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Meet the Phuketian cooking up a storm on MasterChef Thailand

The Phuket News speaks to Jitsak Lim-Pa­kornkul, known as Gino, the sequined and stylish Phuket native wowing MasterChef Thailand judges with forgotten flavours of the South. He talks cracking crustaceans, restau­rant rarities and his rise from home cook to Branding and Communications Manager to contestant chef on the hit TV show.

EntertainmentDining
By Amy Bryant

Sunday 31 March 2019, 10:00AM


How did you get into cooking?

I consider myself a foodie. Through working in the hotel industry for 19 years I have had the chance to help shape the identity of restaurants and try new dishes. Even though I wasn’t personally cooking, I got to see the process, preparation and presentation.

My grandma was a home cook and had a great passion for cooking. When I was very young, she would make local desserts and sell them in Phuket Town, like coconut sticky rice and pandan-flavoured rice flour droplets in sweetened coconut cream. They would always sell out. I got to see her prepare food with heart. I wanted to carry on her legend as one of the best local dessert makers in Phuket.

Where do you like to eat in Phuket?

I like to eat off the radar from tourists, away from the guide book. On the way to Chalong Circle, there’s a restaurant called Mor Mu Dong that serves local seafood and Southern Thai specialties cooked in the original, authentic way. The flavour is not adjusted to satisfy tourists. I love to eat at Nam Yoi in Phuket Town too. It cooks country-style Phuket specialties.

What was the audition process for MasterChef like?

My good friend, who was a contestant on season two of the show, suggested I audition. He felt I had creativity and could do something different. For the audition video, I decided to remake a local Phuket dish that I tried once or twice when I was young but you don’t find in restaurants now. It’s called Tu Mee. It’s a Peranakan-inspired fish curry made sour with tamarind and eaten with vegetables and rice noo­dles. More than 3,000 people sent videos. Fortunate­ly, I was selected as one of 100 finalists. Afterwards came the live audition and 30 contestants were selected from that.

How far into the process are you now?

Seven episodes have been aired and there will be 16 episodes altogether. It’s broadcast every Sunday on Channel 7 at 6:20pm.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

The show can be very unpredictable and judges can create any rules. Unlike previous series, contest­ants can be eliminated in the first round. There are unexpected ingredients too. In the second round of episode seven, we were tasked with making a dessert of mixed berries, coconut and, unusually, a bitter root vegetable. It was a challenge to make a nice des­sert with the sweet and savoury.

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You looked quite shocked to see the lobster…

I didn’t want to cook anything alive. My husband showed me how to cook lobster in a peaceful way by chilling it in ice first. But other contestants just cracked it straight away! I was a little bit shocked. But it was a good exercise. If you want to be a chef, you need to make an effort to know the ingredients, even if you don’t like them.

Although the competition is fierce, the contestants seem to be close and supportive of one another.

We are all good friends. Even though we didn’t know each other before, we share the same passion and aspirations. We love cooking and we want to be good chefs. We exchange ideas and help each other. Of course, some are more skilled than others. Some have been to Le Cordon Bleu cooking schools; others are home cooks like me. But there is no jealousy. At the end of the day we will be judged on the dishes we create on the show.

The contestants hail from all over Thailand. Does that change how each of you cooks?

Yes, it’s very diverse and everyone has their identity in cooking. We learn from each other and we cross specialties. You can get the ingredients from the North or East but cook in a Southern way, for ex­ample. That’s how new dishes come out in the show. My inspiration is to bring dishes from the past that people have forgotten. I want to share the identity of Phuket food.

What has the public reaction been like?

I’m very lucky that I have a lot of supporters. I had a lot of airtime in episode one, I think because of my character and how I dress. The show really lets you be yourself. I was wearing a metallic pink suit!

In that first episode, I made salmon in local Phuket curry paste but it looked a little overcooked. I said to the judge that it’s how it’s eaten in Phuket, which is true. She said “Do you and your family eat these burnt dishes every day?!” which went viral on social media. People found it funny.

What’s next for you?

In my audition video I mentioned I have some as­piration to open a small restaurant in Phuket Town. I would also like to open a small cooking school with my husband who is an experienced chef. We want it to have a charity feel too – for people with a passion for cooking but who don’t have the opportunities or resources to get into the restaurant industry.

 

 

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