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The Culinary Detective: Phuket chefs maintain regimen of healthy eating, exercise during lockdown

The Culinary Detective: Phuket chefs maintain regimen of healthy eating, exercise during lockdown

Many years ago, I began my working life as a lowly apprentice at the Savoy in London and just occasionally I reflect, that whilst great memories, these were probably some of the hardest days of my life.

By Chris Watson

Sunday 10 May 2020, 10:00AM

Good food and staying healthy has been the recipe for lockdown living for the chefs of Phuket. Photos: Supplied

Good food and staying healthy has been the recipe for lockdown living for the chefs of Phuket. Photos: Supplied

I worked 16 hours a day, six days a week in an incredibly pressured environment. We had no time for other pastimes, exercise was never on the agenda and thinking about eating sensibly was never considered when finishing work around 11pm and heading to a 24-hour hamburger joint in Piccadilly Circus, blissfully unaware of the perils of late-night consumption of greasy fast food!

As a result of this enforced lifestyle, chefs were never going to be a svelte crew of individuals, actually practicing the virtues of gym membership and the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables. 

This has changed over time and whilst kitchens are now more user friendly and healthy eating and fitness has become the new normal over the years, the lockdown restrictions  and their impact on our mental health, diet and lack of activity has seen and even greater focus on the need for engagement, exercise and healthy eating.

To find out how our Phuket chefs are adapting to this new normal, I made a few calls. My first conversation was with Alessandro Frau, the celebrated Sardinian chef/proprietor of the renowned Acqua in Kalim Bay.

“I begin my day with 30 minutes on my treadmill followed by one hour of exercise. When I was working full time, I already had this in place, however it is now even more critical due to less physical activity. It is also equally important to keep the mind active so I am conceptualizing some small restaurant renovations and new menu dishes,” Alessandro explains.

“For lunch, my wife Marcella and I eat a simple salad and for dinner anti pasti of perhaps cured meats, olives, artichoke hearts and vegetables in oil or vinegar and to follow, a simple barbequed meat. The twice highlight of my day though is walking with my wife, our two dogs, sadly on nearby land as they both miss the beach,” he adds.

Next, I call Rey Ardonia, Culinary Director at the acclaimed Pavilions, since arriving in late 2018 has adopted a strict habit of eating and exercising. Six months ago he weighed in at a not so healthy 85kg and decided to address this mismatch with his 163cm height. “Working 12-hour days is not an excuse, however with these lockdown restrictions, I am now able to adhere to a schedule of fasting between 11am and 6pm. I eat whatever I wish in the morning, proteins and carbs, but watch the rice intake,” he says.

“In the morning I do high-intensity training including planks, skipping rope and squats. I do this twice a day alongside my boxing training. I have one cheat day a week but avoid bread, butter and pasta. In the evening, lots of veggies, and protein.

“I have lost 15kg and have another 5kg to go. This has spilled over into work with a new initiative of ‘Be well by Pavilions’, with dedicated dishes, calorie counting and integration with our spa treatments. We also offer training to our staff,” Rey notes.

I am next introduced to the latest trend of “Zoom” video calling, which has unsurprisingly become incredibly popular due to confinement restrictions. Leading the call is Luca de Negri, Executive Chef of the uber-luxe Rosewood Phuket. 

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Himself a supporter of a healthy lifestyle, Luca has recently embraced an IG push up challenge nominating his colleagues across Rosewood and is also an ambassador for Life at Rosewood Hotel Group, an IG platform launching the charity group, “Rosewood Raise, The Relief Fund” #lifeatrwhg and www.rosewoodraise.com for donations during these difficult times. 

Luca begins his day with an 8km walk and one hour of exercise, but is keen to introduce me to members of his team who are also on the call.

I begin with Khun Ladda Wanmuda, Pastry Chef of Rosewood Phuket, who explains, “I start my day, drinking a glass of lemon water to reduce my body’s acidity level and protect against inflammatory diseases. I then exercise to improve my circulation, and follow this with eating breakfast of a whole-wheat pancake as whole-wheat helps lower risk of heart disease and strokes whilst supporting healthy digestion. Lunch is usually vegetables as a source of vitamin B6 and I love to bake breads and cookies to share with our neighbours. In the evening I exercise by cycling to increase cardiovascular fitness and decrease stress levels.”

Also on our call is Khun Pornthip Jansuk, sous chef at Ta Khai, Rosewood Phuket’s signature Thai restaurant. Pornthip tells me, “I wake up early and begin by watering our flower and vegetable garden. My morning continues with coffee – no sugar – and I participate in one hour of online training launched by the hotel.

“I have recently taken up learning Japanese with a wish to visit when I can take a holiday. Then lunch of deep-fried crispy fish, boiled organic vegetables and a clear soup of cabbage, tofu and minced pork. Preparing and eating together as a family is important especially as currently, we only eat one main meal daily. Afternoons, we sew masks together from recycled fabric to share. Before we sleep, we play badminton at the front of our house.”

Last on my call is Giuseppe Bonura, Chef de Cuisine at Red Sauce, the hotel’s signature Italian restaurant. “I start my day with orange juice, yoghurt and granola. Whilst thinking about new dishes for when we reopen, I exercise for 90 minutes. 

A super healthy lunch is usually a salad, perhaps of squid, carrots, cherry tomatoes and walnuts. During the afternoon, with my team online, I snack on mixed fruit. Around seven o’clock I prepare my dinner of lentil soup. We must remember to engage with our colleagues and our communities whilst taking good care of ourselves.”

Whilst I have only managed to talk to a small number of our Phuket chefs, it has truly touched me the spirit of togetherness, willingness to help others less fortunate and overall positivity. This crisis seems to have reminded us of what is really important and my hope is that not only the chefs I have spoken with, but everyone, on returning to the workplace, will bring with them this rediscovered compassion for others.

Chris is a former Michelin Guide Inspector who following an international career in hospitality spanning 30 years in both the Middle East and Asia, has now settled in Thailand and contributes a monthly restaurant column.


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