Farm-to-table, hyper-local cuisine, terroir-driven cooking—we’ve heard all of this before, and quite often when the likes of chef Rene Redzepi and two-Michelin-star Noma are concerned. But how often does the food live up to the promise?
At Pru, the new restaurant at luxury resort Trisara, chef Jimmy Ophorst, originally from The Netherlands, is undoubtedly committed to replicating the locavore movement in Phuket, Thailand. While technically a “hotel restaurant”, Pru is not like the typical outlet that doles out edible but uninspired fare. The energy of the restaurant and the food that it serves, exude creativity, and that’s largely because of Ophorst's progressive vision and sheer drive.
A year ago, Ophorst thought of using ingredients sourced from the Andaman region to define the restaurant’s direction. “Everyone in the world was going local but it wasn’t really the case in Phuket,” he says. They closed the restaurant for nine months and did fieldwork, reaching out to fishermen and unearthing native ingredients. They visited small farms, many of which are part of the Royal Project, an initative that encourages organic farming across Thailand.
In December 2016, they reopened as Pru—a restaurant that sources 100 per cent local ingredients and boasts of a terroir-driven dining experience. Alongside their efforts to discover the riches of the region, Trisara also established Pru Jampa, the resort’s own farm a mere 20-minutes’ drive away. The farm is the inspiration for the restaurant both in name and in philosophy; in fact, Pru is an acronym for “plant, raise, understand”.
It was a scorching Friday morning in June when Ophorst walked us through the grounds; once a simple, expansive nursery, it has been transformed into a working farm. We found basil, pumpkin, tomatoes, lime, edible flowers, as well as free range chickens and ducks—all grown in accordance to organic farming practices. A short stroll from the farm is a lush forest where the chef and local farmers forage for more local bounty.
The farm is the inspiration for the restaurant both in name and in philosophy; in fact, Pru stands for “plant, raise, understand”.
Pru Jampa is a work in progress—the team is still experimenting with which plants thrive and studying how to best develop various areas of the farm. It is, nonetheless, the soul of the restaurant and, increasingly, an integral part of the resort. “Soon we’d like to conduct cooking classes, picnics and barbecues here,” shares General Manager Anthony Lark.
The question is, does all of this work translate on the plate? It does, clearly and beautifully. Chef Ophorst’s passion is evident in every dish, particularly the vegetable courses. We started with the yellow tail hamachi tartar with creme fraiche vinaigrette, rosella powder, sea grapes and Hua Hin Oscietra caviar. The hamachi had a more subtle flavour, and according to the chef, it is because it was caught in warm water. This was followed by charcoal-cooked crayfish from the Royal Project, which was fresh in taste and presentation, and paired with dragon fruit and Thai almonds.
“We believe that if it grows together, it goes together”
Apart from locavorism, Ophorst has a fascination for what he refers to as “waste ingredients”—essentially overlooked parts or uncool produce that he turns into the star. This is most evident in the vegetable courses, such as the dish of cauliflower stem cooked in brown butter and served with bone marrow cream, foraged mushrooms and sardine powder, which was divine. “When I was young, we had cauliflower almost every week,” Ophorst says with a laugh. “I wanted to do it in a different way.” From someone who doesn’t like cauliflower, to say it’s a memorable and inspired creation is a compliment of the highest order.
This was followed by a superb carrot dish that made me really happy, then slightly sad after I polished it all off. I was delighted to enjoy a dish that tasted so much like its essence, then I also realised it would be difficult to find enjoyment in carrots cooked the ordinary way. “We believe that if it grows together, it goes together,” Ophorst explains of the idea behind this plate.
The main course—Chiang Mai quail, grilled Phuket fiddlehead, sweet corn creme, an emulsion of parsley and spinach, and bamboo, fermented and braised—was rich and subtle at the same time. The dish showcased the chef’s technical skills but it still appeared like an effortless endeavour. The meal ended with roasted Phuket pineapple in jasmine caramel, paired with a cake made with foraged pine needle, and a sorbet of Thai basil—a truly fitting end to a unique dinner that highlighted Thai produce in a sophisticated yet playful manner.
“In Holland, there's a phrase 'gas geven', which means to push it. That's what I need to do.”
“About six guests who have dined here said it reminded them of Central,” Ophorst shares nonchalantly, referring to the ground-breaking Peruvian restaurant of Chef Virgilio Martinez, which currently tops the Latin America 50 Best Restaurants List. The comparisons are not far-fetched—both Martinez and Orphost practice ingredient-centric cooking and are informed by their drive to discover and champion their locality.
At just 27, Ophorst is clearly a young, talented and creative chef that will go far. A two-time semi finalist at S.Pellegrino's Young Chef Competition - Southeast Asia, he has the motivation to succeed and is willing to put in the hard work required. “In Holland, there's a phrase 'gas geven', which means to push it. That's what I need to do,” he says with a smile.
Rene Redzepi once mused that the principles he used to build Noma, could be done anywhere. Pru proves that driven by curiosity and commitment, there's still plenty to discover in the well-trodden roads of Phuket.
Pru Restaurant is located at Trisara, 60/1 Moo 6, Srisoonthorn Road, Cherngtalay, Thalang, Phuket 83110 Thailand Tel: +66 (0)76 310 100