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  1. Byron Bay Chilli Co.

    July 1, 2012 by The E.A.T. Team

    ON THE MENU 
    Byron Bay Chilli Sauce on OzyMex Tacos, Nachos, & Burritos
    ON THE GLOBE
    Byron Bay, Australia
    ON THE TEAM
    John Boland, Co-Founder of Byron Bay Chilli Co. & OzyMex Restaurant


    If you grow chillies you realize that the sunnier the season or the sunnier the place where you plant them, the hotter the chilli. It’s converting sunlight in to heat – like a little packet of sun.


    John “The Chilli Dude” Boland moved from California to Australia many moons ago and, together with his wife Lynne, helped pioneer a movement in Australia for chilli sauce and Mexican food. He generously invited us to come to his OzyMex shop to sample his line of epic sauces (our favorites were Fiery Coconut and Smokin’ Mango) on fresh home-made tortilla chips, tacos, quesadillas and a big heapin’ burrito. These classic culinary “hole-in-the-wall” delights reminded me of the traditional Mexican food from my hometown of Los Angeles, with a twist of that California and Australian love for fresh, healthy ingredients.

    His infectious energy and positive vibes spill over into everything he does–the sauces and food are scrumptious to say the least and the fact that he loves what he does after so many years makes us love his products that much more.

    He range of sauces range from mild and sweet to tangy and burnin’ hot. He’s a strong believer in being able to taste the ingredients of the sauce and not just a feeling of “HOT HOT HOT!”

    We loved hearing his story and we think you will too.

    Do you have any advice for anybody wanting to get into the sauce business?
    Don’t give up your day job. No, but seriously, there’s been an awful
    lot of things done in the last ten years so you have to try! There’s a
    great show in Albuquerque, New Mexico called The Fiery Foods Show and it’s a great place to meet people in the industry. Everyone is there. We’ve been a whole bunch of times.
    It’s a good starting point. You could meet with a fellow called Dave
    DeWitt, he’s the Pope of Peppers and runs the show. You just talk to
    people. It depends whether you want it to be a niche product or a main
    stream product. So long as you have a plan for your sauce.

    Did you have a plan for your sauce?
    We didn’t really know what we were doing, we just started making
    sauce. Then all of a sudden we get a call from this supermarket, so we
    were faced with the prospect of being in the shops. We had to make a
    sauce that was fairly competitive price-wise, ours is premium but
    we’re still in the mass market, not the niche market. I think in
    Australia it’s harder to be in the niche market because there are not as
    many delis – there just isn’t as much of anything. There’s fewer
    people and the distances between them are greater.

    What brought you from California to Byron Bay?
    My Mother was Australian, I came down here to meet my Grandmother and
    just loved it! All of my cousins suggested that I go to Byron Bay,
    saying that it was the top spot. Twenty-five years ago there was a real estate
    agent right across the street, I walked in there and she spent the
    whole day looking around at places and ended up buying a little plot
    in the hills. I grew up in California in the 50′s and 60′s and in many
    ways saw the best times there. Byron Bay felt like that to me. It’s
    getting busier all the time, but not too busy. The beach lifestyle was
    too attractive, plus our kids were young enough to bring over and had
    no choice! [Laughs]

    How did it develop in to the business it is today?
    We saw an opportunity at a local food market to open a Mexican food
    stall. That’s how we got started.

    Are there other Mexican restaurants in Byron Bay?
    Byron Bay had the first Mexican restaurant in Australia, ‘Mexican
    Mick’s’ it was called. It was started by an Englishman. So for a long
    time that was here and then he moved away.


    We’re hoping that a lot more
    people get to try our chilli sauce.

    Where do you make the sauces?
    We have a contract bottler which is up near the Gold Coast, about an
    hours drive away. We looked at having our own factory here but it was
    impossible; Not only too expensive, but the council limitations
    brought all sorts of issues to have a building like that here. You’ll
    find that so many sauces have contract packers.

    How much does the factory make over there, is there a certain number
    of bottles per day?

    They are made to order. We sell about 50 tons a year. Last time I looked
    that’s what it was anyway. Still small but not real small. We get
    about 2 tons made at a time.

    Did you expect Byron Bay Chilli Company to get as big as it has done?
    No, I call it an accidental business. We’re hoping that a lot more
    people get to try our chilli sauce.

    Us too, they’re delicious!
    A few of them are so different that I reckon they should be in every
    Whole Foods supermarket. There’s a place in Texas that would love to
    have our sauces but we don’t have an importer.

    For me there’s a few rules of food. Number one is that the first
    bite is taken with your eyes.

    What’s in store for the next few years for Byron Bay Chilli Company?
    We’re working with people to start a series of these Ozy-Mex stores. The good
    thing about this kind of thing [the hole in the wall shop] is that
    it’s affordable. People can pop in and buy something tasty to eat.
    What we like about this arrangement is that people get to see their
    food made so you get to know exactly what’s going in to it. I was
    inspired by one of my favorite places, I grew up very close to Tijuana on the Mexican border. We used to travel around, mainly
    for the cheap beer. There was a little hole in the wall place and in
    order to get in you had to lift the bench up and squeeze in, it was
    big enough for one person. The owner would make tacos and things while
    you waited on the side walk. I was inspired by that idea – literally a
    hole in the wall. It wasn’t so much about going to sit down and
    spending $50 to eat, it was just something for the people.

    With a hole in the wall style place you’re still close to your vision
    and closer to your customers. When restaurants get too big it becomes
    very impersonal. Maybe they lose sight of the vision a little bit…

    Well, for me there’s a few rules of food. Number one is that the first bite is taken with your eyes. There’s also a feeling that a person
    gives off, you know, the very best food is always served by mom,
    there’s love there. In some small way that’s what we try to convey
    here, even when we’re busy we still try to make people feel like
    they’re not a hassle to us – we’re here to feed them. Then, of course
    once it’s in your mouth it’s got to be good too! It should be
    reasonably healthy, and the ingredients should be ethical.

    Are chillies good for your health?
    Absolutely! I certainly reckon they are and there’s a lot of
    literature about it. They’re a digestive aid, a circulatory aid, they
    make your food taste good, and they make you happy. There’s a lot of
    vitamins in chillies. Chilli is an interesting fruit. Most people
    don’t realize this but it came to Asia after the explorers went to the
    Americas. There were no chillies in Asia prior to that time, so in the
    past 500 years these cultures have totally absorbed the chilli. To me
    it’s packed with sunlight. If you grow chillies you realize that the
    sunnier the season or the sunnier the place where you plant them, the
    hotter the chilli. It’s converting sunlight in to heat – like a little
    packet of sun.

    You make your own corn chips too?
    Yes. We make 10 products in total. We’re looking at a few other
    things, for example combining some of our sauces with other things to
    create new flavors. There’s a bunch of things we hope to do in the
    future. I think we’ve captured a good range of chilli sauces and added
    our own signature to them.

    We love your bottle labels. What inspired them?
    It’s a little bit of paradise. It’s fun and clean.

    Which sauce is your favorite?
    I probably reach for the hottest one these days. I really like it on
    so many things, like poached eggs. I don’t have a favorite child, I
    like them all. Sweet chilli, I reach for that a lot. It just depends
    what I’m eating.

    Do you have a sauce with every meal?
    I’ve always got a basket with one of each sauce in it. We just leave it out.

    Where can people living outside of Australia buy your sauces?
    Come to Byron Bay! We do sell online but postage is very expensive.

    Huge thanks to John for this interview and generosity. For more information and recipes to use his delicious sauces, check out:

    http://www.byronbaychilli.com/

    If you like this post and The Eat Team, subscribe to our free monthly newsletter for updates.

     


  2. Best Sushi in Tasmania

    June 3, 2012 by The E.A.T. Team

    Masaaki prepares fresh Tasmanian wasabi.. this stuff packs a serious punch.
     
    ON THE MENU 
    Tasmanian Miso Soup, Fresh Wasabi on Spicy Tuna, Prawn & Snow Peas Sushi
    ON THE GLOBE
    Geeveston, Tasmania, Australia
    ON THE TEAM
    Sushi Chef Masaaki Koyama

    Finding gourmet sushi in the midst of rural Australia was a pleasant surprise to say the least.  Our friend Jess, who lives in Tasmania, recommended we pay Masaaki’s Sushi a visit and we’re so glad we did.

    Masaaki’s shop may be small in size, but it is bursting with quality (and people).. you literally have to wait outside the door while the party before you makes their sushi selections.  You see the day’s fresh rolls lined up beautifully under the glass, with Masaaki and his small crew working hard in the kitchen behind it.

    The magic behind Masaaki’s success is as powerful as it is plain to see–he’s mixed his masterful experience with the freshest local ingredients, a solid crew, and the joy of doing something you really love to do.  Simple goodness.

    We caught Masaaki on his lunch break on a sunny afternoon last week, and his smile and sushi put warmth in our hearts and bellies.

    It was quiet and I found that many people had never had sushi before, which was very interesting.  I gave sushi to everybody who asked, now there are many sushi fans here in Geeveston.

     

    How did this all start?

    At the beginning it was very quiet but now many local people are supporting us, we’re very busy. We are only open Fridays and Saturdays but we have to work more on the preparation side, we spend a lot of days organizing. It’s sometimes very difficult to run the sushi shop but I’m very happy and I’m enjoying myself.

     

    Why did you open your shop here in Geeveston?

    Because my partner, Lucy, lives here. Her Father owns the jewelry shop next door and he suggested to me that the space next to his shop was empty. At first I thought it would be difficult as it’s very different food for the local people. I did the sushi store at the Tasmanian Food Festival 2009 and it went very well. It was busy, so I thought maybe this will be okay! That’s why it all started – slowly, slowly making 5 rolls a day and nobody came. It was quiet and I found that many people had never had sushi before, which was very interesting. People were always asking, “What is this sushi?”, “What is wasabi?” so I say try! I gave sushi to everybody who asked, now there are many sushi fans here in Geeveston.

    Are there other sushi shops in the area?

    Yes. There is one in Hobart called Orizuru Restaurant. Also a takeaway sushi shop called Sush. And others, they are all nice.

     

    But this is the only sushi in the Huon Valley?

    Yes, this is the only one.

     

    We saw that you were featured on the Gourmet Farmer, how did he contact you?

    It was interesting, we were at a friends birthday party and there was a camera man. The Gourmet Farmer was asking me what brought me to Tasmania, so I told him the story about meeting Lucy. He asked me about my job as a chef, at this time they were just starting filming the show. After a few weeks he contacted me asking if I was interested and I said no because I was busy! Then a few more weeks passed and they asked again. I’m very glad I did it as it was good publicity for my shop and a great experience.

     

    Where were you living before Tasmania?

    Japan. I met Lucy in Japan, where she was teaching English. I was one of her students.

     

    So now you get to practice your English a lot…?

    Well, this is a problem because she speaks Japanese perfectly so my English doesn’t really improve!

     

    How did she learn Japanese so perfectly?

    She lived there for 7 years.

     

    Do you both go back to Japan often?

    Yes, sometimes. Next week we are going! So this is the last weekend for a while. It’s lucky that you caught me here. We come back end of June.

     

    Sushi is very popular in California, which is where I’m from [Melissa]. Your sushi looks different, do you make it special in some way compared to other chefs?

    Yes, it could be that way. For me it’s not so special but I have been doing this work for almost 20 years. I’m 41 now and I started when I was 18.

     

    Do you use fresh ingredients from Tasmania?

    Oh yes. We try to get everything from this area.

     It has to be local, fresh veg, that’s most important.

    Your soup has been celebrated as ‘the best Miso soup you’ll ever have’ (Jessica Nicholls, 2012), what’s the secret?

    Really? Oh, thank you! When we make it with crayfish, which is why it tastes very rich. You have to use fresh vegetables from around Geeveston. It has to be local, fresh veg, that’s most important.

     

    What’s the most popular sushi roll that you make?

    Tuna rolls are very special, and also prawn and avocado. Our inari (stuffed bean curd pouches) is good too! I only make maybe 6 or 7 different varieties everyday, pretty much every time we sell out. They all seem popular!

     

    (We notice food half unwrapped on the table in-front of him) But you’re not having any for lunch today?

    It’s hamburger!

     

    Where do you get a hamburger here?

    Around the corner, they make very good burgers.

     

    Do they come to you for lunch?

    [Laughs] Yes!

     

     

    For more information on Masaaki and his famous sushi, please see:

    Masaaki Sushi

    20b Church Street, Geeveston, TAS.

    0408 712 340

    masaakikoyama@me.com

    Open Friday & Saturday in Geeveston (11:30am – 6:30pm) and every Sunday at The TasFarmGate Market in Hobart

     

    Special thanks to chef Masaaki, Cassy and Ken for making this happen.

    
    

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  3. Crumpets Are The Food of Gods

    May 27, 2012 by The E.A.T. Team

    Crumpets are my favorite food.  In the whole world.  Hands down.  It’s no secret that I love food and there are countless edible things in the world that bring me to obscene states of joy, but I can say without a hint of doubt that crumpets are my favorite.

    Why?  You might ask.  And before that, you might even be wondering what exactly a crumpet is.

    What is a crumpet?

    Firstly, let me tell you that although a crumpet is a thing of simple joy, it cannot be described simply, nor can it be simply described.  They are things of true magnificence and beauty. You must try one firsthand to get it.  But I will attempt, in vain, to describe it to you.

    Usually I like to start off by having the crumpet virgin imagine an english muffin–a crumpet looks quite similar in shape, size and color.  But that’s where the likeness ends.  Though english muffins are wonderful entities in their own right, scientifically speaking, they haven’t got shit on crumpets.

    Crumpets, unlike english muffins, do not get cut in half.  On the top half, you have a series of holes covering the surface about 1mm in diameter and running almost all the way down to the bottom.  In its natural, un-toasted state, a crumpet is like a thick sponge.  Which sounds gross, and probably is, but chill out.. we haven’t gotten to the good part.

    Here’s Wikipedia’s puny attempt at explaining the glory:

    “A crumpet /ˈkrʌmpɨt/ is a savoury griddle cake made from flour and yeast. It is eaten mainly in the United Kingdom and other nations of the Commonwealth. Crumpets are somewhat similar in appearance, though not in flavour, to North American pancakes, where both have pores caused by expanding air bubbles.”

     

    The art of toasting a crumpet.

    A crumpet must be treated with respect.  He or she will know what a prize you hold in your hands, and will demand to be handled delicately and with consideration.

    1. First, insert your crumpet gently into the toaster, careful not to break, squish, or damage your food-jewel.

    2. Next, check the heat settings to ensure your crumpet’s safety.  Now turn that shit to the highest possible setting because your crumpet is a big, thick, squishy monster which needs to be taught who’s boss.

    3. Remove crumpet from toaster.  Observe that, even after a full intensity toasting, your crumpet is not yet ready to harvest.  Is the upper surface crusty?  Is your crumpet steaming?  Is the bottom golden brown?  No, I didn’t think so.

    4. Re-insert your crumpet into the toaster to ensure that your upper surface is crusty.  Remain alert: if you don’t watch carefully, the edges will burn.  This is the crucial moment.  This is where you and your crumpet either make it or break it.  BE VIGILANT!

    5. Remove crumpet.  Observe and quality check to ensure that your crumpet is finally toasted to perfection.

    6. Allow crumpet to cool for 30-60 seconds to allow hardening of upper crust.

    Now, you’re ready for the spread.

    Topping a crumpet

    Topping choice is an extremely important decision in the life of your crumpet eating experience.  What you choose says a lot about your inherent value as a person (or what mood you’re in).  A topping is a vital component to your breakfast of champions–even considering eating a dry crumpet gets you a life sentence in jail.

    The beauty of the topping-crumpet duo is the way they seep into the holes: filling the inner squishy bit with flavor and things that clog your arteries, providing the perfect balance to the crispy upper and lower exteriors.  The toppings burst out of the crevices with each bite, filling your mouth with pure bliss.

    Following are my list of top toppings.

    Butter: A wonderful solo topping, but also an absolutely necessary base layer to accompany any other topping.  Don’t mess with margarine, low-fat, canola oil, or any of that sissy stuff.  Slather it up and slather it on.  Your crumpet will thank you.

    Jam: For a sweet treat and cool, refreshing accompaniment of a steamy crumpet.  I prefer strawberry with bits.

    Cheese: Watch in amazement as it seeps into the crevices, filling them with gooey warm goodness.  Die and go to heaven.

    Honey: All-time favorite crumpet topping.  Sweet gooey honey with salty butter, oozing out the bottom and sides.

    Good options also include chocolate, smooth peanut butter, nutella, fruit, fried egg, chilli, cream cheese, vegemite.

    Deluxe crumpeteering options also exist, such as:

    Snickers Crumpet: Alternate 1 layer chocolate/nutella with 1 layer smooth peanut butter.  Repeat 4 times.

    French Crumpet: Dip crumpet in french toast batter and fry.

    Savoring and enjoying a crumpet

    Eating and enjoying the perfect crumpet is as individual and personal an experience as a first kiss.  You’ll remember it, always.  Don’t forget to pair it with a nice hot cup of english tea and enjoy!

     


  4. Taste Testing Tasmania’s Only Sheep Cheesery

    May 20, 2012 by The E.A.T. Team

    80 sheep

    10 years

    9 organic sheep cheeses (along with a range of yoghurt, frozen yoghurt and cows milk cheeses)

     

    Grandvewe is a family run Sheep’s Cheesery, and it’s the only one here on Tasmania.  Diane Rae, along with children Nicole Gilliver and Ryan Hartsthorn keep the business operating as smoothly as their indulgent, creamy cheeses.

     

    Diane and her partner Alan took a holiday to Tasmania in 1999 and found that they had an immediate connection with the land. The family moved from Brisbane to the 16-odd hectare plot with dreams of creating an organic vineyard but the demand for sheep milk produce quickly became apparent. After researching the market they noticed a niche opportunity to launch a range of sheep milk products.

     

    “There’s only four of us in Australia with dairy sheep and only two that extend to tourism.”

     

    They bought the farm and established a flock of East Friesland sheep, a dutch variety bred for their high milk yield. Within two years of production, Diane won ‘Best Organic Product’ at the 2003 Tasmanian Fine Food Awards. More recently their chosen breed of sheep is Awassi as they are robust and drought-tolerant, ideally suited to the Tasmanian climate. Grandvewe is the only producer of its kind to be certified organic.

     

    We got the chance to taste several of their cheeses, and here’s what we thought:

     

    1. Friesland Fog – Soft cheese with a blue/grey rind. Smooth, creamy with a hint of blue cheese taste.
    2. La Mancha – Classic sheep cheese made in the Manchego style. Rubbed weekly with organic olive oil and aged for 20 months. This cheese won gold at the 2012 Sydney Royal Cheese and Dairy Produce Show.
    3. Sapphire Blue – Named champion by the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW. This led to Grandvewe applying for the President’s Medal, the country’s highest produce accolade.
    4. Pinot Paste - Grandvewe’s equivalent of quince jelly. Perfect accompaniment to the tasty cheeses on offer here.
    5. Mutton Sausage – A cured meat sausage with a smoky rich flavor.

     

    Visiting Grandvewe was a treat in itself–an elegant, cozy cafe overlooking lush rolling hills covered in their sheep, with a stunning body of water shimmering in the background.  We bundled up in some fleece, browsed the huge collection of magazine and newspaper articles published about Grandvewe, and had a great chat with Diane’s daughter, who is also one of the owners of Grandvewe, Nicole Gilliver.

     

    Our favorite treat of the day (other than the sheep’s puns and jokes that lined the walls of the bathroom) was the Sheep Milk Ice Cream–intensely creamy and a perfect, rich chocolate flavour.

     

    High quality products, relentless commitment to their dream, and a great sense of humor to boot.. it’s just one killer combination for a business.  Grandvewe, you rock our woolen socks off.

    For more information on Grandvewe Sheep Cheesery, please visit their website or in person at:
    59 Devyns Road, Birchs Bay, South Hobart

    If you like this post and The Eat Team, subscribe to our free monthly newsletter for updates.

     


  5. Eat Meet: Chef Michael Elfwing at Hilton Kuala Lumpur

    May 14, 2012 by The E.A.T. Team

    ON THE MENU 
    Smoking Allowed, Seafood Soup, LERØY Salmon Trout, Chocolate Tart “Michel Chaudon”
    ON THE GLOBE
    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
    ON THE TEAM
    Master Chef Michael Elfwing

    I’m quite disciplined with myself and what I want, if there’s something that I want, I make it happen.  You just have to stay focused.

     


    Chef Elfwing is the head chef at Senses Restaurant at Hilton Kuala Lumpur. Originally from Sweden, he studied the culinary arts in Australia from age 16 after being inspired by his father, who was also an international chef.  He’s worked with the legendary Chiong Liew at Grange in Adelaide, and at the world-famous Fat Duck restaurant with Heston Blumenthal, among others.  He’s published his own cookbook, which features his gorgeous photography.  His Senses restaurant has won several awards including the prestigious 5-Star Diamond Awards as one of the Best Restaurants in the World and Hospitality Asia Award for Best Western Cuisine.

    But he’s so much more than a pile of fancy titles and accolades.  He’s warm, innovative, passionate, creative and inspiring to say the least.  He’s humble about his extraordinary feats and talents, and willing to admit there’s always more to learn.  He has an infectious energy and he continues to work hard to earn the fruits of his labor.  Tasting his culinary creations assured me of that.  He was kind enough to let me interview him, snap some photos, and prepare some of his classic dishes for me.

    Needless to say, I was blown away by Chef Eflwing’s food as well as his character.

     

    ~ What I Ate  ~

     

    Smoking Allowed………..  

    Table smoked Tasmanian ocean trout, Nordic deep sea shrimp with sour cream & chives

    Unbelievable texture, melt-in-your-mouth trout.  The presentation is so unique–watching the smoke seep out as the jar is opened, smelling the soft wood chip smoke as it makes its way towards you, and the unbeatable taste.. top-notch combination.  Truly delights your Senses. 

    Seafood Soup  

    Seared cod, slipper lobster, Scottish diver scallop, saffron potato & roast roma tomatoes

    Another brilliant presentation–first you’re served the cod, lobster, scallop and potato so you really see what’s in the soup.  Then they pour the soup over it all, piping hot, as the aroma fills your nose.  A perfect, hearty soup for winter.

    LERØY Salmon Trout

    Organic salmon trout from the pristine fjords of Norway served with a sea garnish of edible sand, fresh clams & Dutch grey shrimp, smoked potato purée

    Another fantastic presentation.  Bursting with fresh ocean flavor.  ”Edible sand” concoction unlike anything I’ve seen or tasted, paired perfectly with the potato purée.  A sophisticated harmony of delights from the sea.

     

    Chocolate Tart “Michel Chaudon”  

    Exclusive to Senses by Parisian chocolatier Michel Chaudon.

    This handmade chocolate simply transformed into a light & warm  chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream

    Extremely innovative dish inspired by a larger traditional tart.  Smooth, silken molten chocolate and creamy light ice cream.  A classic.

     

     

     

     

    How long have you been living in Malaysia and working at Senses inside Hilton Kuala Lumpur?

    Eight years, it was the 1st of July, 2004 that I started here.  I’m Swedish but I worked 7 years in Australia before coming here.  I worked in Adalaide before with Chiong Liew, and Kuala Lumpur wanted to “bring papa home” because he’s Malaysian, so they asked me and Kelly Brennan to open and run Senses, based on legendary KL chef Chiong Liew‘s themes.  It has changed a lot since opening, because of the clientele: people go to Chiong Liew’s personal restaurant to eat Chiong Liew’s food: he cooks about 20 dishes and it has been that way for 10 years.

    But here, the Malaysians request new meals.  You have to listen to your customers.  That was something I had to learn, I came from the very stubborn, determined Chiong Liew mentality because I learned from him, that “this is my dish, nothing can change.”  The Malaysians are very loyal in that they like coming back to a place, but they don’t want the same thing time and again–they want different dishes from the same chef.  We might think we know how things work based on previous experince, but its always changing.

     

    What are your favorite ways to integrate aspects of local Malaysian food or culture into your creations?

    I think I learned a lot about Malaysian food, and its integration of Malay, Chinese, Indian aspects while working with Chiong Liew in Australia.  We opened Senses with the concept to cook gourmet Malysian food, but the locals were saying, “I don’t need you to cook shark fin or bok choi for me here, I can go to the local Chinese restaruant for that.”  We had all these beautiful lychees and mangosteens, and they’re saying, “I’ll just get that at my corner market, can you please give me some rhubarb? Something special from your culture?”

    Smoking Allowed, my signature dish–the one served in a smoke-filled jar, is certainly Scandinavian, but it uses ocean trout from Australia.  I wouldn’t be allowed to use a Norwegian salmon for this because of the texture and fat content, I had to test and try to find the right fish.  So that’s why I integrate different foods from different places, to get the best ingredients from where they are in the world.  I buy local, but I don’t buy the typical Asian vegetables.  My fish is imported from Japan or Australia, but a lot of this is because of customer demand, because they want something special, something they cannot find on the streets.

    Cheong’s food is very modern Malaysian: if you’re Malaysian, you might understand where his food is coming from, but you might not like it because it’s not prepared in the traditional ways.  The locals are very protective about how a laksa should be, but every single person makes it a different way.

    My food is a bit more straightforward, it might be refined, but the flavors are very recognizable and familiar.

     

     

    What do you eat when you’re not at work?

    I tend to cook at home on my day off.. I lock myself in my home on my days off.  It’s taken me years to be this relaxed.  Some chefs are all over the place, every two years a new place.

     

    What will you do after you’re finished at Senses?

    Right now Senses and the Hilton here is my plan and my life.  We’re going to renovate, we’re actually going to have a new restaurant and new bar.. this is a hotel that doesn’t stand still.  We’re going to move more towards a western, European restaurant.  When I want to leave again, I will move back to Australia.  I have citizenship there as well.

     

     I never planned to stay this long but I like it and I’m happy so.. why move?

     

    We met an Executive Chef in Thailand, and he is in charge of managing the chefs but no longer cooks.  Are you cooking still?

    Yes,  we have 160 chefs and 8 outlets at this hotel, so we have an executive chef here too–but I said to myself.. I don’t want that job, I don’t want 220 headaches.  I am spoiled, lucky even, that I am just one head chef in one restauarant.  I never planned to stay this long but I like it and I’m happy so.. why move?

     

    Was it your dream to become a chef when you were younger?

    Yes, I would say.  I’ve always loved reptiles and fish, so I was interested in marine biology and the like, but cooking was more instantly gratifying and when I was 15, 16 it seemed like an easier choice to study cooking than marine biology.  Since I was young, my  father was an international chef, and I would visit him wherever he was and it was always a kind of holiday to see him cooking on those big cruise ships.  My dad was working as a chef at Carnival cruise ships company when Hurricane Katrina hit.  The company offered to house people for free but they had a huge problem with criminals on board, so he quit and moved to Australia.  I visited him there, just thinking it was a vacation, and I was wowed by all the sunshine.. endless sunshine!  So it made me think, maybe I should study here, so I studied at culinary school there from age 16.  Most of my inspiration came form seeing my dad, working all over the world, traveling.  It all started from there.

     

    I saw you featured on Molecular Gastronomy, can you explain what molecular gastronomy is and how you use it?

    Your basic french training is always in the background in your mind as a chef.  My food, in terms of molecular, is definitely.. well, I spent a month at the Fat Duck with the legendary Heston Blumenthal, and that showed a side of molecular gastronomy that really appealed to me.  Heston’s style is more about time and temperature, and he is very precise with this.  You’re not adding foreign ingredients for a texture that’s not there–the Spanish chefs change a lot of texture: you have a familiar flavor but the texture is strange.  I would love to go and eat it, but it’s not the kind that I enjoy cooking.  Smoking Allowed is vacuum cooking, which is old-fashioned already, but its very precise, and so very fool-proof, so you get a very consistent product every time you do it.  But we haven’t made a trout into a shaving foam texture, so it’s still a fish.  The edible sensibilities comes form my inspiration from Heston.

     

    Who are some of the coolest people you met here?

    Mel Gibson, Louis Hamiltion (he had two-well done tenderloins, french fries and heinz tomato ketchup) because we have the Formula 1 races.  Sebastian Vettel who won Formula 1 for the past two years, he comes every year, I was lucky enough to give him one of my books.

     

    Have you ever had any failures that you felt you could not overcome?

    What can I say.. cooking is very personal, because YOU are the one choosing the ingredients, serving the dish.  Sometimes you care if the guest doesn’t like it because you might believe in it so strongly and like it so much, but after 15 years in the kitchen, I think you learn to be humble.  Not everyone can like what you like.  You have a lot of failures testing recipes, but you test it–if its not good, you don’t serve it.  Testing is a different type of failure–it doesn’t hurt as much.  Being very much hands-on you eliminate a lot of that.  I haven’t had any serious failures I think.  I’m quite disciplined with myself and what I want, if there’s something that I want, I make it happen.  You just have to stay focused.

     

    For more information on Chef Elfwing and Senses Restuarant, please visit:

    Hilton Kuala Lumpur Hotel

    3 Jalan Stesen Sentral, 50470 Kuala Lumpur

    Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
    03-2264-2264

     

    Special thanks to Chef Elfwing, the Senses staff, and Sabrina Loh for making this happen.

    
    

    If you like this post and The Eat Team, subscribe to our free monthly newsletter for updates.

     


  6. What Is Malaysian Food?

    April 7, 2012 by The E.A.T. Team

    Malaysia is a huge mixing pot of cultures, with such large populations of immigrants that Chinese and Indian food can be considered typical Malaysian food.

    Nasi Kandar is a really popular dish here in Kuala Lumpur and throughout Malaysia: it’s basically rice served buffet-style with different curries, vegetables, noodles, and other sides.  ”Nasi” means rice and “kandar” is the pole that vendors use on their shoulders to balance two buckets of rice.  One heaping plate of warm delicious-ness that leaves you feeling like passing out costs a whopping 6 or 7 Ringgits (USD $2).  Basically its heaven.

    Today, my Polish couchsurfing hosts Magda & Jurek took me to their favorite Nasi Kandar restaurant, and I spoke with the owner, Norshaw Izzarudin and her son Raffik.  Raffik’s brother in law is the chef and it’s a family business through-and-through.

    They’ve been running the business for 7 years, which, like most similar establishments, has no name or address.  However, just because they’re not on Google Maps doesn’t mean business isn’t booming.. its a friendly neighborhood shack and the locals use their hands to eat (according to Magda it tastes better this way).  A nice cold Lime Ice Tea helps wash down the spicy chilis peppered throughout the curries while you sweat in the shade, karaoke from the wedding accross the street filling your ears.

    My favorite dish was Pajeri Nanas (pineapple curry) and Raffik’s is Siakap (fish with coconut milk and chili).

    For dessert, we headed right next door to the women cooking up a storm.  Colorful squishy blobs made of sticky rice, tapioca, and flour confused but delighted my taste buds.

    The photos might do the whole experience more justice:


  7. Award for Best Amateur Chef Goes To..

    April 6, 2012 by The E.A.T. Team

    There are some things you just can’t plan.  Not only can you not plan them, but you can not even imagine them existing in reality.  One of those such things was Couchsurfing with a young Russian couple living in Ao Nang, a subdistrict of the southern city of Krabi, Thailand.  We could have stayed in a hostel and followed the traditional guidebook recommendations, but instead we trekked out to what felt like the boonies to spend the night with strangers…

    Fresh off the boat from Ko Lanta island, we tried to figure out how to get to the house of our Couchsurfing hosts, with whom we had only spoken to via email.  Hot, sweaty, tired and a bit intimidated by the taxi driver’s confusion, we were slightly apprehensive about how this was all going to play out.  We were running on Thai time, so the bus arrived two hours later than expected.. would they be waiting for us?  Would we find the right place?  Was the taxi man driving us in circles to rip us off?

    Finally locating the right house, we knocked and… nothing happened.  A few minutes later, Liz and Ed emerged and greeted us warmly in the more-than-warm afternoon.  Relieved, we settled in quickly to some of the best days of our trip.

    Exploring a hidden monkey beach, a day-trip expedition to the giant Tesco Lotus supermarket on their motorbikes, the only wine we had in Thailand, spotting a dinosaur-like giant lizard in their backyard, Papaya salad from Liz’s favorite food stall, teasing their cat (aptly named Cat), wooden “swordfighting” in the city center, watching fish with legs crawl creepily out of the ocean like a glimpse of evolution in progress.. we had a very unique experience with Liz & Ed that we would not have had by reading a guidebook, and that’s the beauty of Couchsurfing.  But most importantly, we found two new fantastic friends.. ones that are welcome to stay in our homes, and that we will travel to purposely visit next time.

    I’d like to end this post with an awards ceremony.  Liz spoiled us daily with unbelievably tasty fresh stir fries, noodles, omelets, and sandwiches.  The EAT Team Best Amateur Chef Award goes to Liz for her outstanding culinary delights!


  8. Eat Meet: Executive Chef Asker Skaarup Bay

    March 31, 2012 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.

    If you liked this interview, subscribe to our free monthly newsletter for updates.


     


  9. Kids For A Day

    March 9, 2012 by The E.A.T. Team

    After spending four days in the jungle with chef Samart, we were ready to be back in the throes of society.  Roaming the streets of Chiang Mai’s city center all day with our friend Evan tuckered us out, and by the time mid afternoon rolled around, Hannah & Evan were hankering for an ice cold beer by the water.  We stopped in to 7-11 to get the local Chang brew, but there was a sign indicating we were out of luck.  No alcohol was being sold that day because of a Buddhist holiday.

    Instead, we decided to be kids again for the day.  We stocked up on toys–yo yos, frisbee, bubble blowers–and some of the most ridiculous (and surprisingly tasty) processed snacks Thailand has to offer.  Here’s our findings on 7-11′s “finest” foods:

    Cuttlefish Crackers: Crispy, salty, a bit like shrimp chips.  ★★★☆☆

    Coconut Bread: Squishy center, very gelatinous.  Strong, desirable coconut flavor with crispy exterior. ★★★☆☆

    Sushi Sunchips: Light and fluffy, strong earthy texture and seaweed flavor.  Different from American sunchips, but equally delicious. ★★★★☆

    Peanuts glazed with sesame seeds and toffee: Sugary, salty and crunchy.  Fantastic dessert, but not so different than nuts you can acquire at home. ★★★☆☆

    Sweet & sour tamarind: Extreme tartness blends well with sugar and chewiness.  Bean pods still inside were unexpected. ★★☆☆☆

    Toffee almond cake: Mild, moist cake, crispy almonds glazed in honey.  A lot like the German pastry called “bienenstich”.  ★★★☆☆

    Original crispy seaweed: Bland and outright nasty on the first bite, better and better with each thereafter.  7-11s in Thailand have a huge selection of different seaweed. ★★★☆☆

    M150 Energy Drink: Impressive that it comes in a glass bottle.  I heard that energy drinks originated in Thailand, so we wanted to see how they compared to the ones at home.  Sweet but not sickly flavor, enjoyable actually.  Amusing text on packaging reads “DEVOTION, COURAGE, SACRIFICE”. ★★★★☆

    Watermelon Seeds: Absolutely disgusting.  Like old burnt nails.  We just imagined someone at the factory munching on a watermelon spitting seeds out and collecting them, baking them for a few minutes, and packaging them up for sale. ☆☆☆☆☆

    Crab Black Pepper Deluxe Potato Chips: Tasted mostly of BBQ.  A classic, enjoyable chip. ★★★★☆

     


  10. Eat Meet No. 2 – Chiang Mai Jungle Curry

    March 6, 2012 by The E.A.T. Team

    ON THE MENU 
    Bok Choi Jungle Curry and Moonshine
    ON THE GLOBE
    Mae Wan, Chiang Mai, Thailand
    ON THE TEAM
    Chef Samart Srisoda, Ex-Monk and Philanthropist
     

    Samart’s Lifestory in a Nutshell

    The youngest of 9 children, Samart attended Primary school until his parents could no longer afford it. At 11 years old he started life in a monastery as a Temple Boy and continued his studies as a Monk after a year. Leaving the monastery after 8 years, Samart continued in his education becoming the only member of his family to have a university degree. Samart now runs a successful adventure tour company along with several community projects which help to raise money for families unable to fund education for their children.

    www.theeatteam.com

    Where are we?

    Mae Win, a sub district of Chiang Mai

     

    Where are you from?

    Chiang Mai, Thailand

     

    What are we eating tonight? 

    Bok Choi Jungle Curry with rice, followed by Papaya.

     

    Why/how did you become a chef?

    Started from a young age because my parents had to work long hours as garlic pickers. I cooked for them.  They would get picked up from the nearest village to start a two hour journey – finish at 5 back home at 7 – late.  There was no electricity so after sunset.. the only thing to do is make babies.

     

    What is the food scene like in Chiang Mai?

    Chiang Mai food and Thai food.. very different.  Everywhere has their own food.  Me?  I’m very picky.  I eat 99%  only northern Thai food.  Pad Thai, fried rice.. maybe once a year for me.  I cook all the time.  Here, they wrap fish in banana leaves and put them on the barbecue so it steams.. that’s northern Thai food.  Central Thai food uses a lot of coconut milk.  Northern people hardly use coconut milk–only in pudding.  Muslim people use coconut milk a lot.  Southern Thai also.. that’s why they’re fat!  They use lemon juice, and we use tamarind.  Southern Thai food is more about stir fry, northern is more about curry. The ingredients in Tom (like in Tom Yam and Tom Kha) is sliced and boiled. Gang is ground. Masaman is Buddhist/Hindu curry. Penang is more like red curry.  Burmese curry – tomato peanuts and ginger.

    When you come to Chiang Mai, you must eat the sausage.  And chili paste with pork and tomato.  Sticky rice and Chiang Mai sausage.  The second one is bak choi soup, very simple: in hot water, you cook the bones to make a broth and stock.  Don’t overcook!  Throw fried garlic in.. perfect.  That’s for tomorrow.  Chiang Mai food only.  No Thai food.

     

    What was the first thing you learned how to cook?

    This, what we’re eating tonight–Bak  Choi Curry.  There’s many different types of bak choi, and they’re all very different.  This one is a little bit bitter.  It’s called Hamong.

     

    Where and how did you learn to cook?

    Just watching my parents, seeing how they did it.  My mother liked to cook Thai food, but my Father hated [southern] Thai food.  He liked Chiang Mai food, he thought it was healthier becuase it’s steamed in banana leaves.  He was a smart.  He was a village man but he watched documentaries and the news all the time.  He’s 73 years old.

     

    What is your favorite food?

    Bok choi curry, I eat it twice a week.  I don’t like beige vegetables, only green.  I really like stir fried morning glory with oyster sauce.  Morning glory is from China.

     

    “MSG stands for MMM So Good!”

    Why aren’t there many tomatoes here?

    Thai people don’t really eat a lot of it, and it’s not native.

     

    Do you feel fast food joints are ruining Thai food culture?

    No, I think it has changed the culture, but it’s still just an option and Thailand cannot really say anything because when we decide to be an open, fair trade country, well that means we have to accept everything.  But not many people can afford to eat fast food anyways!  It’s so much more expensive.

    Families cook, but people living in a dorm go out a lot–its cheaper!  It’s more expensive to gather the ingredients and cook at home, unless you share with many people.

     

    Is it usually the mom that cooks?

    Usually women cook, the more common foods especially.  Unless it’s extra special rare food, like rare beef salad, men cook that.

     

    Is there anything you don’t like or ingredients you avoid?

    I just don’t like creamy substances like coconut milk.

     

    Do you prefer cooking here than in your house in Chiang Mai?

    It’s a better atmosphere.  In the city, I’m alone.  This is one of the reasons I participate with couchsurfing, because I like cooking and this way someone eats my food!

     

    “Cooking is my skill, my art. ”

     

    Do you have special occassions that you make food for?

    I cook pretty much every day, so I cook for the holidays too.  I’d rather have a nice meal than go out, so I cook while the others go out and celebrate.  They get home and eat my food.  It’s my skill, its art for me.  I don’t know how to draw or paint, or music… I know nothing.  Cooking is my skill, my art.  Most people still follow the old generation’s advice.  They link that belief to the idea that a spirit would get angry, perhaps give you diarrhea.

     

    What is it that you’re not meant to do that would anger the spirits?

    Well, people do it now, but when I was younger, you would never cook mushroom with meat.

     

    Was there a special diet for the monks?

    Basically, the monk has no choice for food, so they have to eat what the people cook for them.  Eat to live.  And they don’t cook normally, it’s the people’s job.  If they don’t like it, they can cook their own or adapt their tastebuds. And that’s very hard.

     

    Is it true that a lot of Thai food has MSG in it?

    Oh yes, a lot.  But I use chicken stock.  But it still has very low levels of MSG in it.  But nobody knows for sure still whether or not MSG is bad for you.

     

    Why do they use MSG anyways?  It’s tasty enough isn’t it?

    Because sometimes you need a sweetness that’s not sugar.  Normally MSG is from tapioca, a Japanese company in Kanchanaburi, Thailand makes MSG.  It’s not only tapioca powder, but chemicals too, and that’s what they think might be harmful.  Lots of people talk about it, but its still not known.  You keep hearing, ‘oh it’s bad for the blood, it’s bad for the bones,’ and then a couple years later you hear from American scientists that nothing’s wrong.

     

    How do you feel about MSG?

    It’s a drug.  People get addicted to it.

     

    Where do you get MSG?

    Just from the shop.  It’s like a white powder. Started in Japan but there’s a factory in Kanchanaburi. When you study science you learn about MSG from a very early age as if it’s a drug, good teachers try to stop kids from having it and advise against them having it. You can use mushroom if veggie, or chicken or pork stock if not instead.

    My Sister and mother are good at cooking but use too much MSG. You can’t change the people in the village or older relatives who are stuck in their ways. I am the first of my family to get a degree, but they dont listen to me about MSG. If they have never been to school then they haven’t ever learned about it, therefore don’t care. I say to my Mother, “If you can’t tell me what MSG stands for then you need to stop using it.” She replies, “MSG stands for MMM So Good!”

     

    Have you tried cooking food other than Thai food?

    I cook Italian sometimes.  I cook pizza, and adapt it in my way–I make red curry pizza.  And Thai lasagna, including chilis, garlics, coriander seeds, spices, tumerics, like what we put in the chili paste we are making tonight.  I like red meat so I would put pork or beef in it.  Kangaroo meat is the best meat in the world, no fat because they’re hopping all day.

     

    Did you build this place?

    Yes, it took 2.5 years.  Now they are solar powered and there’s internet.  I started in May 2 years ago.  I started with only 1 bungalow, I wanted only 1, and then.. more and more.

     

    If you were gonna eat a really fatty meal, what would it be?

    Bacon is the worst food that I would eat.

     

    Why isn’t there cheese in Thai food?

    Because Thailand is a tropical region–just because it’s hot.  Cheese is meant to keep you warm.  New chefs bring a revolution in the last 15 years and now lots of people use cheese mixed with Thai food.

     

    Do you ever use cheese in your cooking?

    No never.. except for the Thai lasagna.

     

    We’ve ordered the same dish in several places, but they’ve all tasted different.  Why?

    When cooking, chefs can have the same skills, same ingredients, but the food can taste totally different. The key is that you need the same pot and same heat–bronze and open air fire from a clay oven. If you want to cook lemur or deer you need to cook in a clay pot so it smells like the earth.

     

    How do you know how much of each ingredient to put in since you’re not measuring anything?

    You can feel how much you need to put in from your heart. (If you’re a real chef!)

    To work, volunteer, or vacation with Samart visit chaingmaiecolodges.com or email him at spicywildpumpkin@gmail.com