Samui Wining & Dining
Expanding the Circle

The Samui Culinary Circle continues to flourish.

 

13Samui keeps on getting bigger. It’s not just about more houses, villas, shops and resorts – although these are the things which are immediately obvious. There’s more to it. There are things going on under the surface. Things you can’t see, things which most people don’t know about. Put it another way. Fifteen years ago, there was only one bakery on Samui. It was in Nathon. That was the only place on the island where you could buy bread. And there was only one sort of bread available; bleached white sliced, Thai-style, soft and fluffy and full of sugar.

      Around about this time there was just a handful of elite resorts on the island. And the one thing they had in common was they all had quality restaurants with top European chefs. There might have been only white sliced bread in the shops, but these resorts baked their own. They all brought their potatoes, peas, carrots and tomatoes, and even strawberries, down from the cooler northern regions around Chiang Mai. And, at great expense, they imported their meats, cheeses, truffles and other gourmet items from appropriate locations around the world – there was nowhere to buy items like this locally. This wasn’t cost effective, to say the least. So it wasn’t long before they began to club together to share the costs.

      Over time, more hotels, restaurants and chefs appeared. Regular meetings were arranged between them. Resort managers and their food and beverage managers became keen to be in the picture. And, just after the peak New Year period of 1998, the situation became formally organised into the Samui Culinary Circle (SCC). Andy Meuller, Brice Borin and Curdin Schaufelberger, the leading chefs in Samui at the time, were the driving force behind it all, and it was actually quite a small affair to begin with. But, with the turning of the new millennium, and then the appearance of Samui’s first importers of wines and ‘exotic foods’, numbers soon grew to around the 50 mark.

      Stepping back from it all for a moment, this type of gathering is nothing new – it’s been happening the world over for a very long time. But, elsewhere, it seems that such societies are often notoriously short-lived! Chefs are a sensitive and creative breed on the whole, and personality clashes are not unknown. But maybe it’s the weather here, or the easy-going island lifestyle. But, for whatever reason, the simple fact is that the SCC has always seemed to be harmoniously cheery and, as the years have passed, it has grown in both stature and numbers.

       Today the whole basis of the organisation has gradually morphed into a completely new animal. No longer is the purpose simply to swap information and supplies – in fact several of the island’s leading suppliers of wines and foodstuffs are members themselves. For the last five years, the president was Don Lawson, in his role of Executive Chef at Anantara Resort & Spa in Bo Phut. But last year saw him move across to the sister resort in Koh Pha-Ngan, Anantara Rasananda, allowing Reuben Kimber, the executive chef of YL Residence in Lamai, to assume the top spot.

      “The essential aspect of the SCC is that we are a non profit-making organisation,” Don explained, “meaning that we have to be completely self-funding. Some part of this comes from members’ subscriptions but we also attract some small degree of local sponsorship too, and organise fund-raising events. Although it has to be said that when this happens it’s usually either donated to local charities or other deserving causes, such as The Samui Rotary Club, The Samui Hill Run or to events like the fund-raising circus, ‘Spark!’. We’re keen to support our junior members, too. And here we’ve helped young chefs and bartenders (with their travel and accommodation) to take part in national and regional cooking competitions, bartender shows and fruit and vegetable carving competitions.”

      But once again we just can’t avoid the fact that Samui is a very informal and relaxed place to live and work, and not a small element in the success of the SCC is the pleasant and social atmosphere that it generates. Every month this is more than evident when many of the (current) 50 members, plus the further 50 or so associates, get together on the last Thursday of every month. Each time a different member (resort or restaurant) hosts the event, giving freely of its time and expertise, and often highlighting a particular element or product. This is where suppliers of food and beverage products – wines in particular – can present their cases (boxes, tins and bottles too!) to the majority Samui’s F&B community all in one fell swoop. It’s a simply marvellous opportunity for distributors to place their products in an advantageous context, in the knowledge that their foods or their wines will be presented or cooked in a gourmet setting – a vastly different effect from simply viewing rows of cans or bottles on a warehouse shelf.

     This is just one of the enviable spin-offs of living on a tropical island – having a fun and yet gaining useful insights and information at the same time. But every now and then, all of this gets taken to a higher-level altogether, and every year you’ll see a lot of bags being packed in preparation for the SCC annual getaway. Disney World perhaps? A few days skiing? Hardly! These dedicated professionals can’t go far without one aspect or another of food or hospitality being at the core. So one time it was a visit to the Boncafé bean roasting factory in Pattaya, another time just a weekend break to look at how they did things at the lovely island resort of Paradise Koh Yao, near Phuket. It’s always pleasure combined with business at the SCC!

         If you’re a visitor here, then the Samui Culinary Circle won’t be much in evidence. But its workings will never be far away. These are the experts who are content to beaver away in the background If they’re not actually cooking your food then they’re supplying it or running the kitchens. You won’t get to see any of the workings, but believe me, it’s not only flourishing quietly behind the scenes but it’s getting bigger every year!

         

Rob De Wet


 


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