The story behind Phuket's first and only Michelin-starred restaurant – CNN
It’s got beautiful beaches, some of the world’s top luxury resorts and is a jumping off point for excursions into the brilliant blue waters of the Andaman Sea.
But what about world-class fine dining?
Though there are plenty of fantastic restaurants serving excellent Thai cuisine, nobody really comes to Phuket expecting an experience that will rank among their most memorable fine dining moments of the year.
Set in luxury resort Trisara, Pru — which stands for “plant, raise, understand” — opened in 2016 and is run by Dutch chef Jim Ophorst.
To describe it as just another farm-to-table fine dining restaurant would be vastly understating Ophorst’s accomplishments.
Dishes are made entirely with products sourced from around Thailand — with a focus on the terroir of the Andaman Sea — including sustainable, organic ingredients pulled from the resort’s 16,000 square meter farm, located in the northeast of the island.
We’re not just talking about familiar items like Phuket lobster or locally grown kale, either. Ophorst’s dishes feature wildly unconventional ingredients like locally sourced pine needles and sea grapes (a kind of seaweed caviar).
Journey to success
Ophorst’s rise has been relatively quick considering his age.
Just 29 years old, the chef kicked off his Thailand culinary journey at Trisara about six years ago, when he was hired to do some restaurant consultancy work following a few years cooking in kitchens in Europe, including the Netherlands.
Resort management were so impressed with his work they asked him to create a restaurant offering a very high level of fine dining, giving Ophorst complete control over the kitchen.
“They said ‘okay this is your space. Do whatever you want to do,'” recalls Ophorst.
“And then we came up with Pru because we wanted to create a unique concept.”
Chef Jim Ophorst
Initially, he wanted to follow an 80/20 philosophy — use 80% locally sourced food and ingredients, 20% imported.
After seeing what was available locally and what they could grow on the resort’s farm, he says they decided to amp things up and only use ingredients sourced from within Thailand.
“Everything is about sourcing and what Thailand has to show to the outside world, and not in Thai food, but in European food,” he says.
“It’s all about the experience. We take guests on a journey from the moment they step in to the moment they step out.”
Following its opening just over two years ago, Pru immediately began generating a lot of buzz and was proclaimed by local travel and food media as the hottest new venue in Thailand’s culinary scene.
The menu changes every few months but the process of getting a dish right can take up to six months, Ophorst says.
It’s easy to see why the creation process is so intense. Ophorst is a true innovator.
Though the complexities and layers of all his dishes are impressive, seeing what the man can do with a plate of common veggies is particularly mind blowing.
“Normally you will see protein as a main ingredient, but I think at Pru you can see the vegetables as a main ingredient,” explains the chef.
There’s cauliflower stem cooked in brown butter with a bone marrow cream, foraged mushrooms and sardine powder.
Carrots are cooked “in the soil they came from,” with fermented carrot juice and cured egg yolk from the farm.
“The carrots tell the best story of what Pru stands for, I think,” says Ophorst.
“Simple. Not too many ingredients, and amazing in flavor. What we do is different, and that’s what many guests also say too. That’s good. We want to be different. We don’t want to be same.”
The restaurant offers three six-course set menu options — including a vegetarian one — with optional wine pairings.
How Trisara stays on top
The fact that Pru is set inside one of Thailand’s top beach resorts certainly doesn’t harm its appeal.
Located on the northwestern tip of Phuket on a private beach, Trisara has been around for more than a decade but remains at the top of the luxury pack.
According to the managing director, Australian Anthony Lark, Trisara’s success stems from a combination of factors, among them a refusal to let the property feel out of date.
“One of the things that keeps Trisara ahead of the competition is a constant commitment to renovation, innovation and attention to detail in ongoing maintenance,” Lark tells CNN Travel.
“In general, we always look to stay ahead of trends with technology. One of the advantages of being a one-off independent property is that if we feel something needs to change or if we have a great idea, we just do it. Larger group or chain hotels can’t do this.”
The resort’s eco philosophy is in line with Pru’s commitment to sustainability, too.
Staff don’t use chemicals on gardens or chlorine in pools. All the rain water is saved to use on the gardens in the dry periods. Drinking water is created through reverse osmosis and served in reusable glass bottles.
“I really believe that luxury is the outcome of an experience and not a product,” says Lark. “It’s all about exceeding guests’ expectations.”