Blogger, Business, Career, Food

LRM COOL GIGS: Laocook Team

I received my copy of Lao Roots Magazine, summer 2008 issue last week and saw that they did a scope on the Laocook Team, under ‘Cool Gigs’. Below is the article,

Name: Viengphranom Senathit aka Don Vienne Senathit
Employer: “Restaurante ASIA” at Fairplay Golf Hotel & SPA
Job Title: Chef de Cuisine
Location: Benalup, Cadiz, Spain
Duration: 8 years

Job Description:

I am in charge of the Kitchen Brigade that serves modern Laotian and S.E. Asian inspired dishes in one of the hotels gastronomic restaurants, a 5 Star Luxury Hotel & SPA that opened in 2005.

Before the opening, I was Chef at the company’s award winning beachfront hotel/restaurant in the nearby coastal town of Chipiona, serving similar foods. During this time, I designed the kitchens of six more of the company’s restaurants, including our current “Central Kitchen” which is more than 300m2, and one of the largest and most expensive of its kind in Spain. The Central Kitchen is the heart of our F&B (Food and Beverage) department and acts as the hub for the 4 restaurants of the hotel.

For “Restaurante ASIA”, I design the menus and desserts, order and control the stocks, train and oversee the staff, ensure that our strict Health and Safety and Food Hygiene levels are met and exceeded, control the Brigade working hours etc…(Oh, and occasionally I cook.)

How did you end up being a chef?

For the love of food. Being Laotian, I have found that food plays an enormous role in my society. Our get-togethers are based around food, in fact, any social gathering will in one way or another feature food. As soon as you walk into a Lao home, the first thing you are asked is “Have you eaten yet”, even our religious offerings show respect by offering foods to Monks and Spirits. I believe it is instilled in us, the basis behind to “lieng”, to offer nourishment.

I grew up surrounded by foods, more precisely, cooks. The focal point of our gatherings was always the kitchen, the heart of the home. My heart has always been in the kitchen, it is what I do best, because I love it, and to have it at the centre of my career is a blessing.

What are the perks of your job?

Getting to work with (and tasting) wonderful ingredients. Simple things like some lovely organic Baby Carrots or Vine Tomatoes, or exquisite items like Perigord Truffles and Beluga Caviar. There is a great sense of satisfaction when you have sent out dishes that people have enjoyed. Or when you have created from nothing to something interesting, that others find to be visually and tastefully pleasing.

What do your friends and family think of your job?

My family thinks it is great. My father was a chef in a top hotel in London for many years when I was younger, now my parents have their own restaurant business, as well as my uncles and aunts. I guess that they are proud that I have carried on in their footsteps. I will never forget the love they showered upon us, and endless hours they worked to provide us with a comfortable home. I am so happy that my family supported, and gave me inspiration for what I do.

I am also glad that the younger generations have embraced this career. I have been joined in the kitchen by my brother, King and also by family friends and their relatives.

Describe a chef’s typical day.

Every 2 or 3 days, my Sous Chef (second in command) and I visit the fish market at the nearby docks at dawn, that’s the time when the fishermen land the majority of their catch. It is a great time to see what is on offer, and we also get “first picks” at a wide variety of fish and other seafood. Many of our daily specials are based on what we can find here.

On other days I normally start at 08.00hrs, when the first of the fresh ingredients gets delivered. Vegetables, fish and meat all have to be checked for quality.

At 08.30hrs the rest of the Brigade arrives, and we all gather around the kitchen for a short meeting about any special menus, daily specials or dietary requirements for pre-booked guests.

Then we start our “Mis en Place” (the preparation of ingredients, or literally French for “put in place”). This is where the majority of our work lies. The vegetables, fish and meat all have to be cleaned and prepared.

Root vegetables have to be trimmed and cut into different sizes. Salad leaves and herbs need to be cut, washed and dried. Our fish needs to be de-scaled, gutted, and then deboned. This includes large fish like shark and salmon to smaller delicate fish like red mullet or sardines. Chickens arrive whole, so they need to be sectioned. Whole cuts of beef need to be trimmed and portioned.

Stocks need to be made. The trimmings and cuttings of the vegetables are used in our vegetable stock. Beef bones, fat and joints are roasted then used for our beef stock. Chicken carcasses are boiled in vegetable stock. Fish bones and heads are used in our fish stock. With the exception of the latter, the stocks need to be boiled for most of the day, which makes the kitchen very hot.

Around 14.00hrs we have a 30 minute lunch break, then its back to the kitchens to get the Mis en Place ready for the evening Service. This is when the “Aharn Menu” (Tasting Menu) is prepared. It is a multi-course meal normally featuring 8 to 10 small dishes. While this is going on, the rest of the Brigade will be getting their sections ready, reducing stocks and making sauces, preparing fish and cooking the rice for the sushi bar or getting the ingredients ready for our two teppanyaki tables.

There is another 30 minute break at 18.30 before we get ready to open the restaurant. The actual Service is between 19.30 until 22.30. It is very fast paced and time flies by extremely quickly. After this time, it will take us until midnight to “Clear Down” and get the kitchen clean, and after we have eaten we will leave around 01.00hrs.

On some nights I will join the rest of the cooks for an after work drink (yes, bars close very late in Spain), unless I am going to the Fish Market at dawn.

Describe what your dream job would be.

A Global Gourmet. I am passionate about food and love to eat. I also want to further understand food and the many diverse ways to prepare it. I would love to travel, to see how different cultures prepare their meals.

What was your first job ever had before this one?

I started working as a part-time waiter in a restaurant in London before going to work full time in a grand hotel. It is good to be able to understand what is happening on both sides of the “swinging doors” of a restaurant.

What inspires your cuisine creations? Which is your favorite?

Inspiration can come from many things. I once saw some flowers that looked like candy, which gave me the idea for our Squid Lollipops, or after drinking a Bloody Mary, I decided to make a version using whole Anchovies and Tamarind topped with Celery Foam.

One dish that I am very proud of is our “New Style Goong Che Nam Pla (2005)”, where raw king prawns are sliced paper thin and drizzled with our Nam Pla Vinaigrette and topped with “Crystal Shallots”. This creation is one of our Signature dishes.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into your field?

Study the basics and be willing to learn. Every restaurant kitchen is run differently. Get as much experience as possible, and write things down, you’ll be glad you did later. Be prepared to work very hard. The soles of your feet will become hard as stone due to standing all day and night; you’ll collect cuts, scalds and burns. Your social life will change, you’ll have different days off than your other friends, and the rest of the Brigade will become your extended family.

This is a wonderful profession; it will make you more aware of tastes, in all its states. You will always be looking for better ways to cook or present something. Respect the ingredients that Mother Nature has given you. An empty dish is your canvas. Be brave, yet sensible in your creations.

You have a website called laocook.com, where did the idea come from?

Laocook.com is a window offering a glimpse into our world. It is about a Laotian cook and my team and our culinary journey, embracing the modern whilst at the same time respecting traditional cooking methods. For a long time, I thought that the Lao presence on the web was limited. I found that online forums connected me to many Lao living abroad, and for the fist time I was communicating with my country-folk from different countries, at the touch of a button. It was a revelation.

For many years Lao Cooks and cuisine were hardly heard of, even though there were scores of Lao cooks working in other ethnic kitchens. I was tired of being known as the Chef “from the country next to Thailand and Vietnam”. I felt that the Lao kitchen needn’t be confined to “weird foods like insects, Stewed Offal or duck blood”. I knew that Lao cookery could share the same podium as other cuisines. All types of cuisines go through changes, and I thought that a refreshing modern approach was needed.

After meeting Darly from Laomusic.la in Holland, I was convinced that Laocook.com would be a good medium and idea. However, being a cook I had no idea how to run or even set up a website, so all of the credit has to be given to Darly for being supportive and patient with me (and for answering endless and at times, draft questions). Now that I know how it works (more or less), I try to update the site at least twice a week.

Who are the “Laocooks”?

My Sous Chef, Khamsene Yothasy, is from Vientiane and worked at the Lao Plaza Hotel in the city centre. Khamhoung Thammavong, works our Wok Section and is also from Vientiane and has been working with Khamsene for a number of years. Sushi Cooks, Pichet Taiwarin and Phayungsak Srilapho are both from the north of Thailand near Udon.

During my travels in Laos and Thailand, I had the opportunity to dine where the above cooks worked, and was so impressed; I offered them jobs in Spain. My brother, King joined us from London a few years ago after completing Catering College and working in a 2 Star Michelin restaurant. Laksna and Sourigna are both young Lao-French cooks, who arrived as Interns and have now, progressed to running their own sections.

Teamwork and trust is extremely important, and it is great to have such a good team behind me, like a foundation of a building, without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

www.laocook.com
www.fairplaygolfhotel.com

4 thoughts on “LRM COOL GIGS: Laocook Team”

  1. Kelly, I see, LRM fan, glad to hear. 😉

    mozemoua, you’re welcome. This is such an inspiring story, makes me want to go back to culinary school.

  2. Don Vienne did a good job with the Q & A from LRM here.

    “I knew that Lao cookery could share the same podium as other cuisines. All types of cuisines go through changes, and I thought that a refreshing modern approach was needed.” – Vienne.

    I agree! And it looks like he has achieved that and more. Congrats 🙂 Thanks for sharing this story with the rest of us Ginger.

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