Last month we introduced the amazing Vegetarian Street Food Festival package at the luxurious Paresa Resort Phuket here. Now we get the chance to share our interview with Paresa Resort Executive Chef Luca Mancini.
The Italian chef is responsible for overseeing the four restaurants at Paresa Resort – Diavolo, Talung Thai, Recipe By Luca and Recipe. Diavolo is the main restaurant at the property, featuring Italian cuisine, while Talung Thai is their signature Thai restaurant. Recipe is the purpose-built teaching kitchen at Paresa Resort and later this month as part of the Vegetarian Street Food Festival package, Recipe will offer the opportunity to learn, prepare and enjoy a four course vegetarian menu.
We asked the chef to shed some light on what it’s like to work in Thailand and what sort of ingredients are shaping and influencing his approach to preparing vegetarian dishes at Paresa Resort.
Who or what motivated you to become a chef?
When I was a kid I always watched my grandmother cooking, and always wondered what kind of magic she was performing to make such delicious treats. I have always been fascinated by food.
How did you land in Phuket?
The first time I was in Phuket was 1999. I came for 15 days on holiday first, then after 6 months I came back to open a small kiosk in Patong with a friend of mine for about 9 months. After that I went back to Europe until 2005, when I left for the Kempinski Hotel in Mumbai to open their Italian restaurant. After the opening I took a job in Koh Samui for the opening of a Thai & Mediterranean restaurant named ‘Rice’. After about 2 years in Koh Samui, I returned to Phuket for a position at JW Marriott.
What sort of challenges do you face preparing Italian food in Thailand?
Thanks to the great diffusion of Italian food and restaurants in Thailand (probably 1000 restaurants all over the country), now we can find almost every type of ingredient. There is also a lot of great staff who already have experience with Italian food. Preparing Italian food in Thailand now is entirely different compared to 9 years ago. My only concern is the price of cooking wine and raw materials, because it is all imported it is of course more expensive than in Italy.
You are originally from Umbria, home to the black truffle – an ingredient that is prized around the world and has the ability to transform any dish. Is there a Thai ingredient that has the power to transform any dish?
Of course. Thailand and Southeast Asia has plenty of fabulous ingredients and right now I am in love with a lot of local herbs, vegetables and spices, but the one that I consider magic for me is fresh turmeric root. It can be very difficult to handle but with a great flavor and beautiful color. It also has many therapeutic uses.
What are some of your essential ingredients for vegan cooking?
• Fresh herbs (chives, cilantro, Thai basil and dill)
• Yellow local tofu
• Mushroom “oyster” sauce (vegetarian version of oyster sauce)
• Our famous ‘Paresa’ vegan red curry paste
What seasonal produce is currently at the markets in Phuket?
Right now the rambutan, mangosteen, longan and durian fruits are in season. All are great inspirations for my dishes, both sweet and savory.
A cooking class can be an exciting opportunity to learn more in the kitchen but for some people it can also be intimidating, especially when the cuisine in question is new or foreign to them. What advice do you have for people who are considering taking a cooking class for the first time at the Paresa Resort?
To be honest, cooking classes at Paresa is the best activity our guests can have. All start at the local Thai Market after a nice breakfast at our restaurant. At the market you can see the authentic spirit of Thai street and soul food. Then, a little bit before lunch time, you will step in to our cooking class, with 180-degree views of the cliffs and sea, in a cozy, stylish and air-conditioned purpose-built state of the art cooking school. Our guests are guided by our Thai Master chef along an interesting and stress free cooking lesson. After the cooking class guests can sit back and enjoy their own creations at out 180-degree view chef’s table overlooking the Andaman Sea.
What have you learned in your own teaching kitchen?
I’m actually still learning every day, either from my kitchen team, my valued guests or myself. Every day is a new discovery about the great chemistry of cooking.
How has the annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival inspired you in the kitchen?
Our annual Phuket vegetarian festival is a great inspiration for my dishes, both Thai and western. The greatness behind the vegetarian festival is the creativity you see in everyday dishes being transformed into something new. From the same recipe you can learn how to be really creative and also how you can play around with vegan ingredients to create a totally new dish.
Durian can be an acquired taste and a polarizing ingredient, do you like it and do you use it in your kitchen?
I love Durian, it’s actually my favorite Thai ingredient. I have just created a durian compote served with a mango & apple salad, and we have a vegan version of the dish, which is gorgeous.
If your travel plans are taking you to Southeast Asia between September 24th and October 2nd this year, consider heading to Phuket for the Vegetarian Street Food Festival package at Paresa Resort.
We will be posting live updates across social media during our stay at Paresa Resort later this month, including details of the Vegetarian Street Food Festival package.
Here’s more on that lovely Vegetarian Street Food Festival package: