Samui Wining & Dining
No Surprises

A unique dining experience in Fisherman’s Village at Chez Francois.

P14-15-(1)Why are you here? I mean – what’s the reason you’ve come to Thailand? Yes, for a holiday break, I know! But why Thailand, exactly? And why, in particular, Samui? You’ll probably say the weather. Perhaps the overall cost of it all. Or it could be all the gentle smiling people. Or the delicious Thai food. More than likely it’s all of these things wrapped up together. But the island of Samui is something special. Yes, it certainly has all of these things. But, in addition, it’s also become a gourmet’s paradise.

There came a point, somewhere towards the end of the 2000s, when a watershed was reached. This was when the international-brand hotels gave our island the thumbs-up. These big companies spend millions each year on research – hunting down new hot spots that fit their requirements. Suddenly, Samui was the place. World-class restaurants appeared, the best chefs in the world, and cuisine to die for. Thus all the good restaurants, on the street and in the resorts, stepped everything up a notch to compete. Not only did the

quality and the variety of the cuisine improve dramatically, but the overall numbers of top eateries did too. But, while all this was happening, one top chef was actually going in the other direction. He’d already been working in the Middle East for quite a while. And, when it came time for a change, he didn’t come to Samui. But he did go to Hua Hin.

P14-15-(2)This story is about one man and his journey – an adventure that has finally led him to Samui. He was born in France, in a town not far from Toulouse. In the mid-1960s, he headed off, as a novice chef, to work in England. He secured a position at The Golden Galleon (and it’s still there today), down on the south coast, not far from Brighton. For the next three years, he served his apprenticeship and rose through the ranks. He then ventured to the West Indies for four years, before returning to England to open his own restaurant, ‘Le Provençale’, only a stone’s throw from where he began. He was successful and content there for the next nine years. Then opportunity came a-knocking.

He was invited – head-hunted, even – to go to Dubai. This was around the time when the Middle East was starting to expand its facilities, and new restaurants were evolving. Only in this particular case, the restaurant was attached to one of the most prestigious institutions in the entire region – the Emirates Golf Club – host of the world-famous Dubai Desert Classic. And so supportive was the management, and so stimulating was the position, that this Frenchman remained there for the next 22 years as the highly respected executive chef.

His name is Francois Porte. And he’s already retired. But after six months, he was going numb with boredom. He just had to begin cooking again. But this time it was after some timely prodding towards the gourmet centre of the currently known food universe – Koh Samui.

Today Chef Francois has a simple outlook. It goes . . . “I’m not in this to make money. It’s not my aim. But I just can’t stop cooking – it’s my life. So I cook. I’m not trying to promote anything. I’m not going to present you with a menu that’s been analysed and approved by a food and beverage department.P14-15-(3) There’s no menu at all. I’m a chef. This is just me, and the food I make. You come here and you get whatever I decide to make for you. All I’ll say is that it will be four courses. And I think you’ll enjoy it.”

This is not normal! This is not how we do things! What’s going on? Well, what’s happening is that, tucked away right next to Fisherman’s Village, is a small shop house. And inside is an internationally acclaimed food artist. There’s no menu – there isn’t a catalogue of his edible artistry. But when you go there, he will paint you landscapes, still-lifes, portraits, cameos, sketches and murals on the spot. Each one a delight, a small masterpiece. But not using paint on canvas. Chef Francois will do this in tastes and aftertastes, textures, harmonies of complementary and contrasting tints and hues of flavour. He will paint you a four-course meal with the same flair and skill as a culinary Michelangelo. This is unique. There is nothing else like it on Samui. Few people know about it. But those that do, come back again and again.

If you don’t like cheese, tell him when you make a booking. If you are a vegetarian, let him know. It’s only him in the kitchen (plus one pot-girl) and he’ll burst out happily with your food, and sit with you and chat. If he sees you frowning – why, then he’ll dash back into the kitchen and make a completely new dish for you. (He might even ask you to come and lend a hand.) But all he will say to you before you go there is that there will be a starter, a second course of seafood or fish, a main course of poultry, duck, lamb or steak, plus a handcrafted dessert. And if you have any likes or dislikes, you have to let him know. Every new sitting, each new set of diners, evokes an individual culinary response from Francois. No two days are ever the same.

And the same dynamics apply to Sunday lunch. It’s traditionally English . . . if you absolutely insist. Or you can just let him rip! He’ll come out with pies that will make you gasp. Nobody makes crumblier crumbles. His gravy is thought to be a sentient life form that’s being studied by NASA. Without a doubt, dining here is like being thrust back into the Garden of Eden before the snake appeared. Every small step is an eating adventure – but to experience the totality is an ecstatic leap of food faith for mankind.

And so, the only surprise at Chez Francois is that when you come to understand all of this, there can be no surprises at all!

          

Rob De Wet


 


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