins with coffee and menu planning. A great portion of our work is the provision of bespoke tailored menus for special occasions alongside our monthly menu offering. I need alone time to plan these, to work out wine pairings and transitions, how to ensure that the occasional vegetarian doesn’t get left behind on the journey, and that every experience is cohesive from beginning to end.

I’m fortunate that mise en place is capably managed by my sous chef, Jonathan. My coming in and out of the kitchen to help is more of a nuisance than a necessity. I usually spend the last couple of hours before service in the kitchen to make sure I know what I’m supposed to be doing. We have an entirely open kitchen within chatting distance of guests at the table, so I must ensure everything looks orderly. Service itself is the pleasurable part of the day. I encourage as much interaction between guests and the kitchen as they feel they would like, and that always tends to make it like having friends over for dinner.

We’ve got resetting the kitchen for the next day down to a reasonably fine art. My day ends with a pot of tea, a quick review of new reservations, and a longer wind-down from the day with a bit of reading or chatting with night owl friends.

What does Simon Phillips do for fun? What’s your perfect day off like?

The advantage of being on the corporate end of F&B is that you have much more time to yourself. Those were the days of daily swims, leisurely lunches, and evenings free enough to be able to go out with friends or stay in with a good TV series. On the operations end, none of that is possible, so you try to cram all of those things into your one day off and end up feeling more tired than after a working day. With my newly reawakened respect for those on the frontlines of the industry, my perfect day off these days is choosing one or two of the above and doing them well.

How has the pandemic changed Simon Phillips as a person and as an F&B professional?

It’s definitely made me more acutely aware of the importance of family and friends. We’ve been fortunate, or perhaps unfortunate, that life has allowed us to take it for granted that we will always be able to see them. As communities, cities, countries locked down, the social dimensions of our lives changed dramatically. As things open up now, I am more aware than ever of how valuable a visit from a friend can be; a face-to-face chat over a coffee; the value of people, of time with people. 

And of course, this translates to the professional side too. d’Alti Gusti was born of the pandemic and represents something of my hope that gatherings of friends and family will reflect this newfound appreciation for the value of people and their presence in our lives. I believe the pandemic has put the kitchen table back at the centre of our lives with the ingenuity of home cooks really starting to shine and people in the same household actually sitting down to eat together at the same time! These are our roots, the roots of family life, and history shows us it has always been centred on mealtimes. As we emerge from the pandemic, I believe that people will seek more value from the time they spend eating out with friends. Things will be more intimate, less cursory or random, in environments conducive to conversation and bonding on a deeper level. Our valiant home cooks and their fans will be more interested in the process of how your meal gets to the table, what ingredients are used, and where ideas for dishes come from. Dining should become a more immersive experience that engages, brings people closer, and feeds not just the belly and the phone camera, but the mind and the soul too. If this vision of the future can become a reality, then we will all have become more aware, more real, more appreciative people as a result of what we have been through together, apart. Now that would really be something for the history books!

What’s your view of the F&B scene in KL?

I think it’s one of the more vibrant places to be in Asia. With a superb culinary culture of its own that embraces such a wide variety of tastes, I see KL folk as being more adventurous when it comes to their food choices. We have some amazingly creative young chefs who are putting us on the culinary map. Malaysians are passionate about their food; more and more are passionate and knowledgeable about what beverages they choose to accompany their food. Among so many of our guests, I see a genuine appreciation for how dishes are constructed, how food and fine wine or whisky or cognac can bring out the best in each other. I see people on a daily basis who luxuriate in the experience of dining, who enjoy authentic hospitality, and who can appreciate how food builds community; real people with real passion who see that food has value beyond its ingredients, be it in a fine-dining setting or around a hawker stall. This excites me as a Chef and an F&B professional and makes me glad to be here.

What’s something you’d like people to know about d’Alti Gusti?

I’d like people to know that it’s all about them. d’Alti Gusti means ‘elevated tastes’ but elevating the dining experience focuses on the people who dine… engaging everyone in something greater than the sum of its parts.

What’s in store for you in the coming months?

We’re just finishing a menu cycle that celebrates the joy of life anew with the abundance of tastes and flavours of the Italian autumn. Next month I’m excited to present a culinary narration of excerpts from my Dante’s Divine Comedy menus this year in honour of the 700th Anniversary of the passing of Italy’s great poet. Then, all things being well in the world, we will be ready to celebrate the festive season with faces both familiar and new, with my interpretation of the traditional Italian Christmas ‘feast of the seven fishes’. It’s one of the greatest times of the year to bring people together around the dining table, and I’m looking forward to making that experience a memorable part of the shared histories of families and friends.

Find more interviews similar to this one with Simon Phillips here. And, stay up to date with the latest food and beverage happenings in KL here.


  1. A gourmet truffle importer – was wondering what place this is and what the name means. “gusti” in Malay means wrestling. LOL!!!

  2. Oh wow! A culinary narration of excerpts from my Dante’s Divine Comedy, that should be interesting to taste.


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