Serving world class cuisine in some of the most prestigious professional kitchens from Sydney to the Czech Republic, Executive Chef Charles Pihera has a gift for the culinary arts that he is keen to share.
Working on the premise that “for us, nothing changes when we’re in retirement or in a 5-star hotel,” Pihera applies his passion for great food by making everything from scratch in his new role.
At The Helier, a $150 million Oceania project that introduces the next level of luxury dining to the New Zealand retirement market, Pihera’s menus change every two weeks, enabling seasonal produce to flourish and always be a feature.
“Everything is so fresh. We have developed great relationships with our suppliers as this is so important. For instance, today’s produce we are working with includes courgette flowers, oysters and green lip mussels.
“It’s also essential to plan ahead and know what each season brings to the table. At the moment we are thinking about next winter; what game and wild food we can source, and there’s a winemaker’s dinner in the pipeline for March and April that may showcase in-season truffles.”
All set menus at The Helier have three entrees, three mains and three desserts which residents can select from each night and there is an all-day casual dining menu, changed quarterly. Comfort food is always available including Caesar Salads, Fish and Chips, and even Mac and Cheese, all upscaled.
“We prepare and serve canapés everyday at 5 pm at what we call The Helier Hour, offering cocktails and canapes. Here you will find creative beverage options and small bites – such as oyster and artichoke velouté, and oxtail arancini.”
Charles was inspired to enter the hospitality world by his grandfather, who escaped the Czech Republic during World War 2 by cooking on boats where refugees who were seeking safety in countries like New Zealand boarded for new futures.
Although he spoke little English and had no money, he followed his passion to become a restaurateur, even successfully opening the Tudor Towers in Rotorua which is believed to be New Zealand’s first ‘dine and dance’ restaurant, with a full liquor licence, in the 1970s.
After training in Tauranga and learning on the job at places like Albert Restaurant at SkyCity, where nightly 300 covers where the norm, Charles travelled to Europe and Australia, gaining experience under Chefs such as Gwendal Le Ruet, and in Michelin starred restaurants.
“It was a lot of hard work but an amazing experience and l’ll never forget it.”
“I worked in high end restaurants in Prague for three years to gain more insight about my grandfather’s heritage, moving downunder to Australia to work at Ayers Rock in Uluru. This was a private resort hosting just 30 people at a time with a minimum two-night stay starting at $2.5 k per night. I designed set menus with four courses and there was no budget and the produce was helicoptered to us from all over Australia!”
Celebrity guests included Usain Bolt, Oprah Winfrey, the Irwin family and a Prince from the United Arab Emirates.
Charles’ signature dish is line caught fish, potato terrine, champagne fish sauce and caviar. And when off duty his favourite meal is a simple pasta – Aglio.
Amenities at The Helier include an indoor swimming and spa pool, wine library, private gym and wellness centre, cinema, beauty salon, butler service and chauffeur-driven hybrid Jaguar vehicles.
Nestled in the heart of St Heliers, the village boasts outstanding panoramic views of Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour and contains 79 premium living apartments, coupled with 32 private care residences.