Samui Wining & Dining
Clubbing It

The island’s top F&B professionals have their very own association – the SCC.

 

24Every last Thursday of the month, blissfully tucked away in one of Samui’s finest restaurants, you’ll find an animated group of people, collectively known as the Samui Culinary Circle, enjoying a sumptuous lunch. The SCC is a club for the island’s food and beverage professionals. It’s similar to the ‘Chef’s Table’ concept found around the world, but the SCC, in true Samui style, takes itself slightly less seriously. And refreshingly, is far less formal in conducting its affairs than most professional associations.

 

I, personally, had the honour of being SCC President for a couple of years, nearly a decade ago. And I attended one of the very first meetings, held back in early 1998, when I was the newly appointed F&B Manager at Poppies Samui Resort. Andy Meuller, Brice Borin and Curdin Schallfelberger, the leading chefs in Samui at the time, founded the SCC. The idea was to hold monthly lunch meetings with chefs, F&B managers and restaurateurs, for networking purposes and discussions on all things related to F&B. The circle started out quite small for the first couple of years. But, paralleling the growth in hotels and resorts on the island, by the start of the new millennium it was 40- to 50-members’ strong. Annual events were organized, such as cooking competitions, bartender shows and fruit & vegetable carving competitions. All of which still happen, are well supported, are great fun, and provide invaluable training and are useful motivational tools for hotel and restaurant staff.

 

Over the years, I have kept my membership, and still enjoy going to the lunches, both for the culinary delights and the stimulating conversation! The SCC has, of course, evolved, but the basic concept has remained true. And although the personnel has changed, the founding members having all moved on, their legacy remains.

 

The current President is Don Lawson, the Executive Chef at Anantara Resort in Bophut. An affable Aussie, whose reign has seen a purple patch in SCC history. Luncheons are always well attended, so-much-so that a strict ‘members only’ policy has had to be introduced. And the standard and quality of food and service is nearly always world-class. But the SCC members have, admirably, managed to maintain an easy-going, informal and non-competitive atmosphere. Other regions’ chef associations have not fared as well, I’ve heard of many disputes and splits amongst temperamental members from other clubs. Maybe it’s because the people who to tend to love, and hence stay in, Samui are more laid-back characters themselves. Also, the SCC has a broad cross-section of nationalities and ages; no one group dominates. And, thankfully, there is very little (if any) hierarchy. In fact, the SCC is particularly welcoming to new F&B arrivals on the island. Which can be very helpful for people who aren’t familiar with Samui’s idiosyncrasies. And the island certainly takes some adjusting to, especially if you’ve just arrived from somewhere more organised. Of course, for those of us that stay here the longest, it’s exactly these little foibles that eventually form part of our everyday lives.

 

Another positive about the SCC, is its relationship with the island’s suppliers. And it’s a win/win situation. Suppliers of food and beverage products (and wines in particular) can showcase to the entire key F&B people on the island, in one hit. And can be confident that their food will be very well prepared, and cooked in extremely capable experienced hands. Wines will be served properly, and at correct temperatures, and matched well with their food accompaniments. And during lunch, sales representatives can network with existing, and potentially future, customers. As a result, the SCC members get to sample some of the very best foods available here. And at nearly every luncheon, a generous wine sponsor freely pours the good stuff. Factor in that, technically, one is actually ‘working’ and you can begin to see why the SCC is so popular!

 

Personally, I’ve lost track of how many gorgeous lunches I’ve enjoyed. And I fully appreciate the privilege bestowed in tasting numerous good, and many great, wines over the last decade. Some lunches obviously stick in the mind more than others, and the opportunity to see most of the prestigious resorts and hotels soon after opening has also been a memorable pleasure. With these up-market resorts, world-class chefs from every continent have arrived here to ply their trade. And their Thai counterparts have obviously benefited from exposure to this tide of culinary talent. Some of the shy young sous chefs and chefs de partie, whom I can remember were reluctant to come out of their kitchens a few years ago, are now established bona fide executive chefs in their own right.

And menus have become far more sophisticated and imaginative. This is partly due to the fact that so much, previously unavailable, imported food and food products are now readily available in Samui. Suppliers have been very responsive in listening to the needs of our international chefs, who know only too well that the quality of the raw ingredients, and the need for genuine imported food products, is vital for creating fine authentic international cuisine (like most professions, the top people in the F&B industry are not prepared to cut corners either). Standards in general have risen, service levels are much higher, bar tending knowledge has improved greatly, and all the little details, like good coffee, are everywhere now. And, in a subject close to my heart, restaurant wine lists are far savvier.

 

Even with all the ever-changing issues and trends in the restaurant world, there is one aspect of eating out that remains the same now as it always has done – the company. And the SCC is nothing, if not a social gathering. There is nothing that compares to sharing a problem with a like-minded professional who knows exactly what you’re talking about. And, just for this reason alone, the Samui Culinary Circle’s future is surely set to continue brightly.

 

Peter James

 


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