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Up where he belongs

Words: Mimi Grachangnetara

Up where he belongs

Word: Mimi Grachangnetara
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Phuket welcomes its first and only Michelin star restaurant, as Chef Jimmy Ophorst takes PRU – a farm-to-table concept at Trisara – to new heights. 

Enjoying a hearty meal cooked with love by his mother has always been one of Jimmy Ophorst’s fondest memories growing up by the sea in the Netherlands. “I was very lucky that my mother took the time to cook something for us every day,” he remembers.

Wholesome meals aside, the father-to-be attributes his positive qualities primarily to his upbringing.

“Where I grew up just outside The Hague in a town called Westland, my family would make me work for the things I wanted,” he recalls. “The family ran greenhouses so if I wanted a football, for example, I’d have to pick tomatoes or cucumbers and save up for it. This definitely shaped me into the person I am today.”

Like the vegetables that he now grows at his 10-rai (16,000 sqm) vegetable garden called Pru Jampa, Ophorst is no stranger to the “hard work pays off” concept. After all, the roots of his very success are firmly founded on passion, dedication and his drive to achieve his goals. Now the pride and joy of his family with a well-earned Michelin star under his belt, Ophorst has also become Phuket’s golden child, leading the farm-to-table cause at PRU. The restaurant name is derived from the ethos of Planting, Raising and Understanding the anatomy of the dishes that come out of the kitchen.

 

“I came to Thailand wanting to be a good chef but I just didn’t quite know how to get there,” Ophorst remembers. “I had a six-month window where I had nothing to do, so I called up Gaggan Anand (founder of now two-Michelin star restaurant Gaggan), and asked him if I could join him in the kitchen to which he responded favourably. One day, just out of the blue, I got a call from the Trisara Hotel asking if I wanted to join them full-time at their restaurant in Phuket. Of course, I welcomed the challenge, and that was how it all started.”

Since day one of arriving in Phuket, the one thing that has been at the heart of his operation has been to give back to the island community and to be accepted by the people.

“For me it’s very important to belong in this country. I try my best to give something back to the people and to be a part of their lives. It’s the only way to earn their respect,” he says. “At PRU, we grow most of our own produce at Pru Jampa garden where local farmers deliver them to the restaurant three to four times a week.”

The beautiful connection Ophorst has made throughout the years with his local peers has resulted in blossoming relationships between chef and farmer. Black crab, for example, are caught by the gardener at Trisara where his family has a crab-hunting company. Every night, the workers in Phang Nga Province go out to catch crabs and bring them straight to PRU in the morning. That’s how fresh the ingredients are. Exotic finds such as the makwaen or Szechuan peppers, only found in northern Thailand, come from the chef’s contacts up north. The hotel’s bartender also hooked up the chef with a person who collects Isaan almonds foraged from the mountains of the northeast. For this reason, PRU has become a storage point for rare local ingredients from all over Thailand, enabling Ophorst to create some of the most innovative dishes that would surprise even the most adventurous of Thai palates.

“Building this relationship with the people is what we’re all about,” Ophorst reveals. “What’s delivered onto the plate is definitely a reflection of our relationship with the local people and the kingdom’s local produce. This restaurant is not only about us. We want to support the locals and forge genuine relations with them. Sure we can make decent food, but without good quality products, we won’t be able to do anything.”

EAT LIKE A CHEF

Brasserie, Phuket

We live just about five minutes away from this lovely restaurant so we come here very often. It’s run the terrific Chef Alain Tabruyn from Belgium. My favourite dishes depend on what ingredients are available but usually I enjoy the Maine Lobster with a reduction of langoustine, the Roast Beef and the Grilled Sole Fish. They also have a branch by the sea.

Address: 18 Rassada Rd., Phuket Town

Tel: +66 (0) 76 210 511

 

Khao Mun Gai Go Ta

This is the one of Phuket’s most famous places for Hainanese chicken rice. The rice here is the star. It’s cooked al dente. The sauce packs a punch and is riddled with chillies and garlic. I come here when I’m in a rush and when I need a good meal without having to break the bank! I may need to come here more often now that my wife is expecting our first child.  

Address: 16-18 Montri Rd., Soi Surin, Phuket Town

Tel: +66 (0) 76 212 816

100 Mahaseth

I don’t travel to Bangkok often but when I do, I love to try out new restaurants. The latest one I went to and absolutely loved was this one run by Chef Chalee Kader who cooks what is closest to his heart and cooks something he believes in. This is a special place because they stay close to their philosophy on food. They cook traditional northeastern Thai cuisine using the nose to tail concept. I loved everything there from the relish to the meat cuts, but the most special dishes for me was the bone marrow and the goat ribs marinated in fish sauce and roasted over charcoal. The flavours and texture are simply amazing.

Address: 100 Mahaseth Rd., Khwaeng Si Phraya, Bang Rak District, Bangkok

Tel: +66 (0) 2 235 0023

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