Samui Wining & Dining
Kitchen King

Kitchen King We talk to Konrad Inghelram the Executive Chef at Konrad Koh Samui.

 

7Konrad Inghelram doesn’t really fit into your regular top chef pigeon-hole. Along with his usual duties of overseeing the hotel’s five food and drink outlets, namely Jahn (ultra-fine Thai cuisine), Glow (premium bar and lounge), Azure (pool-side restaurant), Zest (all-day international diner) and the exclusive The Cellar (private wine cellar which also serves a degustation menu), the Belgian chef also helped trail-blaze the five star property’s dining experience months before the hotel officially opened in September 2011. Parachuting in from London’s Quaglino’s, he was entrusted by the Conrad management to pen the concept for each of the F&B outlets on site, a task he completed with great aplomb. Chef Konrad was responsible for designing the space, drafting the menus (with chef Joe Diaz at Jahn) and training the staff; and on the day of our visit, the chef was busy discussing contracts with food suppliers too. The smiling chef’s presence extends far beyond the sparkling clean kitchens, and customers can certainly feel his hospitable warmth from their tables all the way to their stunning villas. As a manifestation of his philosophy (in his own words: “one happy guest can bring in 50 more and reputation is key for the business”), Konrad concerns himself with the overall well-being and satisfaction of the hotel guests, often offering to help solve some of their day-to-day problems. Having worked

around the world on opulent cruise ships such as the QE2, and at countless top class restaurants all over Europe (including London’s Quaglinos, Harrods’ Georgian restaurant, as well as Sofitel St. James), Chef Konrad proselytises his past, present and future to Wining and Dining in an enthusing twang of London, Aussie and South African English.

     Built into what looks like the grounds of an old temple, “Spirit House is a journey into the Thailand of old, and an enlightenment of the food, the music, the dress, the culture, the tradition, the lifestyle.” explains owner, Paul McDermid.

 

 

 You have an intriguing accent, where is it  from ?

 

      I’m from Belgium and I speak Flemish. For the past 13 years I have also had the pleasure to work in London with some of the most amazing people in the industry, such as the legendary Albert Roux. I lived in Australia for six months, and have worked on five cruise liners as well, sailing around the world from Greenland to Kenya; from Cape Town to the Amazon… Actually, my accent is all over the place.

 

 You were Head Chef at Quaglino’s. Did it take Conrad much persuasion to convince you to come to sunny Samui ?

 

      I met my wife – she’s Thai – when working at Harrods. At a barbecue, a friend asked how long I’d been in England for, and I said 13 years. My wife was starting to miss Thailand, and we wanted to start a family. The guy said he knew a person who was working at Hilton and had a contact in Asia. He eventually asked me to send my CV, and less than a month later I had a job on Samui.

 

What’s the difference between an Asian kitchen and a European kitchen ?

 

      In Europe it’s normal to shout at people. At Au Chapon Fin in France, where I took my apprenticeship, I had to start at 7:00 am peeling carrots, and if they weren’t done right they were thrown straight into the stock and I had to start again. And if the pigeons weren’t done properly the chefs would order 200 more for me to do the next day. In the beginning, each of them took half an hour to do, in the end I could do one in five minutes. Anyway European kitchens are founded on high expectation, and often the atmosphere can be very high octane. We had to clean the kitchens ourselves as there were no kitchen porters. In Asia, things are very different because Asian chefs are eager to do things right. In a way it’s more rewarding to work here, because there’s no bad intention – there can be communication problems, but never bad intention. There’s certainly less shouting and less swearing – you just can’t do it here.

 

You have worked in a number of Michelin starred restaurants. Are you confident about Jahn getting its own stars in the near future ?

 

      It is definitely on its way. Jahn’s concept is Thai food with a touch of something, for instance we reconstruct a dish and we put it back together in a certain charming way. Jahn has the right components: it is an exclusive fine dining place where people can really enjoy their meal without being disturbed, it has a bar, it has a good wine cellar with very good wines and cigars. We can offer champagne, brandy and whiskey... You name it, it’s all there for the restaurant to be a success. They only thing we need to do is to deliver the right product. At the end of the day having a good chef is not all there is - it’s not just the food, it’s about the whole experience.

 

You take a very proactive stance in customer service as well. What’s the rationale ?

 

      If a customer has a small problem in the room and it snowballs, the bad experience travels by word of mouth the same way as a good experience does. A happy customer can bring in another 50. So if there’s a problem, deal with it, tackle it and make sure the guests enjoy themselves. Small things matter. If the guest wants a new towel at Azure, bring it to them. It’s always about the overall experience and how well we act on their requests.

 

How did you begin your journey as chef, actually ?

 

       I studied English History and Economics at St Thomas Institute in Brussels, and as a student I had to cook my own food, just simple dishes like sausages, mussels, steaks and fish. One thing led to another, and I went to a hotel school and I kept cooking in a kitchen which belonged to a friend’s grandfather. I was hooked.

 

What was your earliest food memory ?

 

        I did like bouchée à la reine, which literally means the Queen’s Mouth. It is made from a simple whole chicken. You boil it, strip it and strain the stock, then put in mushrooms, minced pork and cream… It’s served in a simple vol-au-vent and accompanied with potatoes. That was my first food memory as a child. And another dish I like is called hutsepot, basically it consists of pork offcuts; the ears, nose, a bit of loin and fat. It is cooked in a vegetable ragu, and eaten with mustard. It’s a very home-made dish. The Belgians don’t know a lot but they do know their comfort dishes, beer and cheeses!

 

Do you eat out much? Is there a local place on Samui that you love ?


          One of my favourite local restaurants is Be To Sit, it’s a local Thai place. I always recommend guests to go there too, because it is so down to earth and tasty. 

 

Lastly, how would you summarise your journey on Samui so far ?


       I have been here since January 2011, and the opening was very exciting and challenging. I vividly remember the whole journey; our first success and all the challenges along the way. It’s been intriguing. And the feedback from the customers is so important to me. Is there anything I can do to better their experience? Is there anything else I can help with? I want to make their experience unforgettable, and I want them to come back again.

 

Kawai Wong


 


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