Samui Wining & Dining
Kitchen King

Keeping it all in the family with Khun Noppadol, at The Poolside, Nora Chaweng Hotel.

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04There are stars in all walks of life. As well as the ones that glitter in the heavens above there's quite a few that have their feet firmly on the ground. And some of our local kitchen stars are pleased to shine brightly and be seen. But there are others who are quieter about it all, a little shyer, perhaps, and who don’t seek the headlines. And one of these is Khun Noppadol Sae-phu.

Khun Noppadol runs the kitchen at Nora Chaweng Hotel in the northern part of Chaweng, close to where Chaweng Lake Road meets Chaweng Beach Road. This hotel is part of the Nora Group and something of a success story in its own right. The first of the ‘Noras’ was the imposing Nora Beach Resort & Spa, a little further northwards. This was followed by Nora Lakeview Hotel. Then the Group completed ‘Nora Chaweng’, two months before the Christmas high-season of 2008 (and then promptly followed it with their flagship Nora Buri Resort & Spa, which was finished this year). But such was the reputation and competence of the Nora Group that Nora Chaweng Hotel was full for the New Year celebrations a few months later – and that’s quite an achievement!

Although the majority of Chaweng’s resorts are on the beach, there’s a strong demand for the few hotels that sit on the other side of the road – their pricing is keen and they seem to pull out all the stops when it comes to providing competitive standards. And, in line with this, Nora Chaweng’s restaurant, entitled The Poolside, is one of the town’s better-kept secrets.

When the hotel and restaurant were still at the planning stages, heads of department from the main ‘Nora Beach’ were called upon to oversee the new construction. And, in the case of the restaurant, the resort’s very capable Executive Chef, Khun Sitthichai Sae-phu, was in charge. He put it all together and then supervised the staffing. Two years later a new head chef was interviewed and appointed. His name: Khun Noppadol Sae-phu.

And, yes, it was Khun Sitthichai’s younger brother. But before you nod and wink knowingly, there’s a story behind all this. Quite simply – the entire family are chefs. I don’t mean that his mother has a noodle stall – I mean that all three brothers, plus their mother and father, are internationally qualified and experienced top-rank chefs who have worked at five-star hotels both in this country and abroad. It’s quite normal for a top chef to have grown up with some kind of restaurant in the family or background, but in my experience this situation is unique!

The family originally comes from Phuket. Whilst the young Khun Noppadol was progressing through high school his brothers and parents were already making headway in the restaurants of top local hotels. But it was only when Khun Noppadol left school that, obligations fulfilled, his parents ventured to a high-level post in Singapore. In the meantime, Khun Noppadol was learning the ropes as a ‘steward’ (a gentle term for ‘fetcher, carrier and washer-up’) at the Phuket Metropole Hotel.

His apprenticeship served, he then expanded his horizons on a luxury cruise liner on the M.Y. Janenisit Line, sailing between Malaysia and Myanmar. And it was here that he began to specialise in Chinese cuisine. “It’s something that runs in the family,” he explained. “My father, Khun Padunsak, is a Thai/Chinese chef and it comes naturally to me, so it was easy for me to create a range of special dim sum dishes for the onboard guests.” This was to stand him in good stead because, as he progressed through the ranks, his ‘Chinese Kitchen’ speciality was a big advantage. It led to his advancement to Chef de Partis via appointments in Trang, Had Yai, with a spell in Kuala Lumpur, and then even to being Head of the Chinese Kitchen at the Royal Phuket City Hotel, in 2005. Finally, he was able to join his brothers on Samui when he was accepted for the post of Senior Chef de Partis at the five-star Villa Lawana resort in the October of 2007.

Brother Sitthichai was at ‘Nora Beach’ and his other brother, Khun Adisak, was the Executive Chef at Impiana Resort & Spa Samui. And, to keep the family more in the family (!), Khun Noppadol moved to work his personal blend of kitchen magic at Nora Chaweng in the March of this year, with brother Khun Sitthichai as his overseer.

The menu at The Poolside contains a few surprises, particularly the variety of the fare on offer. You’re going to find steaks and seafood everywhere. But here there are the usual Thai selections plus an International menu divided into sections for pizza, pasta and pesto, plus lamb and beef (and seafood) dishes and even an excellent Chinese duck curry. The restaurant itself is pleasantly air-conditioned in its main section but has an impressive entire wall of glass that separates it from the adjoining glowingly-underlit poolside area where those that are so inclined can also smoke if they wish.

Khun Noppadol is a shy man and engagingly modest. He’s not one for the bright lights of stardom but takes a quiet satisfaction in doing everything well. And that not only means creating quality dishes but also training and developing the chefs under him to have similarly exacting standards. Like all chefs, he works hard, with only one day off each week. And then – he grabs his rod and heads for the beach! The rocky outcrops of Choeng Mon Beach is a favourite spot for fishing although sometimes he varies this with a trip further south down to Hua Thanon. And, yes, he does cook the catch himself!

Khun Noppadol has no immediate plans to move onwards or upwards; he’s happy where he is. Although he will, if pressed, admit to an ambition to further develop his Chinese cuisine by working in that country for a spell. Other than that you’ll find the quiet star of The Poolside at Nora Chaweng Hotel keeping it all in the family, with the rest of his brothers, on Samui!

 


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