Neng is Executive Chef at Pimalai Resort & Spa, an iconic beachfront retreat on Koh Lanta in southern Thailand. She’s worked in F&B for 13 years with roles at hospitality brands such Sheraton and Six Senses, as well as at The Boathouse Phuket. Neng joined Pimalai Resort & Spa in 2012 and is in charge of all the culinary destinations around the resort leading a team of 60 staff. Outlets include two of Koh Lanta’s best-known venues: Rak Talay, the signature seafront dining restaurant, and Seven Seas, the resort’s international fine-dining restaurant, both consistently topping TripAdvisor’s reviews.
Tell us a little bit about your journey as a chef?
When I was young, I never thought I’d be a chef one day. When I studied in Australia, I had the opportunity to work in a restaurant and held various positions such as waiter, cashier, and cook. It was then I realized my passion was cooking. At 22, I had to go back to Bangkok and I worked in an office. But I didn’t like it at all! So, I got back into food and studied Thai and Western food at Dusit Thani College. I then started my career as a trainee at Grand Sheraton Sukhumvit in Bangkok before moving to Koh Samui to work at Six Senses, and then to The Boathouse in Phuket. I have been at Pimalai for seven years now. While working as Executive Chef, I was also lucky enough to be a guest chef in the Philippines to promote Thai cuisine and I had the chance to work in Britany, France, with a 1-star Michelin chef.
What's the biggest challenge of being a chef today?
For me it is anticipating trends. Recently there’s a lot more focus on healthy food, vegan and vegetarianism, and gluten-free food. The challenge is to create dishes that meet this demand. So, my mission as an Executive Chef is to constantly train my team and teach them how to be ready for these changes. At Pimalai, we have three main restaurants. Each of them has a distinctive concept and targets a multi-generational audience. We need to be three times more creative to satisfy all these taste buds.
What's your most popular dish? How is it different or unique?
All my dishes are popular! If I was to choose one it would always contain king prawns. It is always the guest favorite. Being on an island is a real advantage as we have the chance to cook seafood and fish brought daily by local fishermen from Koh Lanta. Their products are very fresh and have amazing quality. This is our way to support local businesses. We also use vegetables and herbs from our organic farm. I like to cook these local products and give a Western and Mediterranean twist to them. The presentation of my dishes is also inspired by my experience in Europe.
What's the recipe for success in F&B?
F&B is a field where you have to be passionate. You need drive, otherwise I don’t believe you can succeed. We also need to be innovative and open-minded. Teamwork is key too. I can’t supervise our three kitchens at the same time but I fully trust my team and I know they give their best every day. We have to show the way, and inspire and empower our team. Being a chef is being a leader.
Visit Chef Neng Rujeechotiphat at Pimalai Resort & Spa, Phuket, Thailand