Meet Chef of the Month Paul Smart. Paul has cooked for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, won awards including the UK Commis Chef of the Year award at the Academy of Culinary Arts in 2007, the 2008 QLD Restaurant of Champions competition, Gold Medal in the Gold Box Restaurant Challenge in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and has also been a winning challenger on Thailand’s version of the Iron Chef™ television programme in 2012 and 2013.
It’s not just accolades like this that qualifies someone for Hotelintel.co’s ‘Hotelier of the Month’ though. ‘Chef of the Month’ must also: 1. Make amazing food; 2. Demonstrate care for the environment; 3. Be loved by his associates; 4. Have a track record of being ‘customer centric’. When it comes to Paul, check, check, check and check. Paul Smart can be found at the playful, vibrant and stylish SO Sofitel Bangkok.
Let’s meet Paul …
What are the top 3 ingredients you always have in your home kitchen?
I always have nice olive oil for anything that needs some seasoning – it brings nice flavor. Take a nice sea salt, give it a little bit of a crush and the flavor comes out. A good sea salt makes a big difference when you seasoning some vegetables or steak. Here at the hotel we have smoked salt and red wine salt.
What was the first meal you ever cooked by yourself? How was it?
I was cooking in school for a bit in my cooking class. The first dish I made all by myself at home was a souffle, but it never worked the first time. It was a bit of a flop. But now I have perfected it.
What are your thoughts on fusion cuisine?
Sometimes they get confusing. You might end up doing too much and the dish then has no identity. For me, fusion is a combination of two cuisines. Local ingredients from the country you are in with a western dish. At Park Society we have an ‘East meets West’ theme where we take a classical lobster bisque and infuse it with lime, galangal and lemongrass. So here, we’ve taken classic Thai ingredients like lemongrass and lime, and seen how we can combine them with a typically western style dish. It should be subtle and not come out too strong.
As a chef, do you need to be able to work with local flavors?
Yes. I learned quickly that Thais don’t like strong flavors like pigeon or venison. To the Thai palate they are too gamey.
I have learned that Thais like more subtle flavours when eating western cuisine. They are also big fans of foie gras, truffles and other luxury ingredients.
What CSR initiatives are you involved with?
We work with royal projects and local markets. We source locally if we can. We try to do 80% local and 20% imported. There is no point in importing everything as it is expensive and leaves a big mark on the environment.
We have a system called WinNow, that records food wastage and is updated minute by minute. We are able to study the top 5 items that go to waste. Right now, bread is No. 1. Because of this, we have reduced the size of bread portions and left-overs are dried out and turned into bread crumbs. We do also need to be mindful of food hazards as well, so not everything can be recycled. If we reduced the size of the pot on the hot line, we wouldn’t want food to hang around for a long time unheated and subsequently become a big waste item.
What are your kitchen rules?
Hygiene. We have a hygiene manager to monitor all the hygiene standards in the kitchen. I also like to be organized, and all of our fridges in the kitchen are like the ones in shopping malls. Everything has its place. There is a place for everything and everything must be in its place.
Who is your hygiene manager ?
It’s not a one man show. It is a team effort. From kitchen member to bar manager to engineer.
The engineers play a big part. They are the ones doing things like taking out the ice-making machine and cleaning the filter, and dealing with all of the the technical equipment.
What would you like to see more of on the Hotel food scene?
I’d like to see more live stations. Also, a la carte buffet where guests can order from a menu. What I see happening more in the Food & Beverage scene is people wanting a more casual dining experience with good food at a good price rather than expensive fine dining.