My Thai Way
One of the most famous and celebrated chefs in Thailand, Tammasak Chootong, or “Chef Noi” to viewers of the TV show Iron Chef Thailand, has taken Phuket Island by storm. Chef Noi has pioneered a Euro-Thai culinary ethos that utilises the finest and freshest locally-sourced ingredients together with European cooking and presentation techniques.
Chef Noi learned his skills in the heat of several Michelin-starred kitchens across Europe, he cooked on board the Queen Elizabeth II cruise liner and was a senior chef for the JW Marriott and Banyan Tree resorts in Phuket. Since returning to his hometown, Chef Noi has developed the acclaimed SUAY restaurants brand and the Positive Kitchen culinary school.
We asked Chef Noi about his culinary inspirations and his Phuket roots.
Where do you find your inspiration for the menus at your SUAY restaurants?
I love Thai cuisine, especially the complex flavours and stimulating textures of our dishes. As a Thai, I personally enjoy local ingredients that make me feel a sense of home as I savour their tastes, and this has been my inspiration.
When I set out to design a menu or a particular dish for the two SUAY Restaurants, I always keep in mind how best to stay true to basic and traditional components of a dish and showcase the “Thai-ness” of it, while enhancing flavours and incorporating lighter and more refined ingredients that appeal to a western palate.
Why did you choose to open your flagship restaurant in Phuket as opposed to anywhere else?
I spent time in Europe training in a Michelin-star restaurant and heading the kitchen on board an exclusive passenger cruise liner. But I always knew that I was going to return to my home and do what I love here.
I came to Phuket to work with leading luxury resorts on the island, and throughout that time I have come to love this paradise island that is not only beautiful but also rich in culinary history. Inspired by this, I decided to settle down here with my family and open the flagship SUAY Restaurant in Phuket.
How has your time training and working abroad influenced your cooking?
In addition to the skills of managing either a large or meticulous kitchen, or often a combination of both, during my time abroad I came to appreciate advanced and simplified cooking techniques aimed to enhance or preserve tastes, textures, and the healthfulness of ingredients.
Many times, these essences can be diminished in Thai food through stir-frying and other similarly harsh methods. I tend to use modern cooking techniques to preserve flavours and the quality of the ingredients better, and create a lighter and healthier dish
You have a number of signature dishes at your restaurants. Which is your personal favourite? And why?
Northern Thai cuisine is very special to me, and I always enjoyed the combination of sweet, sour, and savoury tastes that are characteristic of that region. And as a chef and restaurant owner, it is very rare that I get to sit down and enjoy a complete meal as I navigate both the kitchen and the floor each evening.
So, my personal preference is the Thai Royal Leaf Wrap with Foie Gras and Tamarind Sauce because this bite-sized savoury dish is not only flavourful with the herbs, roasted coconut flakes, and Wild Betel leaf but also very easy to eat on the go.
Why did you decide to open up your home to both professionals and amateurs for cooking classes through Positive Kitchen?
It all comes back to a sense of home to me. As a chef, I enjoy cooking food for people, no matter where. And when people can appreciate not just the food but the creativity, skills and effort that go into a meal, then I am excited to share what I know with them.
I have always felt that my home at Positive Kitchen is a place that is inviting and very much conducive to culinary entertainment.
How do you source the ingredients for your dishes?
The first part of my day is always to go to the local markets to select ingredients for the day. I prefer to see and choose fresh produce myself, so I can be assured of the quality of the ingredients, keep on top of seasonal and local selections, be inspired by the variety available, and connect with local vendors. Although we rely on importing some key ingredients for signature dishes, as much as possible, I try to source locally.
Chef Noi’s talents don’t stop at restaurants, andhe also owns a catering, food consultancy, and cookery school in his own home, Permsap Villa near Cherngtalay. Not only do guests at Positive Kitchen learn how to cook the dishes that tantalise the taste buds of food critics from across the globe, but groups can also organise wine tasting sessions, intimate home-cooked dining on the 12-seater dining terrace and relax in the comfortable surroundings of an authentic Phuket villa.
Chef Noi established the instantly successful SUAYrestaurants brand in 2010, fulfilling his lifelong dream of owning his own restaurant on the island of his birth. His flagship SUAY restaurant is in Phuket Town, and this is where Chef Noi puts his many culinary ideas to the test. The restaurant combines fine dark leathers, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a manicured floral lawn, stone statuettes, and a cosy wooden balcony for those steamy Phuket evenings.
Seven years later, the second SUAY restaurant was opened, SUAY Cherngtalay, a relaxed and stylish establishment with brown suede chairs, heavy wooden tables, tiled flooring, and an outdoor patio and bar overlooking a courtyard and private BBQ terrace for those more intimate foodie occasions.
The menus as SUAY Phuket Town and SUAY Cherngtalay take their inspiration from Chef Noi’s local roots but make the most of the European cooking methods from his time training amongst Michelin-starred chefs in Europe. Soups and salads are an integral part of Thai cuisine, as is meat and fish, and fresh fruits for dessert.
In Thai cooking, starters are important; they cleanse the palate for the main dishes and prepare the taste buds for the symbolic spices that Thai cooking is renowned for. Diners’ favourites include the Signature “Laab tuna”, which features a fresh tuna tartar with miso-lime and a side of crispy fried mushrooms and Isaan spices, and “Tomkha cappuccino” soup, which is a broth of galangal and coconut with Thai herbs and grilled fresh scallops.
SUAY Speciality Dishes
SUAY’s speciality dishes are the creation of Chef Noi, using local ingredients and European cooking methods. Diners particularly like “Phuket papillote”, a baked sea bass served with local vegetables in turmeric butter, and Signature “Phuket Paella”, baked rice with hot curry paste with assorted seafood and grilled whole lobster.
Thai meals are usually light on dessert options, but Chef Noi has included some indulgences to finish off meals, each with his signature twist, including Mango sticky rice, a sticky Thai rice spring roll filled with flamed mango and black sesame ice cream, and Brownies, home-baked with mango sauce and coconut ice cream.
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