Samui Wining & Dining
Kitchen King

March’s ‘Chef of The Month’ is Khun Somroj Mepiern at The Farmer.

 

K4hun Somroj Mepiern worked as a chef in 5-star resorts for almost 30 years before opening his own restaurant – The Farmer – last September. It’s at the far end of Maenam coming from Chaweng and was long anticipated as he was born and raised on the island and spent the previous 18 years as executive chef at two high-profile resorts on Samui. We caught up with Chef Somroj to find out more about him and his food.


JP: When did you decide you wanted to be a chef and what did you do about it?

SM: I didn’t come from a family of professional chefs or anything like that, we were farmers but when I left school I did think that one day I would love to own and run a restaurant. I moved to Phuket to study hotel and tourism management; there wasn’t anywhere on Samui to do that and Phuket already had a good hotel school and 5-star resorts.

 

JP: And from there?

SM: I got a junior position at the Erawan Hotel in Phuket and spent some time learning about all the different departments. Then I moved to the Dusit Thani and began focusing on the kitchen and working my way up through the ranks. After ten years or so on the Andaman coast I was asked to open the Santiburi (Dusit) Resort in Maenam on Samui as Executive Chef. It was wonderful to return home, as it were, and to such a prestigious position. Two years after that I was invited to take over at the Taling Ngam Resort as Executive Chef; back then it was owned by Le Meridien Group. I spent 16 fantastic years with them and had the opportunity to go and spend some time at a couple of their other 5-star properties in Dubai and Paris. It was an incredible experience and not one that many chefs from Thailand get the chance to do.

 

JP: Why did you decide to open your own restaurant?

SM: The timing was just right and it had been on my mind for some time. I knew the type of restaurant I wanted to create and my business partner had the perfect piece of land for what I required. We talked it over and pushed ahead with the plans.

 

JP: How would you describe The Farmer to someone who had never been?

SM: There’s a 150-metre long private driveway up to a modern Balinese-style restaurant. All around you’ll see real rice fields that we harvest three times a year. It’s how the name of the restaurant came about. Samui used to have lots of farms and rice fields when I was younger but sadly no more and I wanted to re-introduce them to the island. Back then you had to cultivate and grow most of your own food; there were no tourists, no airport, no roads and no supermarkets. I use about 20% of the rice in the restaurant and donate the rest to local schools. My wife is a school-teacher on Samui and we’ve started bringing groups of kids here during the day to learn about rice-farming and to teach them about their cultural heritage; it’s not something that should be forgotten.

 

JP: Tell us about the interior of the restaurant.

SM: We have an open-kitchen and two ‘Chef’s Tables’ just in front of it. To the right is the bar and upstairs we have a couple of rooms for groups or families that want some privacy. In front of the pond there’re two open-air terraces and there’s a covered dining area to the left of that which is built in a traditional Thai style. All of the tables overlook the rice fields which are lit up in the evening with the mountains beyond as the backdrop. And if someone wants a special table we can set one up in the middle of the rice fields with just the scarecrows for company; it’s certainly a little different.

 

JP: How would you describe the food at The Farmer and can you make some recommendations please?

SM: It’s a blend of regional Thai and International cuisine and the recipes are ones I have been cooking for many years. All of my chefs and front-of-house staff used to work with me at Taling Ngam Resort so we are a well practiced group. From the Thai choices, I’d recommend appetizers like pra ltad lom kab (golden fried prawns in a rice noodle spring roll or khong wang raum (a mixed selection of Thai appetizers). As a main dish I’d recommend the khow soi gai (a northern-style egg noodle dish with chicken curry), the goong ob woonsen (baked river prawns with glass noodles) or the pla yad sai ob kung gaeng (stuffed and baked sea bass with red curry). If you are more in the mood for International dishes, try the seared herb tuna with sesame and rocket salad to start with followed by the beef tenderloin with spiny lobster or the rack of lamb French-cut. And if you can manage it, order the young coconut crème brûlée or the crêpes Suzette to round off your meal.

 

JP: Finally, Chef, what advice would you give to a young chef today who aspires to run his own restaurant in the future?

SM: Start with a positive attitude, learn everything you can and never believe you know everything, work harder than everyone else and be in control of yourself at all times. Respect from your peers and colleagues is difficult to attain but it can all be lost if you lose your temper. A style like Gordon Ramsey’s just doesn’t work in Thailand; it’s culturally offensive and ineffective in managing a great team. And owning your own restaurant doesn’t just mean putting your reputation on the line, it will also cost you every last baht you have to set up. You’ll need perseverance and patience – and a maybe a little luck, but if it’s your dream then do it.

 


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