Nick Hall has been executive chef at the Sala Samui Resort & Spa in Koh Samui, Thailand, for four and a half years. He talks to Janet Harmer about his diverse brigade and creating a new home
Describe the style and setting of the Sala Samui Resort & Spa
The villa resort is set in an idyllic bay on the island of Samui. We have over 60 metres of beach front and 55 swimming pools in total across our 69 villas.
What does your role entail?
What first inspired you to work in Thailand in 2004?
I first visited Thailand in 2000 and instantly fell in love with the place. After working in Australia for a while, followed by a stint back in the UK, I decided that I wanted to relocate overseas and Thailand seemed like a great place to go. Phangan island, which is smaller than Samui, lacked great food at the top end, so my wife and I decided to open a restaurant there.
We ran Me'n'u for two years, which gave me experience as an owner as well as enabling me to get to know the language, the culture and the food. Rasananda, Phangan's new five-star resort, then asked me to undertake consultancy work, which ultimately led to me closing my restaurant and moving to the resort full time.
What do you enjoy most about living and working in Thailand?
Thailand never ceases to amaze. The cuisine, when done correctly, is sublime; from the single-dish restaurants to the local places with plastic chairs and great flavours.
Things can take a long time here; tomorrow can mean three weeks away. As a chef who generally needs things now, it can be testing.
What are your key challenges?
The kitchens are made up of people who might not necessarily have a great interest in food or the hotel industry. My brigade includes former rubber farmers, a seamstress, a housekeeper and even a one-time buffalo keeper. Getting the team to believe in what we are doing and why dishes need to be refined is possibly the greatest challenge. The language was difficult at the start, but now, after 11 years, I'm fluent enough.
How has your cooking style developed?
My original training was based on classical French cookery, but since arriving in Thailand the influences on my food are increasingly Asian, whether they be Thai, Malay, Vietnamese or, more recently, Japanese. Asian ingredients combined with western techniques and finesse result in unique and outstanding dishes.
Do you work with other British nationals or know of any working in hospitality nearby?
At the resort there is just me and the English teacher who hails from London. We work alongside staff from Sweden, the Philippines, Russia and Myanmar. There are plenty of British chefs on the island, such as the Larder's Martin Selby from the East Midlands.
How easy is it for Brits to secure hospitality jobs in Thailand?
With the correct experience, desire and attitude, it can be an achievable goal to secure jobs here. Most of the higher-end resorts in Thailand have expat chefs and food and beverage managers.
How do you think working overseas has enhanced your career?
Being able to live and work in Thailand has allowed me to experience another culture and embrace its cuisine - something I would not have seen if I had stayed in the UK. Taking on a new language has been a great challenge, as has managing people from a different country.
What are the strengths of Thai hospitality?
Thai hospitality is famous for its friendliness and warmth. It is a privilege to be able to harness the amazing gift they have to provide a first-class service.
Do you have family with you in Thailand?
I met my wife while in Thailand and we now have two amazing girls. This is their birth home and they both go to school here.
2011-present Executive chef, Sala Samui Resort & Spa, Koh Samui, Thailand
2008-2011 Executive chef, Rasananda Resort & Spa, Koh Phangan, Thailand
2004-2008 Chef-proprietor, Boomerang Global, Koh Phangan, Thailand
2004-2004 Sous chef, Tollemache Arms, Buckminster, Lincolnshire, UK
2001-2004 Senior chef de partie, Hart's hotel & restaurant, Nottingham, UK
2000-2001 Senior chef de partie, Landmark Catering, Sydney, Australia
1994-1999 Chef de partie, Bestwood Lodge hotel, Nottingham, UK