Samui Wining & Dining
Kitchen King

March’s ‘Chef of The Month’ is Jan Van de Voorde,

Executive Chef at The Imperial Samui Beach Resort.

 

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Jan Van de Voorde has recently been appointed Executive Chef at The Imperial Samui Beach Resort in Chaweng Noi. It’s home to Twisted Thai, one of the island’s most innovative restaurants. And Chef Jan has big plans for the coming year. We caught up with him recently to find out more.

  JP : Tell us about your background please, Chef?

Jan: I was born and raised in Belgium in a small town between Ghent and Antwerp. I told my parents when I was about five years old that I wanted to be a chef. Some friends of theirs had a restaurant nearby and when I went there, I would always head straight for the kitchen. It’s where I first learned to peel and turn (shape) vegetables. I loved the smells and sounds of the kitchen and if I wasn’t at school or at home, that’s where I could be found.

 JP: How did you further your ambitions?

Jan: When I was 11 years old I was enrolled at the prestigious Ter Groene Poorte school in Bruges. We studied all the usual high school subjects but also had an additional six hours a week studying hotel and restaurant management, with a great deal of emphasis on food. We learned classical French culinary techniques and by the time I was 17, I was able to secure a position at a 2-Michelin star restaurant in Holland for my placement (training) year which was part of the curriculum. Having spent the previous six years at the school gave me a massive advantage over other young aspiring chefs. That was a tough year; a bit like a boot camp for chefs with exceptionally long days and only perfection in everything you did was acceptable. However, everything I learned there has stayed with me and helped shape the kind of chef I am today. When I was at the school, the son of the owner of the very famous Blue Elephant restaurant in Bangkok was also a student. I was able to spend some time in the newly opened Blue Elephant in Brussels and so had an early introduction to Thai cuisine. I still remember the first Thai dish I made and the incredible aromas that were very new for me and my classmates.

 

 

JP: And how did your career progress after leaving school?

Jan: I returned to Belgium and spent many happy, though very busy, years working in Michelin-starred restaurants. I was the head chef of the last one I worked in for two years and with my team took the restaurant from one to two Michelin stars.

 

JP: When did you first come to Thailand?

Jan: Oh, about six years or so ago I went on holiday to Phuket. When I was there I met a Belgian food & beverage manager who was working on the island and who knew of me from back home. Anyway, we got chatting and he told me about a new luxury resort that he was working for and that was opening soon on the beach in Phuket. They were looking for an experienced European chef and I was ready for a new challenge. So I went back home, packed a bag and returned to Phuket where I worked for five years, including heading up the team at the renowned White Box restaurant in the Kalim area of Phuket.

 

JP: How did the position at The Imperial Samui Beach Resort here come about?

Jan: My contract in Phuket had come to an end and I thought I might take a little time to explore Thailand and came to Samui for some rest and relaxation. While I was here I met up with some of the chefs currently working on the island and the job vacancy at the resort came up in conversation. Anyway, I met the management team, loved the resort, the restaurants and the vision they had for the future and was delighted to accept the position of Executive Chef.

 

JP: Tells us about the restaurants at The Imperial Samui.?

Jan: We have two main restaurants on the beach. Tara restaurant is modern dining with a full range of regional Thai specialities and classic European dishes plus grills and fresh seafood. It’s relaxed and we have a large open-air terrace for al fresco dining under the stars. Right now I’m working on introducing Thai-style pizzas which I first created on Phuket, where they were an instant hit. And we’ll bring more new dishes onto the menu and develop themed events on the beach. I have a team of around 25 including a butcher, three bakers and three chefs dedicated to the specific style of cuisine at Twisted Thai restaurant. Opened last year to great acclaim, Twisted Thai is the first of its kind on the island. We take famous Thai dishes and using modern molecular gastronomy techniques prepare and present them in a whole new way. The recipes still retain all the essential ingredients and all the delicious flavours and aromas are evident but the way we serve each dish is designed to surprise and delight the taste-buds. Fans of great chefs, such as Ferran Adrià of ‘El Bulli’ in Spain, Heston Blumenthal at the ‘The Fat Duck’ in England and Wylie Dufresne at ‘wd-50’ in New York, will recognise the concepts. It’s a dining experience that costs a small fortune back home but is excellent value for money here. We only take 20-25 diners at Twisted Thai each evening so reserving a table is definitely recommended.

 

JP: Finally, Chef, what else do you have in the pipeline?

Jan: This month we have a special ‘Gastronomy @ Twisted Thai’ menu, where we introduce seven new dishes in a set menu. It’s priced at just 2,222 baht net per person and it’s a dining experience that will stay fresh in guests’ memories for a long time to come. We’re very excited about it. And coming soon we’ll be running molecular gastronomy cooking classes to give visitors a few hours of fun in the kitchen and a couple of innovative techniques they can use to amaze their family and friends with at home. And recently we had a science teacher from Australia stay at the resort. She was fascinated by the techniques we use and we plan to use Skype to have a real-time science lesson for her school kids demonstrating some of the principles she covers in their lessons as applied to gastronomy. We’re very much looking forward to doing it and hopefully the kids will learn something new.

        


Johnny Paterson

 


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