Chef Jack was born in Khon Kaen, a depressed farming area in the northeast of Thailand. Even before he had left school, he realised that he wanted to get away, to move to where there was more oportunity. This logically meant somewhere where there were tourist dollars. And the arena to serve this was the hospitality industry. He’s not the only isaan kid to have had this dream. But whereas others had friends already in the business, he didn’t. He had nobody to give him a leg up and he had to do things the hard way.
He left school early and managed to get a job working locally as a restaurant cook-helper. It was a foot on the ladder and, a year later, he secured a position as a steward in Bangkok’s Orchid Moon Restaurant. But it wasn’t until 2005 that he realised he was in a rut. He gripped the bull by the horns and, quite out of the blue, headed for Samui. He’d seen several features on TV about our island – seemingly, one aspect of Samui is that it has a ton of restaurants! He knew nobody here and there were no friends or family here to help him. But, murmuring prayers against ghosts and gripping his good luck charms, he got on a bus in Bangkok and when it stopped, Khun Jack found himself in Nathon.
Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa is one of the small handfull of Samui’s top family-owned resorts. It’s 5-star quality and has always prided itself on featuring world-class cuisine, with a top international chef to match. Thus it was that Khun Jack started working under Executive Chef Walter (Wally) Andreini. And Khun Jack is a very quick learner. He stayed with Chef Wally for four years, by which time he rose to be second in department – executive sous chef. And then he moved on to The Sea as executive chef in his own right.
The Sea is a lovely little boutique resort, situated on the main ring-road in Bang Po, between Maenam and the big hill where you’ll find Four Seasons Resort. The restaurant, Café Lebay, is actually at the front of the resort, but many prefer to dine at the tables on the beach or the nearby terrace. The menu here is a superb example of ‘delicate fusion’: a sensitive merging of European cuisine with complementary Thai ingredients – Chef Jack really seems to have mastered this approach. But, like all competent chefs, he’s in the process of revising the existing menu to contain his own creations.
And they’re impressive. Chef Jack has a knack of finding Thai beans and pulses and then making his own light sauces to enhance them in combination with the more-usual steak, chicken or fish dishes. His cuisine is lean and healthy, yet draws on the Euro French and Italian heritage – with a unique twist. He’s had a hard time getting where he is, but now it’s full steam ahead. There are many kitchen workers for Samui, but here are not so many kings in the kitchen – Chef Jack is one of them!