Despite its small size, Samui is now a very busy island indeed. But it wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, it was quiet and sleepy; a tropical get-away where gnarled fishermen mended their nets, and hippies swung lazily in hammocks in the shade. But then more people came. Then the airport. Then even more people. And then problems stared to arise.
People needed to eat. And little local restaurants weren’t enough. As even more hotels and resorts appeared, they needed to cater for a much more discerning audience. People wanted quality food. They wanted fresh vegetables to go with their fresh seafood. They expected potatoes, carrots, peas, and coleslaw too. Bratwurst, pizzas, and pasta dishes. They expected cheese at the end of their meal. They enjoyed good coffee in the morning. But the problem was that most of these things were not to be found – not easily, anyway.
Some of the more ambitious resorts were importing their own items, sometimes simply from the temperate northern regions of the country. Or they discovered suppliers hidden away in the dockside warehouses of Bangkok. Or sometimes they even shipped things in from abroad. But there was a very real downside to this. You needed to bring in a whole crate-load of these items, only to have most of them wasted. What wasn’t consumed in a day or so couldn’t be kept. Well, not unless they were shared around amongst other chefs and restaurants, anyway. Which is exactly what started to happen. And, in the fullness of time, 1997 to be precise, the group of people who had banded together to pool and share these foodstuffs gave themselves a title – it was the ‘Samui Culinary Circle’, or simply, SCC as it soon became known.
Twenty years later, things have changed. The SCC no longer acts as a loose cooperative, pooling and sharing its supplies. Now there are plenty of specialist food suppliers who have stocks of just about everything, and can quickly source the items that are rare or hard to find. But, in fact, the SCC is probably stronger now than it’s ever been. It’s not only busy thinking about and actively working at improving Samui’s overall quality of culinary service, including staff and management issues and training, but also acts as a very effective networking system, too.
Like all such organisations it has a president and a secretary. And in April of this year, the previous president, Reuben Kimber, stood down due to family and business obligations. And the new man in his place is the youthfully-energetic and very personable Frenchman, Cyril Nahon. The last two presidents had both been chefs. But Cyril is seriously into ice-cream!
“I’ve always loved food,” he smiled, “helping to prepare and make it, and particularly eating it. But I never was drawn to a career as a chef. It seemed to me that you first had to spent years peeling potatoes and being ordered around by all those above you, before you finally got to the top of the chain and could decide on the menu and run the kitchen. Really, when I left school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. The only thing that I really liked was the time I spent working in the Jadis et Gourmande chocolate factory in my home town of Paris.”
Cyril was absorbed by this – the way the cocoa beans were processed, then converted to chocolate, and then all the different things that came out at the end. “We made chocolate books,” he recounted, “shoes and toys, all from chocolate. It was fascinating. But I still hadn’t found anything that really grabbed me.” And then came the day that Cyril got a phone call from his father, who was working in Thailand. He needed help. And so, in 2010, Cyril packed his bags and set off to Samui, where his father owned and ran the ‘Rossini Ice Cream’ factory in Lamai.
“I really took a liking to Samui,” Cyril continued, “and what’s more, I found myself really getting involved with the whole ice-cream process. There was so much to learn, and my father stayed with me, training me for two years before he handed the whole thing over to me. Today we now make over 150 different kinds of ice-creams and sorbets. It’s constant fun, creating new ones like Green Papaya with Fish Sauce, or Chocolate with Peanut Butter and Rum. And I’ve been keen to draw on local business and resources, too – the rum comes from the nearby Magic Alambic Distillery, and I buy as many local ingredients and fruits as possible.”
“All our business comes from local restaurants, and in particular those which are attached to the resorts . . . names such as Conrad, Four Seasons, Vana Belle and Intercontinental spring to mind. Every day our refrigerated van delivers between 50 and 100 kilos of ice-cream to our regular customers – which is hard work for our staff of just four. But they’ve been with us a long time; it’s like a family.”
And, not surprisingly, what better way to meet, greet and circulate with all the food and beverage staff on Samui, than to subscribe to the SCC. Cyril was initially introduced by his father. And several years later he took over the spot of secretary. And now, he’s taken over as president.
“It’s enjoyable,” he told me. “I meet colleagues and business associates in a different context, one where we can relax and have a few beers and some fun together. It’s part of my job to arrange the regular showcase dinners that we hold, to liaise with a guest chef (or the in-house chef if it’s at a resort) and to notify our members of times, dates and costs. We’re not a profit-making group,” Cyril added. “But we always raise funds to support one of the needy local causes. I love it! And I love being here on Samui, even though I’m
kept so busy!”
And on the one day a week he isn’t slaving away over a cold stove, you’ll see Cyril walking his dog on the beach, exploring a new restaurant or simply meeting up with friends – generally just ‘chilling in paradise’, in fact!
Rob De Wet