Five minutes with… Gemma Amor

The executive chef at Ascot Racecourse on prepping for race day, cooking for the Queen and why she can’t live without chicken

Food and Drink 18 Mar 2020

Gemma Amor, executive chef at Ascot Racecourse
Fine dining at Ascot Racecourse

What do you do at Ascot Racecourse?

I’m in charge of the whole catering operation including fine dining, boxes and retail. We have six full-time team members and we then grow from six members to around 70-120 chefs on a normal race day at Ascot and 350 chefs during Royal Ascot. The big race days are a huge challenge, especially Royal Ascot, but it’s very rewarding when everything is in position and working seamlessly, it’s what we live for and a once in a lifetime experience.

What are the biggest challenges in working at Ascot?

Whether it’s six or 600 people we work to the same high standards and specifications; everything is cooked precisely in the right way. We cater for everyone – my favourite dishes range from the mac and cheese made with a bespoke secret recipe and sold in our retail units; to the pan-fried turbot and crab risotto with shaved truffle in our fine-dining restaurants.

Who is your role model?

My mum is a huge role model for me. She taught me that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can go out and achieve and follow your dreams. In the industry, Phil Howard is someone I really admire – he’s an outstanding chef and has overcome a lot to get where he is.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Probably the advice I was given by a lecturer at college, who said ‘don’t let anything hold you back – go out and get what you want’. I am dyslexic and found college really hard but I took their advice and I’m now the executive chef at the biggest racecourse in Europe.

What is your favourite restaurant in the UK and why?

Roganic is a definite favourite – it uses the freshest ingredients from Simon Rogan’s sustainable and natural farm. I’ve worked with Simon Rogan at Ascot and he’s amazing. I also had a beautiful meal at Dinner By Heston: every part of the meal was of the highest standard from start to finish.

What ingredient can you not live without?

Chicken – it’s one of my favourite meats and I use it in a variety of different dishes. I like to prepare it pan fried with a creamed-sweetcorn broth.

What item, apart from your passport, can you not travel without?

A comfy pair of shoes. When I travel it’s to explore the food world. I recently went to Chicago and was lucky enough to go to the restaurants Alinea and Boka. There was a lot of walking to find different restaurants and places along backstreets and main streets, so having good shoes is really important.

What do you like to do on a day off?

I catch up with household chores but for the most part I sit back, relax and put my feet up!

Apart from food and drink what are your other passions?

My family – when I’m not at work I like to spend time with them.

If you could choose anyone from today or history, who would be your ideal dinner party guest and why?

The Queen – I have cooked for her once or twice but I’d like to sit down with her, after all, there’s no one more important. She has simple tastes and doesn’t like too much shellfish, so I’d cook her something light with lots of flavour and impact. Perhaps chicken if it was a lunch or fish for dinner.