Tropical Rains and Sunsets

The rain pouring out of the purple skies in tropical fat drops this morning, woke me up. Lightning and thunder at the same time shaking the cabin, a fantastic spectacle. I hurried into the shower, the outside facility and stood in the warm water under the open sky. My days are long in the kitchen, yesterday again over fourteen hours and no ease in sight. We are in preparation for opening ceremony, invited the monks to bless the our hotel and arranging a themed three day event in two weeks. I am very excited to have this chance having never prepared food for Thai monks before.

All employees will dress as rural villagers and the food will be traditional Thai food. I am planning a lunch on little Bamboo Island, fifteen minutes across the Tang Leam beach where we are located. I wonder how this all will work out, considering we are still understaffed and it seems difficult to receive requested info from prior events. As much as I like a good challenge, I don’t like preparing proposals that later are deferred to already existing menus and well documented events. Our new F&B manager is making a great effort to adapt to his position. A difficult task indeed and I shall assist him with all his questions and needs. He seems to be a very nice and friendly fellow.

My friend Larry is visiting from California and having a great time. Its fun cooking for someone I know and I enjoy the “normality” of being able to speak and be as I am. Here, in this isolated little world of Phi Phi I have little privacy and so far I had no chance or time to escape a little. Yesterday I prepared to have a day off (today), organized myself a trip to Phuket for one day but had to cancel in the last minute; after a busy dinner event last night, I figured it would be a disaster to leave the current staff on their own. They are simply not ready yet. I had asked one of the Pastry chefs, currently in Phuket on her scheduled vacation to join me in a personal invitation to a Chocolate Exhibition at the Amari Hotel in Plantong Beach. When HR heard about it, she demanded I request her permission before planning my private time in Phuket. I’m still amused about it. Next time I will write down a provisory schedule of my intended activities from the morning shower to the last thing I do before I fall asleep, to make sure I have her full approval when enjoying my time away from work…

My cold kitchen staff is making leaps forward with carving technique. They have discovered how happy I am seeing them snip and chop away on fruit and vegetable instead of simply hanging around aimlessly. Guests love to see their talent displayed. We are finally receiving regular delivery of fresh lobster and they are a hit with the guests. I prefer to do very little to them, liking the simplest of preparation since the best way of eating crustaceans is poached or baked with butter. I split them in half. Then I sauté in butter: chopped garlic and parsley, finely diced shallots and tomato concasée (peeled and diced) and layer the lobster meat with this sauce before baking them in a hot oven for twelve minutes. I nap the meat with the same sauce again (yes prepare it again fresh), this time add salt and a dash of ginger and chili and white pepper (after baking). This prevents the meat from loosing all the liquid in the oven. I accompany the dish with potato gratin and stuffed tomatoes.

The first order of the “Sunset Menu” I created last week arrived this morning. A romantic tete-a-tete dinner for two. First, cocktails on the boat cruising through the many islands while sunset watching and Bamboo BBQ dinner at the beach. I will explain this complicated preparation in a next blog.  There are choices between romantic dinner prepared in your villa or a private chef preparing your main course at the beach front and even the fire pit at the beach while launching in Thai style watching the moon rise. Oh, it’s so good to be in love!

Snap – back to work!

Lou Rosenblate

We all have friends. Most we meet during that sweet short life we share on earth and some, as it is with family and flukes of live; we cannot choose. They are suddenly there in your little excistence, regardless of how you wish your best friends to look, to attend in manners and often confronting us unanticipated with their quirks and irregularities. My wonderful friend Lou. I like sports and Politics, he snarres at such habits. We share on the palate of possibilities quite a bit in common:  We are unimpressed about status quo, fancy cars or any fighting-sports. Three key passions of his are mine as well. People watching (and yes, criticizing), dreaming about foreign lands (while Lou’s job is scouting for Hollywood Productions, stuck on the freeways) and foremost FOOD; (Lou is a self-announced food snob); in particular well blended chocolates.

Over the last year my gentle friend Lou would show up regularly at my little flat for dinner gatherings, bringing chocolate and certainly there is a story attached to each single piece he’d chosen. Oh, not just chocolates; Cheese stuffed Quince Jelly and Almond paste baked in Olives… Lou discovered the most unique and inventive places, introducing flavors and textures in combination so absurd the entire dinner table would be involved in his discovery. After such debacle and the critical tastings, enduring our snoody critiques about flavors ‘we dont understand’ or the ingredients he discribes as “tongue tickling and live enhancingly brilliant…” he’d simply stated: “If you don’t like it, leave it. I’ll eat it later!” Even in positive critique Lou would not hold back. After enjoying a great chocolate covered caramel pudding at his very regular hang out, the Tango Grill in West Hollywood, he would wave the owner Gene to the table and exclaim: “…fucking delicious!” (again and again, loyally eating the same dish…!)

About five month back, I brought up the idea we should visit South Africa. I heard the boom of Restaurants was praised and food to be exquisite. Convincing Lou I explained that they have Cocoa plantations and standing on the very south tip would be a spectacular life experience. Within days Lou would find restaurants and places to go, and had a whole three week culinary tour designed and decided. We finished a project, wrting a slap stick commedy and surely we could film it in Africa. His mom and sister Lisa would join from Chicago.

I went on a Thailand cooking assignment in late November 05, promising that March 2006 would be our travel month. I came back in January and within the first days, while still jet-legged ended up chit-chatting with Lou about all the places and culinary events I missed. I found him to be less energetic than usually. He left home early the next few dinners we had, normally being the last guest to go home and alarmingly did not touch the chocolate he had brought for Valentines Day. Two weeks later we went to see the Argentinean Ballet performing at the University in BH and while waiting in the Canteen, I bought a Palmiere, a puff-pastry dipped in cheap chocolate. Although critical about the abuse of the wholly cacao bean product, he did not even try it. It then downed on me; Lou had become chocolate abstinent. I could not have a friend like him no more. This was horrible! He needed instant chocolate resuscitation! Two days later we sat at his favorite breakfast niche, the “Conversation” around the corner where he lives and with great ease I witnessed him enjoying deliciously backed chocolate croissants.

I broke the news to him about my postponing Africa; I just agreed the night before to take on my current cooking assignment in Thailand again. He’s response was typical: “Thailand? They are certainly not famous for chocolate! Whereas in Cape Town I know six places…”  Two weeks later with four huge bags packed, Lou drove me to the airport, shaking his head in disbelieve: “This ain’t no short assignment?”

There has not been a day I have worked here in the kitchen without having to think of Lou when melting, grating or baking chocolate: Instantly smirking. I hope I will always think of Lou when eating, smelling or sharing chocolate. You have left me way to early, my friend.

Lou Rosenblate died

in his sleep peacfully

April 29th 2006

Moon Spook

Thank you so much for the many comments and inquiries.

The last two days we had no phone service. Hey, it’s an Island. The moon cycle is creating a bizarre phenomenon on the beach front, the water is dramatically reseeding and leaving arriving tourists with an utter surprised look on their face when they have to walk ashore. Some even ask if “this is the beach”? A few hours later the water is back and all looks like the old romance again. I caught a few local kids with snorkel-masks toddling in the coral mud; disappointed and pointing to where the water had gone.

The highlight of the kitchen today was the successful creation of Brioche. Gosh I love having a pastry section. We already mastered the apple strudel and the Florentine Torte. It is a meringue cake without flour and I am training the Pastry section for a Wedding Cake competition in Bangkok on June 22nd. This is a challenge, considering they have never constructed anything like this. The theme is “Flowers of Passion”; I imagine a pond with water Lilies and on the upper cake level two pink swans with their heads together, shaped like a heart.

My Thai speaking is getting better, although the fluctuations of upper and lower sounds that change the same word into completely different meanings is tricky. Apparently this morning I said to the lady-boy in cold kitchen “I had an orgasm” although I was trying to say: The paperwork is done! Such incidents cause great laughter and leave me terribly stranded. In revenge I have published a picture of a message left on the white board in my kitchen. It should say: To the morning Steward: Please leave the Tacada (Restaurant) keys for me. This one took a while to decipher.

Food for lunch today was so spicy I’m afraid I’ve burned my stomach lining (and what else?) It ought to be healthy eating rice everyday, the many vegetables and the light but chili-hot broth. I did ask what the “greens” were in my dish and received a surprising respond when one of my chefs pointed at the tree above me and nodded. I’m very assured now that there is enough food on this Island! However I have to get used to the large night-moths, still not certain what they are called, but those noisy creatures are collected here and deep-fried shared as a snack amongst my staff. I frankly rather lick the bottom of my shoes (or keep eating poached trees) before eating insects, regardless if they taste like “potato”.

I am exited to go on a dive excursion tomorrow, the first one since I am back in Thailand. This region is worldwide known to be one of the top dive spots and indeed offers spectacular reefs and sea live. I recommend coming to Thailand for dive courses and PADI license, since it is by far the most affordable of dive opportunities in the world. Come to Zeavola! Talking about: Conde Naste magazine just quoted us as one of the worlds 60 top vacation Hotels! This is quite an honor. http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/

Here is a recipe for the Thai fans:

Massamun Gai (two people)

Chicken drum sticks w/bone  300g Soy Bean oil for frying  15g

Potato steamed large chunks   400g

Peanuts roasted   50g

Fish Sauce    25g

Massamun Curry paste  40g

Shallots finely chopped   40g

Onions Brown (red or white)  40g

Cinnamon sticks    4  

Anis Star whole   4

Chicken Flavor (Knorr)   10g

Palm Sugar   20g

Soya (Soybean Sauce)   15g

Coconut milk    250g

Roast or bake the chicken legs while you prepare the ingredients: chop the shallots finely and the Onions in larger junks. For three minutes roast all the ingredients and spices together in a hot fry-pan (wok) except the coconut milk. Add the Chicken legs and coconut milk and simmer for ten minutes more; ready to serve!

Culture Shock

I’m finally starting the Chef’s Blog, a long postponed chore. My work here in ZEAVOLA is quite different from my expectations when accepting the quickly offered contract to work in Thailand. My curiosity and the excitement about an adventure (at my age) mixed with a lifelong passion for “beach-living”, diving and anything to do with water, have helped self convincing me to take on this journey. The south of Thailand offers incredible beauty, charm and original traditions and my fondness for Thai cuisine combined with the positive experience I gained while training the kitchen staff of Hotel LAYANA last December/January in Kho Lanta, finalized this gutsy decision to move to Asia.  Here I am: Trapped on an Island without streets or cars. A culture shock for someone like me; having lived most of his adult live in mayor cities around the world. Not possessing a vehicle constricts my number one urge for freedom. I have to buy a boat and be unbound. And within the first six weeks since I’ve started my position, I come to self-realize the pitiful habits of city living that are no longer available. No more “food around the corner” and the abandoned comfort of having family and friends available at any moment, who now sleep when I work and vise-versa. Adding to it this “Robinson Cruso” excluded living without “Freitag”… Nice play of words! Seriously, I have not had a day off from duty since I’ve stepped onto the coral shore before this Hotel. And then I miss all the stupid little things that make me laugh when zipping through my mind: Chocolate in my bedroom, Peet’s Coffee around the block, CNN all day long, laundry machine (I am requested to wash my own undies by hand…), Cybersex, my weekly maid (I still have one, only she cleans a hopefully clean place in Los Angeles), my arsenal of cookbooks, my own space… I live in one of the guest pavilions and it is strange and foreign to my taste – the list is bothersome long. I refuse getting used to the mosquitoes biting me whenever I step into the bathroom and I dislike the bugs of which some my staff eats deep-fried with joyful smiles, the snakes on my terrace and the see urchins; I stepped on them twice already. Some of the locals offered to piss on my swollen feet, I kindly declined.

The Hotel is still somewhat under construction but up and running as good as we can. My kitchen staff is really nice and by now I have an idea about their character and motivations and it will become easier with each Thai-words I am learning to express and understand clearly about instructions and inputs. Unlike in a classroom of the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) or any culinary school I have taught students, I am now surrounded by an entire staff that inhales every professional gesture of mine and is eager to learn their craft. If only it wouldn’t be for HR, I could fully enjoy my work. We seriously lack staff in my department and the paper trails are bothersome and the wording is laughably odd. Most writings in this facility needs correct spelling. HR… Mhhh, I struggle to find kind words to explain the inefficiency of her managing the most important department of any hotel. She is by far the most unpleasant personality amongst the entire staff. Very difficult for a kitchen chef having to deal with her unwillingness to adapt inputs, changes and even upholding her own dictated regulations. She should respect with exemplary manner the rules created by her department. I think she would be a perfect candidate for Reality TV; titled: “how to manage a hotel without HR” – she is rather complex, a really fascinating character! Her efforts to make my life uncomfortable are indeed successful and I simply have very little respect for her childish games, wasting my time and energies. HR has to change her attitude towards me fast or I simply will not work here.   Today we’re receiving product and produce. Every Monday and Thursday a ship arrives from Phuket and brings us the ordered grocery. The boat is a traditional Thai construction, painted in blue and yellow and the crew is quite rural. One of the characters is shockingly disfigured in the face, teeth growing from his nose and the facial bone structure is awfully warped: Hard to look at him. I had to get used to it and he is incredibly friendly and actually funny. Learning Thai from him is impossible, but he seemingly is amused about my interest in talking the native tone. I cant understand a thing he utters (try speaking your own language without upper lip). So duty calls, I will go out there and help unloading, bamboo and cement bags, construction material, food and housekeeping material. It is hard-labor living here on Phi Phi.  I will place recipes and respond to all e-mails I receive. Please tell your friends about my site and let me know what you expect from my blog.