Samui Wining & Dining
Bread of Heaven

Bakers make so much more than bread, as revealed at The Tongsai Bay.

10-11It 's one of those thing we don't think much about. There’s not a lot of point. And anyway bread is bread, right? We use it for sandwiches or have a roll or two with our lunch. What’s the fuss about? It’s hardly rocket science, is it ?

    Well, if that’s the thinking that’s running around somewhere in your frontal lobe, prepare for some new input! Try asking a German about bread, for instance. Then compare the reply with that of a Frenchman or a resident of New Delhi. There are as many different types of bread and ways to make it as there are nations on our planet. And that’s only for starters. Bread needs to be baked. And if you’re all geared up for baking, then let’s go the whole hog and the full nine yards too. Let’s talk about biscuits, croissants, muffins, pizzas, pies, flans, tarts, pastries and cakes. And then let’s add all the desserts, such as ice-creams, sorbets, confectionery, pulled-sugar creations, fruits, jams and preserves. And then top it all off with an involved awareness of regional or cultural specialities that spans the globe.

    Bakers don’t just make bread. And anyone who has an advancing career in this area isn’t just a baker, he’s probably also a ‘pastry chef’, and an integral part of a kitchen team that drives a quality restaurant. He’ll not only be called upon to provide the regular daily bread and other routine items, but he’ll also be expected to experiment, trying out new ideas and recipes. And that is exactly what you’ll come across when you take a look behind the scenes at The Tongsai Bay.

 

But when it comes to bread
for the dinner session then
we get more exotic.


     The Thongsai Bay,locate in Cheong Mon,has the distinction of being the first 5-star resort ever to be built on Samui. And it also has an individual Mediterranean styling that’s most unusual for a Thai resort. Another feature which singles it out from the crowd is that right from the start the entire 25 acre plot was developed in sympathy with nature. Not a rock or tree was disturbed and the villas and buildings were all individually situated according to the lie of the land. And, due to this, today it’s become a natural sanctuary for species of animals and reptiles which have all but disappeared from other parts of Samui. It’s one of the island’s most relaxed and prestigious resorts, and that applies to its restaurants, too.

      There are two restaurants here, Po-Lad Beach Bistro & Bar that’s down on the edge of the sand, and Chef Chom’s Thai Restaurant, higher up the hill and close to the lobby. And overseeing both of these is Executive Chef Mark Krueger, who is both experienced and dedicated, and very much involved with the bakery and its output.

      “We actually produce quite a variety of different breads,” he explained. “Just for the breakfast session we offer three different toasting breads; white, wholemeal and multi-grain, but altogether we bake more than 20 different types, ranging from baguettes and crusty rolls through to dark breads, pumpernickel, rye or poppy seed, and onto multi-grain varieties. They’re not all available at the same time, but rather we rotate them to provide a constant variety of choice. But when it comes to bread for the dinner session then we get more exotic. Then you'll find rosemary-topped focaccia, onion, bacon and cheese bread, and loaves with sun-dried tomatoes or basil or parmesan.”

      Mark then went on to reveal a little-known secret. It seems that it’s accepted practice more or less everywhere for top restaurants not to make their own dough. You can forget about those stereotyped images of the ruddy-faced baker up to his elbows in a sticky water and flour mix, pounding away at the dough and calculating the amount of yeast solely by the overall colour. Now it’s all done ‘scientifically’, using packs of commercial dough mix.

      The senior bakery chef at The Tongsai Bay is Khun Maitree Chompuhouy, otherwise known by his nickname of Pi Dang. And he makes all his own pastry dough and most of the dough used for the bread too. “I usually make a large batch at a time,” he told me, “which can be frozen for later. Although mostly I’ll par-bake the bread first and then freeze it. We bake twice each day, one time for breakfast and then again for dinner. The climate in Thailand means bread won’t stay fresh and putting it in the fridge only makes this worse.”

      I think that most of us with our 21st century lifestyle probably wouldn’t even notice this, that bread goes stale more quickly when refrigerated. But nibbling on a crusty cob at ‘Chef Chom’s’ brings back childhood images; the heady aroma as you break the warm crust and the moist, fragile lightness of the bread . . . you won’t find this in many hypermarkets. And the same is true for that most-noble facet of the pastry chef’s art, the dessert.

      One way to tell if a restaurant has a top-notch chef is to look at the desserts menu. If it only features fruit and ice-cream, think again! But both chef Mark adnd Pi Dang are right up there on the cutting edge (or should that be forking edge?) of dessert technology. How about crème brûlée piña colada with crumble and upside-down pineapple pie? Or sticky banana toffee pudding (a molasses and honey mix) with chocolate-coated honeycomb and vanilla custard and caramel ice-cream? If there were a god of desserts then these two would assuredly be high priests.

       And then there are all the different sorts of cakes which, of course, must include in their number the specially-made wedding cakes, of which Mark custom-crafts several dozen each year. The Tongsai Bay is a popular and established venue for weddings and the associated menu is not the least consideration. Such marriages are made in heaven, no doubt, and with bread (and desserts and cakes) to go with them. Baking is about so much more than merely bread, as both Mark and Pi Dang will certainly be keen to tell you!

 

 

 

Rob De Wet



 


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