Chef Chalermchai, or Chef Kla as he is known to colleagues and friends, was born in Buriram province in the north-east of Thailand in 1975. That part of Thailand is known as Isaan and is renowned for having one of the strongest food cultures in the country.
Famous Isaan dishes include Gaeng Om – a spicy, peppery, vegetable broth with claimed healing qualities, and Somtam – probably Thailand’s most famous salad – shredded green papaya balanced perfectly with fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes and a dressing that is salty, sweet, sour and spicy in perfect balance.
Chef Kla being a native of Isaan may explain why he picked a healthy grilled salmon salad with Thai herbs for us.
When did you start working at Trisara Phuket?
During the pre-opening period in June 2004. I worked with the original team and helped to set up the kitchen and all the kitchen systems.
When did you start cooking?
At the age of 20. After working for several years in my parents’ rice farm I set up my own market garden where I successfully grew herbs and Thai vegetables such as chilies, apple eggplants, kaffir lime and lemongrass to sell in our local market. This led to my interest in food – using these terrific fresh ingredients was the start of my interest in the culinary arts.
What is the best part of being a chef?
It’s a continual learning curve, constantly absorbing influences from all over the world through TV, magazines, fellow chefs and books – I love learning. I also love the fact that I have access to the world’s best produce right here in Phuket, allowing me to create dishes that can stand alongside any in the world.
What is your favorite dish to eat? Why?
Anything dressed with a perfectly balanced nahm jim – the blend of hot, salty, sour and sweet, flavoured with garlic and coriander. Nahm jim has to be perfectly balanced and when it is, it goes with anything, from something as simple as somtam to something as complex as barbequed prawns – delicious!
What are your priorities at work?
Maintaining the creative flow in my team; ensuring that I see each and every dish that goes out on my shift; and having a kitchen brigade who are always motivated to do the best they can.
If you weren’t a chef, what other career would you choose?
I would love to be a food photographer. I have worked with some great photographers and I love the precision and detail that they put into their work with food.