Samui Wining & Dining
Why Here?

We talk to Martin Selby at Karma Samui’s RockPool restaurant.


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Samui is a magical sort of place. It’s a perfect blend of the old and the new, with dreamy beaches and deep blue skies. It’s romantic and sleepy. It’s just the sort of place, in fact, that makes you start to dream. You know, the sort that goes, “. . . wouldn’t it be great to live here.” And there are now a great many folks who’d nod knowingly at this, probably with a slight smile at the corner of their mouths. Because they’ve already done it. Many come here to retire. Some just buy a holiday-home. Others come here to work; to start a business or open a bar. In some instances it’s all planned and organised – if you’re coming here to teach, for instance. But in very many cases it’s more a case of, “. . . I just love it here . . . I wonder if I can find a job?” And that’s exactly what happened to Martin Selby.

      Martin was born in England’s Grantham, in Lincolnshire and, as with most young people, went through his schooling with an interest. But, unlike those who are ‘born to cook’, Martin always fancied the idea of becoming a graphic designer. He was an imaginative and creative youth, and it seemed an appropriate outlet for his energies. “But when I was old enough to leave

school,” he told me, “things just weren’t so clear anymore, and there were other attractions.” He was seduced by the enigma of IT and started a course of computer-related studies. And, like thousands of other similar students, also began working part time in an evening job to make ends meet. “It was nothing special at first,” he continued, “just a washing-up job in a local hotel. But I enjoy organising things efficiently, so became quite good at it.”

        After a time Martin began to realise that a career as a graphic designer might have its limitations, so switched courses to study law and business studies. And, coincidentally, began to spend more time working at the hotel restaurant. “I’d become good friends with the boss,” Martin recalled. “Most of his staff turned-over quite quickly, but I was still there and he reckoned I was too good for just washing up, so I’d been working as a waiter for a while. He took an interest in me and advised me that with good training and experience as a chef I could more or less get a job anywhere in the world. So I moved to the kitchen. I began as a kitchen boy but became so involved that I left college to go full time in the restaurant.”

          And, six years after leaving school, he found himself working as sous chef, “I was firmly set on a career as a chef by this time,” continued Martin. “I’m a quick learner and my creative side was suited to cooking. I was taken on by the well-known Barnsdale Lodge Hotel and Restaurant and, really, there was only one step up the ladder that was left – a promotion to executive chef. But I felt in need of a change. All the kids who were coming out of school were heading off around the world, travelling on a gap-year before settling down. I’d been working for more than eight years, so decided it was time for a break.”

          Martin set off on the Asia-Pacific trail half way through 2007. His plan was to drift towards Australia and New Zealand, and then return home to save some money for another leg. But it was coming up towards Christmas and he was already enjoying some time on Samui, when his parents decided to take the Christmas holidays abroad with him. “I loved Samui, which is why I was lingering,” he confided. “Then I had a lovely time with my parents for a month and, really, that was the turning point. It hit me that I could probably get work here as a chef – the whole island was full of resorts and restaurants, after all. So I did something that nobody seems to do anymore. I spent a week printing out 100 letters of application, made copies of my resumé, and put them all in envelopes. And then I spent another week driving round the island on my motorbike delivering them all by hand. Nothing happened! I was just preparing myself to return to England when I got a phone call from The Library – one of Chaweng’s most stylish and up-market resorts. Would I consider filling the position of Western Sous Chef, as it had just become vacant? And I don’t have to tell you my response!”

          If you take a moment to break off and step back a bit at this point, then Martin’s Samui resumé amounts to something of an accolade. He worked at The Library for a year, before moving to the prestigious Beach Republic in Lamai, as the executive chef. And then on to his present position – Executive Chef and Food & Beverage Manager at RockPool, where he began in November last year. RockPool is the splendidly-located cliffside restaurant that’s attached to Karma Samui Resort, just a little way outside Chaweng, on the road towards the neighbouring bay of Cheong Mon. It’s one of the most relaxing and laid-back eateries around, and also has the distinction of always having had some of the best chefs on the island. “The two previous chefs, Stefano Leone and Azizskandar Awang – both highly respected – were a hard duo to follow,” he grinned. “The menu here was superb to begin with and so I’ve resisted the urge to stamp my personality on it. Rather, I’ve developed two additional attractions, a wide range of interesting tapas, and also an international oyster menu and bar. I think it’s safe to say that these elements complement the existing menu, and I’d like to think that RockPool has now got a restaurant and menu that’s up there with the best of them.”

          If you’re wondering how this ‘dream’ story is eventually going to pan out – don’t! Martin’s happily married to Khun Kwan, who he met on Samui at The Library (and who still works there as Purchasing Manager) and has a delightful two year-old son, Aran. He can’t imagine himself moving. Maybe opening his own restaurant somewhere, one day, but not away from Samui. He loves it all far too much.

 

 Rob De Wet


 


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