Samui Wining & Dining
Kitchen King

This month we meet Khun Sitthichai Saephu at Nora Beach Resort & Spa.

 

5It’s not every day that you get to speak to someone who has survived a Tsunami and in this case, Nora Beach Resort & Spa is very grateful that their now Executive Chef, Khun Sitthichai Saephu, did survive. Apparently it was all about being in the right place at the right time.

      Nora Beach is a beautiful 4-star resort in north Chaweng, on the beach road coming from Choeng Mon. The magnificent wooden beamed entrance which towers at least three stories above you is as impressive as their sister resort Nora Buri Resort & Spa, less than one kilometre up the road. The tranquil pond filled with ever-hungry fish at the foot of the entrance stairs creates a peaceful focal point for arriving guests.

       We visited the resort and met with Chef Sith, as he is more commonly known. We learned with fascination how he comes from a long line of chefs. Both his father and uncle were chefs, and this meant from a very early age, in this case eight, Chef Sith was constantly learning to source, prepare, and cook food. And because his grandfather was Chinese, he had the added bonus of learning about the ingredients and preparation of Chinese cuisine.

Through his work experience, he also learnt to cook European food, so he now has the advantage of being able to successfully create dishes with ingredients from almost anywhere (although his favourite dish to eat is still tom yum soup with fish).

      Because cooking runs in the family, I asked if he thought his children would continue the tradition. It might be too early to say, but his seven year old daughter knows her father’s food so well, she can tell if he or the sous chef has made the tom yum soup in the restaurant! His son, however, is happy to taste everything but is showing no signs of wanting to cook yet.

      Everything Chef Sith has learnt has been self-taught. And slowly but steadily over the years, he has worked his way up the kitchen ladder to his current position at Nora Beach, a position he has held since its grand opening, back in 2005. The main restaurant at the resort, Prasuthon, offers Royal Thai dishes using ancient recipes, along with dishes with the inevitable European fusion which comes from living on an island like Samui. Chef Sith’s ‘Massaman Curry and Roti’ are so good, a past hotel guest was reputed to have come back for it four times during his stay. They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating …

      You can find all sorts of dishes in the restaurant and some, like the massaman curry which is served with an Indian roti and not rice, have a very unusual twist. Fancy a chicken satay sandwich? Other dishes have a simple Thai flair like their grilled salmon, with a dressing made from traditional Thai ingredients - not so much a fusion dish as East meets West.

       Seafood features highly on the menu and this is often enjoyed as part of the beach barbecue that Nora Beach offers. Speaking of seafood, we asked Chef Sith what he does when he isn’t working his busy 13 hour day. Taking a boat out and fishing, of course! And if he has a successful catch, you might even be eating it for dinner later that night.

       Chef Sith loves cooking with the traditional herbs of both Thailand and China. He enjoys the way that you can change the taste of dishes by varying the amount of each individual ingredient. But he’s quick to add, the herbs are versatile but you must have the knowledge to use them correctly.

      Inevitably, he does most of the cooking at home. But his wife is from northern Thailand, so if he needs a break and fancies a taste of the north, he is happy to let her take over in the kitchen.

       The food that Chef Sith and his team of 20 produce is of the highest standard. He actively encourages his staff to experiment and learn for themselves. In fact, this month a competition will be held where each staff member in his kitchen will design and prepare a dish. It can be absolutely anything so the options are endless. The dishes will be judged and the winner will appear on their new menu next year. What fantastic inspiration for everyone in the kitchen to be given equal opportunity to shine. We’re excited to hear what the winning dish will be.

         As previously mentioned, Chef Sith will be releasing a new menu next year. New fresh ideas are added and less popular dishes are removed - he likes to keep his guests happy.

         If you feel inspired by Chef Sith’s passion for cooking, join him on his cooking classes where he is more than happy to share his skills and experiences. You’ll learn to cook a variety of Thai dishes including pad Thai, tom kha gai, deep fried crab meat and even how to prepare mango and sticky rice, Thailand’s favourite dessert.

         It was great to meet another chef on Samui whose passion for feed seeps into every area of their life.

         

Rob De Wet


 


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