Samui Wining & Dining
Gourmet to Go!

Some of the best chefs in the world are now creating convenience food – has the idea of ‘fast food’ turned full circle?

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18Scene 1: 1988. You pull off the motorway for a break and a snack. You sit down and order a plate of warm and greasy fries and a charcoal-coloured burger with limp lettuce and sugary ’slaw.

Scene 2: 2008. You pull off the motorway for a break and a snack. You sit down and order a plate of crêpe-like capucin batter filled with local foie gras and sautéed mushrooms.

There are two points here. One is the timing; the second scene is 20 years on. And the second thing is that this is actually happening now and it’s spreading like wildfire. Junk food is firmly on the junk heap. It’s being replaced by ‘Quick Cuisine’. And, once again, it’s the French who are leading the way.

Try pulling onto the motorway service area outside Laguiole in the south of France. This is the place where you’ll find some of the best slip-road snacking anywhere, and it’s also the place where it all started. The restaurant and its cuisine is the idea of superchef Michel Bras, the Frenchman whose restaurant in Laguiole was voted seventh-best in the world in 2008. Even the drinks are a revolution, with not a hint – not even a stain – of cola anywhere. Only the freshest locally-made grape juices and lemonades are available. But that’s the same with all the produce; everything is bought fresh each day. And it works. Why? Because everyone wants to sample the creations of a Michelin-starred chef for just a handful of dollars – sorry, make that euros.

This is gourmet food ‘to go’. This is ‘slow food’ done quickly. It’s all about taking the traditional rules of haute cuisine, like cooking to order, using seasonal ingredients, and setting a menu according to what is freshest at that morning’s market, and applying them to more convenient forms of food. And, like all trend-setters, Monsieur Michel is suddenly no longer alone. Other renowned names have seen the same light and signed up for the new revolution.

Take the Michelin-starred Jean-Luc Rabanel, for example. In 1999 he took the plunge and opened a sandwich shop, PÂN, on a street corner in Arles. His aim? “… to revamp the ham sandwich.” And just how does he go about this task? “… its a question of using your skill to prepare the kind of food you would normally serve on a plate – but serving it between two slices of bread instead,” he explains.

Interestingly, our little island is right up there with the trendsetters. Whilst this new gastronomic trend was noisily erupting with media fanfares in France, the award-winning Thai Chef, Khun Saowakit Preeprem was quietly winning prizes here for his gourmet sandwiches. But, this being Samui, there’s no reason to dash home with them. You can enjoy them at your leisure at his restaurant, Peak Kitchen, in Choeng Mon.

But, to continue, this is haute cuisine in a bun, and style can be almost as important as substance. If you head towards Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and look for the Cartier and Dior boutiques, sandwiched (!) between them you’ll see Miyou. Owned by Guy Martin (two Michelin stars) all the take-away nibbles here are presented in glittering black-studded, transparent zipped packets. The interior design of the shop is oak, ebony, glass and stone – the only real difference between Miyou and its neighbours appears to be that here you get to eat the goods instead of wearing them.

Although the first thrust of this new concept in eating centred on the portability of the offerings, things are changing rapidly. Maybe they heard about Samui! But now outside tables are also appearing. Space is limited in the airport at Paris but not so in Arles, and PÂN now also caters for customers who want a proper break. And this idea was built into Quest Express in Lyon right from the start. Established by the legendry Michelin 3-star kitchen guru and nouvelle cuisine pioneer, Paul Bocuse, Quest Express is probably the most successful restaurant of this kind, anywhere.

Here the efficiency of fast food combined with the flair of a high-end kitchen is symbolised by the Chef de Cuisine, Michelin-starred Sylvail Girot, in full chef’s uniform and supported by a team of similarly-clad sous-chefs. And, somewhat tongue in cheek, he is alleged to delight in the raised-eyebrow responses to his beef burger offerings. Well, until customers look more closely and see the ‘Charolaisburger’ or ‘burger filet mignon with foie gras and truffles’ fillings, that is! But, when you are consistently selling 600 meals of this kind a day, then I suppose that you can afford to do more than simply grin (make that … ‘grin a lot’ – he’s now opened a second eatery).

Mind you, there have been signs for years now that the thinking behind ‘fast food’ had to change. The whole world has become frenetically health-conscious, and grease, bleached bread and processed meats have no place on our tables anymore. ‘Fast Cuisine’ shows all the signs of being the biggest revolution in eating since the healthy nouvelle cuisine first appeared on the scene back in the ’70s. And, in a year or so, perhaps this will be the norm and not just a new commotion?

As already mentioned, sleepy little Samui is a pretty trendy kind of a place, certainly when it comes to world-class food with chefs to match. The island is sprinkled with chefs whose résumés are studded with stars – both of the Michelin and rated-hotel varieties. One of these is Mark Krueger. And to him the name ‘Sydney’ means a lot.

This is the name of his four-year old daughter. But it’s also the name of his gourmet fish and chip shop in the food hall of Lamai’s Tesco-Lotus superstore. With imported potatoes from Holland, fresh seafood every day from the market and burgers homemade from premium beef – plus a range of tantalising Thai-food-based burgers – Mark looks like he also will soon be riding the crest of the gastronomic wave that’s spreading outwards from France. His pedigree is impressive, having previously been the Executive Chef at the exclusive 5-star Six Senses Hideaway Samui, as well as other prestigious resorts around the world. But now he’s spreading his wings and flying into ventures new, with plans for a second shop already underway, this time at the Tesco-Lotus shopping mall in Chaweng.

So, whether you’re flying about at a frenetic pace and grabbing something to eat on the hoof or simply wanting a quick take-away snack, these days you don’t have to put up with junk food, wherever you are. Nowadays it’s ‘gourmet to go’!

 


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