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Gourmet Secrets: Farm-to-table movement gains ground in Thailand

And Pru at Trisara resort is the first and only restaurant in Phuket to receive a Michelin star for its ‘plant, raise, understand’ philosophy

brunch Updated: May 11, 2019 19:59 IST
Karen Anand
Karen Anand
Hindustan Times
duck,Phetchabun,PRU
Pru at Trisara resort in Phuket, Thailand

Sustainability, local and farm to table are the buzzwords on the global food circuits for enlightened folk. Whether it is five-star hotels, boutique spas or supermarket chains, that is what everyone is talking about. In just a few years, these concepts have moved out of the “marginal” zone and created a demand based on trend and substance, which is more than significant.

“Local’ means not only sourcing food which is locally grown or produced and therefore fresher than a product, which may have been produced 5,000 miles away but it also hits a much deep, socio-economic cord…it helps the local community, provides jobs and often continues a tradition. It keeps families together and bonded and often doing what they have been doing for centuries. And people are willing to pay not only for the product but for the political correctness and for the emotion. The contact with the supplier or creator is the key.

This wasn’t such a big deal until relatively recently with the supermarket boom, which left us clueless about who supplies what. We used to know our vegetable vendors, butchers and fish mongers by their names. In cities like Mumbai, much was brought to the doorstep and we knew those go-between traders by their names too. With the Spencers and the Reliances, this has changed and now there is a very real need to re-discover our emotional roots as well as source reliably.

Breath of fresh air

I was delighted to see a passionate, young Dutch chef take this concept to the level of fine dining. Pru at Trisara resort is first and only restaurant in Phuket to receive a Michelin star for its ‘plant, raise, understand’ philosophy. The restaurant’s critically acclaimed Chef de Cuisine Jim Ophorst is touted as an “inspiring voice of change” for elevating the farm-to-table movement in Thailand. Jimmy, as he is called, is renowned for his imaginative cooking style and innovative techniques. In 2016, he joined Trisara after a stint in Bangkok where his raw talent and conviction inspired the conception of PRU. He is a two-time semi-finalist for S. Pellegrino’s annual Young Chefs Award in 2016 and 2017.

I spend an afternoon with Jimmy. Married to a local Phuket girl with a three weeks old baby, Jimmy is clear that his only ambition is to make PRU better and better. I visit the PRU Jampa farm (from which the restaurant takes its name), which supplies the restaurant with more than 35 per cent of its vegetables. The farm is completely organic and bio dynamic and lives up to the sustainability tag, which is the underlying core of the restaurant. “I’m excited to discover new ingredients all the time because it pushes my creative boundaries,” says Jimmy.

“My ultimate goal is to create a 100 per cent locally-sourced menu. At the moment the farm supplies about 35 per cent of our vegetables but ultimately it would be nice to have almost all our vegetables from the farm. To cook something great, you need great products from great farmers. Great farmers are from strong communities. So, at PRU, we don’t want to be just a kitchen. We want to strengthen the local farmer community. This will yield better ingredients for better dishes at PRU. At the end, it is all about the happiness in every angle - from the farmers, to the restaurant team, to the guests at our tables”.

The restaurant’s critically acclaimed Chef de Cuisine Jim Ophorst is touted as an “inspiring voice of change” for elevating the farm-to-table movement in Thailand

Cooked to perfection

Jimmy mentions that his favourite ingredients to work with at PRU are predictably the blue shell prawns but also unconventional ingredients like locally-sourced sea grapes (a kind of chunky seaweed) and red ginger torch flower from which they make an amazing panna cotta. Nothing unusual about the duck, which comes from the mountains of Phetchabun but when it is steeped in a spiced brine for 24 hours, dry aged for five days, slow cooked on a wood fire with a mushroom caramel glaze and finally grilled on charcoal to render the skin crispy, it is something else entirely. A dish for which it is worth flying to Phuket . This is extraordinarily clever skilful cooking.

The restaurant offers two six course set menu options, including a vegetarian one and an eight course one with optional wine pairings.

Here is the famous Duck recipe for which I would visit again in a heartbeat!

Aged duck

The aged duck is dry aged for five days

The duck is sourced from the mountains of Phetchabun and raised free range.

Once the duck arrives in our kitchen we brine it in salt water and spice for 24 hours, second day we marinate it in organic honey water for 24 hours. After that we stuff the duck with dry lemongrass and dry age it for five days (refrigerated).

The cooking process takes place two hours before the restaurant opens. The duck is roasted on a very low wood fire for two hours until it reaches a perfect temperature. During the cooking process the duck is glazed with a mushroom caramel to optimise flavour. We rest the duck for another one or two hours. When the duck is served it is grilled over very high fire for a few minutes to get the crispy skin on it.

Recipes
Brine water
1kg salt
10 litre water
4 pcs cinnamon
10g star anise
10 bay leaves
20g coriander seeds
20g black peppercorns
Honey water
1 litre organic honey from Phetchabun
200g dry shiitake
10 litre water
5 pcs thyme
Mushroom caramel
5 litres mushroom water (made with leftover mushrooms)
1 kg sugar
250g glucose

Make caramel and add the mushroom water.

Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.

This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on May 26.

From HT Brunch, May 12, 2019

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First Published: May 11, 2019 17:57 IST