Samui Wining & Dining
Kitchen King

May’s ‘Chef of The Month’ is Don Lawson at Anantara Bophut Resort.

 

5Our featured ‘Kitchen King’ this month is one of the most well known and highly respected chefs on the island. Don Lawson has been the Executive Chef at the widely-acclaimed Anantara Resort & Spa in Bophut since it opened in 2004. He’s been perfecting his craft for more than 25 years, has won numerous awards and accolades – including the prestigious Amadeus award for ‘Best Executive Chef’ in 2007 from the Thai Hospitality Association – and has been the President of the Samui Culinary Circle (SCC) for the last five years. We caught up with Don at the resort’s signature ‘Full Moon’ restaurant on Bophut Beach to find out more about the man and his methods.

 

JP: Where are you from Chef?

DL: I was born in Canberra, Australia, but I grew up in a place called Coffs Harbour; it’s in between Sydney and Brisbane and is a great little coastal town with weather similar to Samui’s.

 

JP: When did you decide you wanted to be a chef and what did you do about it?

DL: I was lucky enough to be offered a four-year apprenticeship in 1985. I was helping out casually in the kitchens at the famous Southern Cross Club in Canberra and really enjoyed the work, I put some extra effort in and the executive chef saw some potential in me. I still remember receiving my first monthly pay cheque of 80 Australian dollars; it didn’t last long but it felt good.

 

JP: How did your career progress from there?

DL: Over the next ten years I developed my skills in some top-class restaurants and hotels in New South Wales and Victoria. And then I spent the last five years of the 1990s as a lecturer in Tourism and Hospitality at the Culinary Arts School in Coffs Harbour. It was a wonderful time for me and I learned a whole different set of skills that have enhanced my own personal development. In 1999, I went to London for three years as Head Chef of the Ramada Jarvis, at Heathrow, and then as Chef de Cuisine of Banqueting at the Radisson, in the city. After that I took up a position at the Dusit Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for two years and then came to Samui where I was the Executive Chef at the Santiburi (Dusit) Resort in Maenam for two years before joining Anantara Bophut.

 

JP: Why did you decide to take the position at Anantara?

DL: I started with Anantara in December 2004 for the pre-opening and launching of the resort as I thought it would be a challenging and rewarding role. I enjoyed starting all the concepts from designing the menus to the theme nights and the Anantara as a group excited me. I was given the opportunity to be creative and put my own stamp on the cuisine.

 

JP: What are your impressions of the culinary standards on Samui generally?

DL: I know most of the chefs working here and we are all creating our own individual styles and niches. The cornerstone of good cooking is to source the finest produce and as we can get products from around the world, it makes it easier for us to create a memorable dining experience for our guests. Visitors to the island have a fantastic choice of places to eat and there’re an incredible number of brilliant restaurants for such a small island.

 

JP: How would you describe your style of cuisine at Full Moon?

DL: I like to combine local flavours with authentic Italian dishes and produce a contemporary modern style of cuisine that is fresh and to the point. I find this more interesting for my team and myself, I don’t like to have too many confusing flavours on the plate, just keep it simple, fresh and tasty.well known popular soups at the table to the guests preferance

 

JP: What’s a typical day like for you in general terms?

DL: A typical day, wow, what’s that? Most days are different for me, as the hospitality business is so unpredictable, but I generally come to work at 7:00 am and check the breakfast buffet, then have a talk to the guests and see if there are any special requests for the day. I grab a cup of coffee in the office and read the emails, approve the orders and attend the heads of department morning briefing. Over lunch and dinner I will check the kitchens during service and help out where needed – I still enjoy cooking so I like to jump behind the stove and help my chefs. I try to talk to as many guests as possible to make sure they enjoy the food we prepare; providing a truly memorable guest experience is one of our priorities within Anantara.

 

JP: What do you think are the most important skills and attributes a chef in your position needs to have?

DL: Three things come to mind which I feel are the most important. Firstly, you must be an effective leader with a passion for the craft. Secondly, you have to take the time to train and continually motivate your team; the more they know the easier your job will be. And, lastly, manage the restaurant and kitchen as you would your own business.

 

JP: Can you make a couple of recommendations from your menu please?

DL: I would suggest our signature dishes. As an entrée, try the spinning ‘Caesar Salad’ prepared table-side; it’s nice when there’s some interaction between the chefs and the guests. And for a main course I’d recommend the ‘Margaret River Wagyu Beef Tenderloin’; it’s flambéed with Cognac and we add some sliced black truffles to the dish.

 

JP: Who has inspired you as a chef and how do you continue to develop your skills and knowledge?

DL: I like some of the work of Neil Perry; he is all about the best ingredients possible, simple flavours and not complicating things. Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller are defiantly up there as well. I also like to search on the internet; there are some fantastic sites that give me inspiration and I like to talk with other chefs and see what they are doing, and when I find time I read culinary books. Plus it’s always good to get behind the stove and do some hands-on work and experiment with new creations.

 

JP: Finally, Chef, when you get the time, how do you relax away from work?

DL: I enjoy going to the beach with my two kids, Mila and Max. We usually catch up with some close friends who also live here, eat local Thai food and swim most of the day. We have some great beaches on Samui and that’s part of the reason why we live absolutely love living here.

 

Johnny Paterson

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