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Eat Meet: Executive Chef Asker Skaarup Bay

by The E.A.T. Team

ON THE MENU 
Seven Sea’s seafood soup with herbs & garlic – cumin dusted toast Melba
Thyme marinated, roasted pork tenderloin on baked root vegetables & prune glace
Pan-fried Phuket lobster tail on sautéed crushed green pea & lobster bisque
Slow roasted pineapple & mascarpone mousse, reduced pineapple juice
Warm chocolate fondant with white liquid center, tamarind juice & honey ice cream
ON THE GLOBE
Ko Lanta, Thailand
ON THE TEAM
Executive Chef Asker Bay Skaarup, Pimalai 5-Star Resort
 
 

Close to midnight, Chef Asker walked us down the stairwell from the Seven Seas Restaurant that led to our bright red motorbike.  The sky was ominous, booming with lightning here and there, leaving me feeling a bit like Cinderella leaving the ball at the stroke at 12. Dressed in our evening gowns, we quickly made our descent to avoid the imminent storm after an enchanting evening.

Try as we might, we did not escape mother nature.  The rain started as we started our engine, a few drops at first, then harder and faster until we could hardly see a thing.  Laughing, we pulled over and took refuge under a bamboo hut.  A lone street dog wandered amongst the flickering streetlights and an indecipherable low pitched horror-film moan filled the air from animals on the ranch across the street.

More beautiful than scary, it was an unforgettable end to an unforgettable evening.

Chef Asker wow-ed us to say the least.  Thoughtful, interested, and incredibly talented, he made our experience at Pimalai Resort something special.  He’s worked in the food industry for ages–from his hometown in Denmark, to bustling London, to Dubai, Bangkok, and now Ko Lanta, Asker knows what he’s doing, and he does it well.

Read on for his thoughts on staying creative, cultural differences, sacrificing for your career, and how he stays James-Bond-fit amongst so much delicious food.

Introducing Executive Chef Asker Skaarup Bay.

 

What brought you to work in Thailand?

I always wanted to work in Asia. I found it is an interesting place compared to European culture – the food, the people, it’s a different way of working.

 

Did the company ask you to come and work here, or were you looking for work yourself?

I took a job here two years ago after looking for a job in Asia.

 

When did you move from being a chef cooking food to managing the kitchens as Executive Chef?

To;
About 6 years ago. When we start new menus I brief the concerned staffs, draw up the
presentation of the dish and some times I arrange the first dish, then we take a photo and
attach it to the recipe card.During service time I’ll do the rounds in all the kitchens to check that every thing goes
smoothly.

 

Is it a lot of paperwork?

Yes. Sometimes I put more in place than what we need, but it’s a good exercise as you know where different costs go.

 

What’s your signature dish?

Seafood soup, one of the most popular dishes here. Also roasted pork tenderloin with roasted veg, and a lobster dish. I’m not a big fan of prawns and lobster but it’s popular. It was a fusion restaurant when I came here but I simplified it.

 

Are you glad you picked Ko Lanta?

It’s a nice place – maybe a bit quiet, not much socializing goes on. It’s relaxing but a challenging place to work, it’s harder to find qualified staff and good products than I was used to. Most of our products come from Bangkok although the seafood is local. Almost all of the products on the menu are grown in Thailand.

 

How big is your team at the moment?

Sixty people, including students.

 

And you oversee them all?

Yes.

 

It must be a busy day…

Yes some times. The restaurants are spread all over the resort. We try to do as much as possible home made. The guests appreciate it.

 

How was it settling in here?

When you come to a new place it always takes a few weeks to settle down. You need to know how the staff members are working, their strength and weakness etc… and when you accept them they accept you. Once you understand those things you will be able to get a good teamwork and even better when you know their culture.

 

What’s a regular day in the life of Chef Asker?

I start around 7 o’clock in the morning and check the breakfast buffets. All the kitchens have
been closed down and cleaned properly the night before. Then some paperwork needs to be done, I check logbooks, internal cost transfers and staff requests to change or request extra days off. I then attend the morning briefing with the Management, I handle the follow-ups from the morning briefing and check that the breakfast buffets run smoothly. At 11 o’clock I have a briefing with one senior staff member from each kitchen section. Then I a walk through all the kitchens that are in operation for lunch. After that I have time for a break for a couple of hours, then another tour through all the kitchens to make sure they are set for a smooth dinner service.

 

Do you work everyday?

I work six days a week. On my days off I visit a beach and have a rest. Once a month I take a
few days off and go to Bangkok or to some of the neighbour countries to Thailand.

 

Do you live at the resort?

Yes, not to far from here. Coming here as a tourist, relaxing for a few days or a week is cool.
The locals are very laid back, they do not put much effort into meeting the demands from the
tourists. On your day off you still have to keep in mind you are working at Pimalai because the locals
and staff know who you are, and even sometimes the guests. Sometimes I miss a socialized
environment where you can disappear in crowd and no one knows who you are./p>

 

Why did you leave Dubai?

Working in Dubai was a good experience in terms of hospitality. Everything is imported and
you might work with food items that you will not be able to work with in other places because
of cost. I spent two and half years in Dubai. It was enough.

 

What is the food scene like on Ko Lanta? And in Thailand in general?

The food scene here at Koh Lanta is quite basic, all the restaurants serve more or less the
same kind of food. You wont find many nice restaurants here at Koh Lanta; the backpackers don’t come here for gourmet. In Thailand you get different kind of food depending on where you go; North Thailand serves
heavier and less spicy food, Bangkok and the center of Thailand serves light and mild spiced
food, E-san food has a nice special taste which is popular among all the Thais. South Thailand serves lighter and spicier food.

 

One of the things we have noticed in Thailand is that you can order the same dish from several places but it will always taste totally different, do you know why this is?

Different Chefs – different taste, I guess food and beverage is a subject of discussion for
lifetime. The same counts in other countries as well I guess. For example a Caesar salad also tastes
different from restaurant to restaurant and from café to café

 

Have you had to get used to any new ingredients in Thailand that you hadn’t used before?

Everything! That’s one of the reasons it is interesting to travel and work as a Chef, if you don’t
like it you better stay at home.

 

So, if you were to go out for a meal where would you go?

There are not many places to go here at Koh Lanta. I visit a few nice places when in Bangkok:
Face, a very old fashioned, traditional Thai restaurant where you can choose Thai and Indian
food or a mix of both if you want. In the basement of Face is a Japanese restaurant too.
Restaurant Banacahtian serves basic and tasty Thai food. Celadon serves very nice authentic Thai food at The Sukhothai Hotel and also the Thai restaurant at The Peninsula Hotel is worthwhile to visit..

 

Has your position of Executive Chef taken you away from being creative?

No not really. I’m involved in all the menu engineering as well as when we start up a new
menu, from how the ingredients are prepared to how the dish is arranged and served to the guest.
As much as possible I involve all my staff in making recipes, preparing the ingredients,
cooking method/technics and arranging the dish. This way they feel that they’ve contributed
and they feel important.

 

How often do you create a new menu?

I change all the menus a few months before the high season so that we have time to practice
and modify if needed. The Chef Special changes daily at Seven Seas, our signature restaurant.
Then we have three themes buffets during the week. The Thai buffet in Spice n’ Rice is the
most popular. Then seafood barbeque in Rak Talay restaurant on the beach as well as the Surf & Turf buffet
in Rak Talay.

 

Are most of the customers here from Europe?

Yes. Most of them are from UK, Australia, Germany, France and Italy, some from New Zealand,
USA, Russia and India.

 

What do you eat when you’re not working?

When I’m at Koh Lanta I go to a street restaurant for some Thai food. If I go out with my friends I enjoy to go out to a restaurant and have a nice dinner and a bottle of wine.

 

What food is your guilty pleasure?

I try to eat healthy when I have my main meals. I taste everything while at work during the
day to control that the food has the same consistency. I taste all the food from raw to finished
product – even fatty things, but if you eat a little bit only you can take it./p>

 

How do you stay in shape when you are surrounded by such delicious food?

I don’t have big main meals. I taste a lot during the day. I eat fruit when I want to have
something light and I exercise in my break.

 

What kind of exercise?

In the gym here. I do weights, running, …anything.

 

Has that been a habit for a long time?

Yes. For the last twelve years. Even though I’m tired, I still go to the gym and after a little bit of
time I get refreshed and get more energy. If I don’t go I regret it.

 

How was the experience of publishing your dessert book?

It was a good experience publishing the dessert book. When looking in my book I can see how I have developed during the past. I have always had a big interest in baking and pastry.

 

What did you learn in the process of creating the book?

What did I learn? I think that one of the most important things when I prepare a recipe for
others is that the other person understands how to prepare the dish.

 

What was your dream job as a child?

I always liked to bake and cook at home for my family when I was young. I don’t know if I was
dreaming of what I’m doing now, but I enjoy what I’m doing. I left primary school when I was 15 years old, started in an apprenticeship as baker then continued as Chef apprentice and finally completed a waiter apprenticeship, eight years all together. Then I started traveling with my educations, meeting different food, culture, people and new places, which I found very interesting.

 

Who are your food heroes, or who has inspired you along the way?

I don’t really have any food heroes. I observe when I go out, in terms of menu engineering,
food quality, presentation and price. While working in London I worked at Quo Vadis one of Marco Pierre White’s. first restaurants where I achieved a lot. I get some inspiration from cookbooks and magazines.
When I look through old cookbooks and magazines I can see how many old ways of preparations and arranging the dishes are coming back.

 

Have you ever owned a restaurant or would you like to?

I have been thinking about it! In Denmark there’s a lot of taxes and fees. If I do I will either go back and do something small that I can manage myself, or do something big that I could get other people to manage for me. You need a lot money to start up so at the moment I’m not sure I’d like to do it yet.

 

What’s your proudest moment in your career to date?

When things are going smoothly, the guests are happy and give compliments to my staff. It’s
nice and enjoyable. I feel proud.

 

What’s the most embarrassing thing that has happened in your career so far?

A couple of times I have been asked by guests why some dishes not are available on the menu
when I know the items are in stock.

 

Have you got any advice for people wanting to enter into a similar career?

You must understand that you have to work when other people don’t. It’s a hot environment and can be very stressful. You have to like what you’re doing.

 

Do you still like it?

YES I still like it. It is not an industry you just join to have a job. You have to sacrifice relation
ships and family. If you have a job in the hospitality industry your friends and family must understand it and support you. You are not working normal hours Monday to Friday nine to five. Your hours will most likely be Friday to Tuesday eight to twenty one, with a break for a couple of hours during the day.. :-) )

 

Have you sacrificed part of your family life for your career?

I don’t know. I’m happy with what I’m doing.

 

Do you still have family in Denmark?

Yes. I go back once a year.

 

Do you miss Danish food?  Do you still cook it here and if so, how do people react to it?

No I don’t miss Danish food. I’m not a particular person. However Thai food two weeks in a
row can get a bit boring, I like anything.

 

What’s your secret for not wanting to be home when you’re away and not wanting to be away when you’re at home?

I like the Asian culture but when it’s too humid I miss the cold weather, otherwise I like it here
in Thailand, the island, beaches and city life. I feel Bangkok is my second hometown.

 

Special thanks to Mirko Langui, Food & Beverage Manager, Chef Asker, and the fabulous Pimalai staff for assistance in making this interview a reality.

If you’d like to visit Chef Asker and enjoy his sensational food, visit Pimalai 5-Star Resort on Ko Lanta, Thailand.

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