Although chef Paul Smart originally hails from Australia, he’s happy to call Bangkok his home (for now). This month, he has his hands full as one of the key organizers behind the SO Amazing Chefs event at the SO Sofitel.
After leaving his home in Adelaide, Australia, chef Paul Smart relocated to the UK to serve his apprenticeship, spending two years at the Ritz London, where he worked alongside Executive Chef John Williams and Head Chef Fred Forrester. Relocating back to Australia, Paul played a prominent role at the multi-award winning Room81 restaurant—part of the Sofitel Gold Coast Broadbeach resort. His cooking career then took an Asiatic turn when he relocated to Bangkok in late 2011 to take over the kitchens at the soon-to-be-opened SO Sofitel hotel. Now, at the age of 36, he’s a firmly entrenched Bangkokian (“I even have my photo on the wall at Wong’s” he confesses), with a wife, two young sons, and maybe even a “starry” future ahead.
You’ve been at SO Sofitel since you arrived in Bangkok, correct?
Yes. At this hotel, right from the beginning, I was hired as the Park Society chef. The French chef, Nicolas Vienne, was here for a year, but he left and went back to Guangzhou, in China. So I went ahead pushed for the position of ‘Head Culinary Designer’. It’s the same as ‘Executive Chef’ but we’re SO Sofitel so we play on the words, you know (laughs). And we do really “design” the dishes.
There’s lots of talk that Michelin is coming to Bangkok. Is the city ready for it?
I think some restaurants are ready for it, like J’Aime at the U Sathorn, and Sühring. They’re no stranger to what it takes to get a Michelin star. And you might get some surprises, like in Singapore—restaurants that you didn’t think could get a star but they do. Here, at Park Society, I would love to go for one. We’ve got all these Michelin Star chefs coming for the SO Amazing Chefs event, so we know the standard you have to achieve. Overall I think Bangkok’s ready for it, the customers are ready for it, the chefs are ready for it… so let’s go!
Speaking of the SO Amazing Chefs event, who are some of the chefs you’ll be working with?
Along with the chefs I know—Alain Caron, for instance, he’s a good friend of mine and has been at the event every year since the beginning, same as Didier Corlou—I’ve invited five chefs that I’ve never worked with before, so that should be interesting. My job is to get the chefs everything they need in order to give the guests the ultimate experience. And to make sure they can produce something they’re happy with, because they’re cooking for their name and their reputation.
Have you already had some bizarre requests?
I’ve got Paul Liebrandt, the two Michelin-starred chef from New York, asking me for liquid nitrogen and a thermo-bowl, which retails for about B30,000, but you can’t find it in Thailand so I’m trying to import one. I don’t know what he has in mind, but this is so he can cook at -30°C.
Any other surprises this year?
We’re also going to be doing a ‘Pop Up’ restaurant with the Michelin star chefs from November 10th to 13th at EmQuartier in the outdoor area on the ground floor, near Jones The Grocer. But it’s not just going to be us, it’s going to be their other restaurants as well. We’ll be selling about 100 or 150 portions per chef and we’ll be selling them from a booth. We’re planning live cooking demonstrations as well.
Has Bangkok lived up to your expectations?
I love the city, there’s so much to do. And it’s a great country as well. You’ve got beaches but then up in Chiang Mai you’ve got the King’s Royal Project. I’ve visited that a few times to see what they’re growing on the farm up there—Swiss chard, different coloured cabbages, and so on.
So where in Bangkok do you go to eat?
I never normally go to a place twice, because once you’ve visited it you sort of get the gist. When I first came to Bangkok the big hype was around Sirocco at Lebua, so I went there to try it. I also went to Gaggan even before it was that well known—two or three years ago—just to see, because I knew it was up and coming at that time. All these restaurants, that have a bit of hype about them, I want to see what it’s all about. But also the ones that aren’t so well known you want to explore as well. You get surprised sometimes. Just down the corner from the hotel I like this little Thai restaurant called North East, right on Rama IV. They have an open kitchen but there it means that the kitchen is outside. And it’s always totally full, very busy. One of my favourite dishes is this morning glory tempura, then they make this warm sauce for it with prawns, coconut, chili, lemongrass, and kaffir lime. It’s amazing!