Samui Wining & Dining
Kitchen King

December’s ‘Chef of The Month’ is Philippe L’Obry at Impiana Resort & Spa.


4Recently refurbished and upgraded, the Impiana Resort & Spa in Chaweng Noi is perfectly positioned – both aesthetically and gastronomically. And newly-appointed Executive Chef, Philippe L’Obry, is setting new standards of excellence and innovation at the Tamarind Bar & Lounge Restaurant and the Sabai Beach Restaurant. We caught up with him to find out more about the man and his plan.


JP: Hello Chef, tell us about your background please.

PL: I was born and brought up in France and began my culinary training in Amiens nearly 40 years ago. After completing my apprenticeship, I spent the next 12 years or so developing my skills in hotel restaurants in Provence, south-eastern France. I then decided that I needed to spread my wings and I was keen to improve my English language skills. I had intended to go to London but then an opportunity came up at the Jazz Café in Los Angeles and I jumped at it. After a year there I moved to Canada and spent a year working in Montreal focusing on European cuisine. And then I worked at two restaurants over three years in Vancouver; one restaurant specialized in Italian cuisine and the other on French-Mediterranean cuisine.


JP: And then you headed back to Europe?

PL: Yes, I spent a year working at the Seville Expo in 1992 as Executive Chef of two 750-seat restaurants; it was an incredible experience and the Expo attracted visitors from every country in the world. I then did something that had been on my mind for some time, I opened my own French restaurant – in Sweden. It might sound strange but I met my wife whilst working in Canada, and it was something that appealed to both of us. She’s Swedish and we took over a restaurant and small guest house on an island about 40 kilometres from Stockholm. It was a seasonal, holiday location and in the off-season I taught sailing, wind-surfing and scuba diving; sports that I love. We ran that for six years and then in the late 1990s circumstances dictated that it was time for me to move on.


JP: And that was your first foray into South-east Asia?

PL: Indeed, and fortunately an ideal position for me was open at the Whale Island Resort in Nha Trang, Vietnam. I took over as Executive Chef and Food & Beverage Director of this luxury resort and spent five wonderful years there. After that, I held a similar position at a French restaurant in Bangkok for two years. And over the following five years I worked primarily as a Chef Consultant setting up French and Italian restaurants in Algeria and Thailand before taking up my current role at the Impiana.


JP: Why did you decide to take up this position?

PL: I love Samui and it’s great for me to step into a kitchen that has a proven pedigree and an organised and well-trained team. But you cannot rest on past glories. Guests expect and demand more, and the fine-dining scene on Samui is hugely competitive with an incredible amount of outstanding restaurants for such a small island. It’s part of my job to lead the way and always push forward gastronomically.


JP: How would you describe the style of food at the Impiana’s two restaurants?

PL: My focus is on Mediterranean, French-Asian and Healthy New Cuisine. I also have a Thai Head Chef who concentrates on local and regional Thai specialities.


JP: Can you give us some recommendations?

PL: I’d suggest dishes like: ‘Gravlax’ salmon carpaccio; red snapper fillet sauté with ratatouille; rack of lamb with roasted rosemary bread crumbs and couscous; scallops sautéed with carrot saffron purée; pork fillet mignon teriyaki on a bed of yakisoba pasta; and the duck breast grilled with a passion fruit coulis and a mango chutney. I’ve also just introduced some four- and five-course set-menus that incorporate all the styles I’ve experienced and developed over the years.


JP: Tell us about those please.

PL: The ‘European’ menu starts with minestrone soup followed by sauté prawns in garlic and parsley, a Mandarin sherbet to refresh the palate, a main dish of roasted duck breast served with sliced potato pan-fried and grilled tomato. And we finish off with pineapple with orange flambé. My ‘Mediterranean’ set-menu consists of a gazpacho soup, carpaccio of marinated salmon as an appetizer, a Greek salad, beef ‘Tagine’ with dry prune served with couscous as a main course and fresh fruit with lemon juice and honey for dessert. And the ‘Fusion Passion’ menu begins with a lobster bisque with crab meat and an appetizer of three ‘Verrines’ tomato tartare with avocado mousse, river prawns and a vanilla and balsamic dressing. The main dish is pan-fried fillet of salmon with a pesto coulis and saffron steamed rice and a delicious dessert I call ‘A Touch of Delight’.


JP: So what is a typical day like for you?

PL: Aside from writing menus and cooking there’s obviously some administrative work that most chefs like to get out of the way early on. I spend time with the team working on our dishes and creating new concepts. We also have theme nights which change depending on the season but will usually revolve around international and seafood barbecues on the beach, regional Thai buffets and ‘Chef’s Special’ events. We also host weddings and offer just about anything the couple and their guests desire, and that all takes time to prepare and set up perfectly.


JP: Finally, Chef, what skills, attributes and qualities does someone in your position need to have?

PL: Clearly a classical culinary background in quality restaurants will give a chef a good head-start. Experience of different styles of cuisines and cooking methods is a definite plus. And as you progress through the ranks, you need to develop excellent man-management skills, financial acumen and lead by example. You also need to be flexible and adaptable particularly in understanding cultural differences; what works in France may well not work in Africa or in Asia. And most importantly – you must love food!


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