As Phuket has been chosen to be a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a ‘City of Gastronomy’ in this issue of Phuketindex.com Magazine we focus on food. One of Phuket’s most famous chefs is Alessandro Frau; executive chef, owner and the man behind the tremendous successful of Acqua Restaurant in Kalim. Let’s get to know him.
Can you tell us a bit about where you’re from and how you started as a chef?
I come from Italy. Sardinia exactly, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, an island full of colours: from the blue and emerald-green of the sea to the green of the countryside, through to the colours of the food, culture, and traditions.
Sardinia is very famous for its beautiful beaches and amazing sea, an island where the food culture it is very strong, taken very seriously and with passion by almost all Sardinians. Food is also a big part of our culture and Sardinia offers us a wide range of natural ingredients from seafood to the agro-pastoral products of the countryside.
When I finished my studies in Sardinia I moved to London to study English and, to pay for my studies, I had to work. The first job I got was in a restaurant and I was lucky as it was the beginning of the enlightenment in my heart and my passion for cooking and the restaurant environment.
Then I started to work at the famous Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane, London. I believe that this was the school where I learned all the important aspects of this job: from the basics to the fine-dining cuisine.
This passion led me to a never-ending study of food, ingredients, cooking techniques and restaurant environment. This was not just a job for me, whenever I had free time I liked to go in bookstores to find the ultimate chefs’ books, magazines or to follow the blogs or chefs’ websites on the internet or go dining in all best restaurants, absorbing knowledge and experience that today are part of my knowledge and philosophy in my cooking style. This never ends and throughout my career I keep following the evolution of dining to adapt myself to the latest trends and food experiences.
What led you to become a chef?
I think we Italians have cuisine in the blood and enjoy a special approach to food. Even if someone is not a chef, normally he/she is still a pretty good cook, the reason may be because we spend one third of our time at home, cooking with family and friends and enjoying life around food. Having already this as a start and arriving in an international city like London which was full of top restaurants, top chefs and top food, there was a marriage of my blood and all this and this connection exploded into a passion that is still very much alive in me today and in my life’s vision.
To be a chef sometimes is not as easy they say but if your energy is always lit up with passion, you will not feel the pressure, the long hours in the kitchen, and the confrontation with thousands and thousands of customers every year, so I think passion is the main ingredient in my life that made me become a chef.
How would you describe your personal cooking style now?
My personal cooking style is first influenced by the ingredients. After a long search for ingredients I select the perfect ones, then I have to find the inspiration, the story behind that and I have to elaborate a cooking technique, choose colours, the presentation and, most important, the balance of tastes.
Another important aspect of my cooking style is the experiences of my childhood up until today, from my life in Sardinia and the memories that stretch until nowadays with all the new trends and cooking techniques and ingredients.
Besides all this, I would describe my cooking style as evolutionary… in continual evolution, changing year by year.
What is your favourite cooking station in the kitchen?
I don’t have a favourite cooking station. I like to cook at all the stations, but I have to say that the most difficult is the pastry station, as with pastry you have to cook by the book, it’s not like the others stations that are more natural and based on skills, sensations, and emotions.
To be a complete chef you have to be experienced in all the stations and love them all. You have to build your career on a complete program where you can experience all stations in the kitchen and love them all in the same way.
Tell us about the concept for the Acqua Restaurant
Acqua is my own restaurant concept, coming from all my work experience around the world, from London to Mexico, from Paris to Sweden, to of course Italy and in particularly Sardinia.
All my experiences, my memories, my best moments were assembled all together in the conceptual idea called Acqua!
As to my cooking philosophy, Acqua started in 2009 and year by year we have adapted ourselves to the continue evolution of life, ingredients, cooking techniques and trends. There have been various structural changes in the building and design in the restaurant because I believe it’s crucial to always be different and adapt ourselves to the particular ‘era’. Now it’s 2017 and it would be wrong if we stayed the same as in 2009. This is the mistake that many restaurants make, and part of the reason behind this is that there’s no passion or they may not come from a professional restaurant business background and some even improvise in this business and they don’t have the experience…
Our concept is 100% authentic Italian food, focused on the best ingredients selected from Italy and from all over the world. We keep our Italian philosophy and culture, transfer it to modern cooking techniques, evolution of ingredients and trends, but I always keep a close link with our Italian roots.
Why did you choose Phuket for your project?
I was the Executive Chef at The Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket for four years. I was running all kitchen operations for all its 12 outlets, with 130 chefs. It was a different time than now and the Sheraton was one of the most iconic hotels in Phuket. We had as guests several Presidents and the level was very high at that time.
When I started I was 27 years old and to be in charge of a big operation was a big satisfaction for me. The passion was always there and day after day I was learning something new; I became what I always had dreamed to be, an Executive Chef for a very important hotel company. I was living my dream and Phuket was just the perfect place to live it!
After four years at the hotel I felt it was time for a change; I knew Phuket enough and Phuket knew me so I had the choice to move to some hotel within the company or stay in Phuket and open my own restaurant, so here I am, Acqua Restaurant, Phuket.
What are the restaurant’s most popular dishes?
We have many popular and signature dishes that have been created during these last eight years. We also have iconic dishes that have been on the menu since we opened and of course we cannot remove them as they are our customers’ favourites like pan-fried US scallops with rougie foie gras, peperoncino jam and truffle pumpkin sauce. A new entry is sous-vide cooked octopus salad, with taggiasche olives and micro herbs and one of the latest and maybe the most popular is the 45-minute slow cooked eggs on a Parmigiano Reggiano fondue, crispy pancetta powder and Italian fresh black truffle.
I cannot forget to mention our wood-fired suckling pig, served with violet and saffron mashed potatoes, broad beans and a suckling pig sauce. I must stop here as the list could go on and on, you’d better come and try and see…
Any last words?
As we say in Italy “Non e’ tutto rose e fiori” (“It’s not all roses and flowers”) which means that I have to say that to open a restaurant here in Phuket wasn’t that easy. First of all we were a destination restaurant in the middle of nowhere on the coast of Phuket, so we were not in a city centre where people can see you. Before people knew about us it took over two years of difficult times, also dealing with Phuket’s seasons. It wasn’t easy at all but we believed in our concept and ideas and we kept going strong finding ways to let people know that we were there, working on giving our customers memorable experiences and appreciating the customers as the best ambassadors to promote our restaurant.
Our determination has been always focused on our philosophy of the restaurant’s concept and to create unique experiences for our customers. Today Acqua Restaurant is the most awarded restaurant in Phuket, and the most awarded Italian in Thailand. We are mentioned in all the best restaurant guides in Asia and not only that; we got one of the best awards as one of the best wine lists in the world from Wine Spectator and we just got named few weeks ago, as ‘Best Restaurant in Thailand outside Bangkok’ from Thailand Tatler 2017. We are definitely very happy and proud.