Samui Wining & Dining
Home is Where the Chef is

Dine Chez François and you’ll be eating in the home of a culinary maestro.

Home is Where the Chef isWhen I went to see François, I was expecting to meet him in his restaurant. But when I stepped over the threshold of the address he’d given me, I had the distinct impression I was in his house, and wondered if I’d somehow made a mistake and confused the addresses. Was I where I should be? For a second I was a bit thrown out. I was in a front room with some tables in it. A dining room? Yes. But a restaurant? I couldn’t see any menus and it looked very informal… ah, there was a small blackboard with a few food details. But François had given me such a warm welcome that I knew I must be in the right place. Some sort of very personal restaurant, it had to be. A very relaxing place, it seemed, and one of those few places where you very soon forget the world outside, or more accurately, you enter a totally different one that’s got some magic to it, and maybe a sense of mystery - more than the sum of its parts.

François told me how he’d come to be on Samui and in doing so, I realized just why his restaurant is so special, and why, yes, it really is his home. It wasn’t a gimmick, this – I knew I'd stumbled across a highly original person with strong motivations.

A lot of unusual stories come out of Lourdes, many people go there for healing, and as such it’s a place associated with journeys. François’ own story and journey could be said to begin there, too. François Porté-Garcia, was just a young man when he went to Lourdes. He hadn’t come for the famous waters, but just to work in a restaurant and practice his culinary skills. It was there that a teacher at the Sorbonne, Home is Where the Chef isoriginally from Barbados, fell in love with his food and decided that she wanted to employ him as chef in her restaurant in England. She approached his boss and he said that François could accept the position, if he so wanted. François was a bit bemused at the suddenness of it all, and just a little while later found himself in England, working in The Golden Galleon, in the small port of Seaford. It was the right move. He was very happy there and his new boss was delighted with his work; she later took him with her back to Barbados where he worked for her in another restaurant, in Saint Philippe.

He eventually returned to England, and decided that he wanted to open up his own restaurant. He went along, as one does, to the bank. Seaford had two. He went in and explained what he wanted: a loan to set up and open a fully-functioning restaurant. The bank manager asked him what kind of collateral he had. François was unsure what he meant; this was the first time he’d approached a bank for anything. He didn’t have a worked-out business plan, just the desire to open a restaurant. The manager persisted and asked him if he had a house, or a sizeable amount of cash, something that he could put down.

“Well,” said François, “To be honest, I really don’t have anything.” He really didn’t have anything – nothing in the financial sense that would strike a chord with the manager. François stretched out his hands. “I’ve got these,” he said. The manager didn’t get it. “Your hands???” “For working, Home is Where the Chef isfor making things, for cooking food,” said François. The manager just raised his eyebrows. “This is a bank. We just don’t do business that way,” he said irritably and François was soon out the door.

But down the road, there was another bank. François went in, and the same conversation soon started up: what did he have as collateral? Nothing. François, feeling a bit stupid, stretched out his hands “I’ve got my hands,” he said, and left it at that. The bank manager just stared. Rather like the first one had. Then he nodded slowly. “I like that attitude,” he said.

Very shortly after that, François was in business, running a French restaurant in Seaford, his best client being the bank manager who’d seen to it that he got the loan, and who now sent along his clients and friends. “Sometimes, late at night, I'd leave them with a bottle and go and have a nap. They certainly liked that restaurant,” said François. Other people liked it too. Word spread and soon François was receiving offers to work elsewhere.

He worked in Dubai for many years. “When I first went, hardly anybody in England really knew much about it, even where it was. So it was a bit of a risk, but, you know, I loved it there and it was an amazing place to be. I stayed a long time…23 years!”

Eventually he decided it was probably time to retire. After all, he’d been there a long time and perhaps it was time just to kick back. He had a friend in Hua Hin, so he went to stay with him, and started a new life as a retiree. The only thing was… he just didn’t like it. Not one bit. He was acutely bored and soon just had the one thought – to return to cooking. “It’s what I love,” he explained. “And I just wanted to go back to it.”

In Dubai, he’d had 50 chefs working under him, and countless other staff. But for him it wasn’t necessary to return to that kind of life. “I just needed the cooking,” he said, and so he decided to open up a restaurant which would be very informal. Home is Where the Chef is“It’s definitely not about making money,” he said.

Because it’s missing this financial aspect, it has a completely different feel to it. It even looks different, which may be why some people find it hard to find, although it isn’t. It all depends on how you set about it. Remember that this is François’ house and you can’t go wrong, but look for a restaurant and it’ll probably elude you. At the Bophut traffic lights, turn from the ring-road towards the sea, follow the road as it bends round to the right, and you'll see Chez François, next to Joy’s Pharmacy. There is a small sign (he intends to replace it with a bigger one eventually) but it’s quite low down, almost at ground level, and you'll probably be a step or two from the door before you even see it.

Once inside you won’t be greeted by a bevy of waiting staff, as François only has a kitchen helper; he’s very much one for greeting his guests himself. By the way, you have to phone ahead to let him know you're coming. Tell him what you like and dislike when it comes to food, and if you are a vegetarian or have special needs. It’s not going to be your average phone call to reserve your seat. Inside, you won’t find a menu, as no two evenings are the same. François’ idea, unless you require something quite different, is simply that there will be a four-course dinner along the lines of a starter, a second course of seafood or fish, then a main course of meat, either poultry, duck, lamb or steak and then a special dessert.

The food he makes is the kind that bursts with taste, and you'll happily remember your evening with him for a long time to come. People come back again and again. The experience of eating Chez François is definitely more than the sum of its parts. By the way, if you can’t make it for dinner, try his amazing Sunday lunch – it’s traditionally English and highly popular. And his pies are to die for. Sunday lunch is certainly not the dish a French chef would usually prepare, but then again François is hardly a run-of-the-mill chef. Enjoy!

          

Dimitri Waring


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