Words ADAM PURCELL Photographs JARAN LAKKANAWAT
FROM Los Angeles to London to Paris to Pattaya, the farm-to-table food trend continues apace with more and more chefs adopting its key principles to buy organic ingredients and support sustainable (and, when possible, local) farms.
But few can claim to have embraced the concept quite as passionately as Italian expat Luca Marchetti, owner of the popular Toscana and Moom Talay Restaurants on Pattaya Beach Road, who doesn’t just source organic meats and veggies for his restaurants – he also rears and grows them too.
“I’ve been to so many restaurants where I’ve ordered chicken and it has tasted like fish,” he says, throwing a spade-full of organic feed into a pigeon pen. “And that’s because many intensive farms feed fish to their chickens. It’s disgusting. It’s wrong. It’s unnatural. People really don’t know what they’re eating anymore.”
The seed for Luca’s farm idea was planted in 2010 when he bought an incubator and filled it with 36 eggs. “I grew up on a farm in Pracchiola, a tiny village in the mountains to the north of Tuscany,” he says, “and I was keen to get back into that lifestyle. My parents and grandmother, who worked on the farm when I was a kid, have always been an inspiration to me, and I thought if I could establish a farm here it would make them very proud.”
Prior to coming to Thailand 10 years ago, Luca had worked in his native Italy, San Francisco and for 12 years in Macau, where he operated three restaurants. But he’d never attempted to raise his own livestock. However, when those first eggs hatched five years ago (including, surprisingly, some premium British eggs he’d bought on eBay), he knew he could make the project a success. All it needed was endless hours of research, experimentation and hard work.
Today, some 700 duck and chicken eggs produced on the farm are sent daily to Toscana and Moom Talay, and both restaurants’ menus are loaded with dishes made using Luca’s livestock.
Just some of the highlights include Free range chicken with potatoes (B400); Cacciatora-style stew hen with polenta (B480); Guinea fowl in salami sauce with polenta (B690); Grilled quails (B420); Rabbit cacciatore (B520); Grilled and oven-baked pigeon (B750 and B850); and Duck breast tagliata (B520). Luca also makes his own goat cheese and range of cold cuts.
Luca, who now works at the farm each day from 8am-1pm, and then at Toscana from 2pm-1am, is the first to admit that establishing the farm was not easy. “There was a lot of trial and error in the early stages to get things just right,” he says, “but the beauty about farming is that everything happens to a schedule. Like clockwork, you know when chickens will lay their eggs, you know when your goats and sheep will give birth. In some ways this is a lot less stressful than running a restaurant, where each day brings a new and different challenge.”
Livestock is not the only produce fuelling Luca’s culinary operations. In Huay Yai, a 10-minute drive from his arable farm, Luca grows a wide range of Thai and Italian vegetables on the land surrounding another labour of love of his – a Tuscan-style villa.
Currently under construction, the villa project is very much in its infancy; the building is nothing but a shell, and the pool is actually a makeshift pond, stocked with fish for the farm’s laborers to eat (Luca employs 12 people across both farms). But when Luca stands on a raised platform at the top of the
“Just imagine it,” he says, pointing toward the house. “Over there we’ll have a tennis court, we’ll have a beautiful garden here, we’ll have a nice place to sit and drink wine here, and then we’ll have all these wonderful vegetables at our disposal, 24 hours a day. It might take another two years to get there, but we’ll do it.”
While the land surrounding the villa is far from barren, with 400kg of green beans and 100kg of parsley among last January’s yield, Luca says that growing vegetables for the Italian kitchen is a challenge.
“The soil quality is poor, so I have to put a lot of sh** on it,” he says, pointing with a wink towards three large barrels full of organic fertilizer. “And while vegetables for the Thai kitchen grow rapidly and abundantly, such as basil, parsley, celery and a wide variety of salad leaves, others, such as Italian tomatoes, often struggle to grow.”
He points to one shaded area of the garden where a small row of tomato plants stands tall and proud. Their poor siblings growing directly in the sun, however, appear wilted, short and frazzled.
“The plan is to erect some covers to prevent the plants from being damaged by the sun,” he explains. “Unlike Italy, there’s no real temperature difference between day and night here. It’s always hot. So unless it’s October or November [the best time for growing crops here] we have to give the plants all the help they can get – without using chemicals, of course.”
Once picked and cleaned, all vegetables from the garden are used by Luca’s chefs to garnish dishes, make soups, and pair with the meat sourced from his arable farm. And Luca takes great pleasure in knowing that the veggies he serves are as fresh and natural as they get.
“I think diners really respect our ethos,” he says. “I think they really respect the time, effort and money we put in to ensure that what they are getting on their plates is the real deal. I mean, this is how it should be done – real farm to table food which is evident in the quality, texture and tastes of our offerings. And who doesn’t want to eat organic vegetables and meat cooked in both a delicious and traditional Thai or Italian style?”
Who doesn’t indeed. But for how long can Luca keep up the pace?
“The day I feel like it’s a chore to go to the farm, or to the restaurant, that’s when I know it’s time to quit,” he says, picking a piece of parsley and taking a cursory sniff. “Right now, though, I’m happy. Very happy indeed. And I think my grandparents would be proud.”
ABOUT THE RESTAURANTS
TOSCANA and Moom Talay both share a large premises between Soi 6 and 7 on Pattaya Beach Road. Moom Talay specializes in traditional Thai recipes served in large portions perfect for sharing, and alongside sustainable meats and veggies fresh from Luca’s farm, you can expect to enjoy seafood as fresh as it gets. Toscana, meanwhile, enjoys a reputation as being one of the city’s finest Italian restaurants. Featuring a classic Italian trattoria design (think exposed brickwork, arched columns, and a warm colour scheme blending browns, beige and terracotta), it offers pizzas, pastas and hearty meat dishes made following recipes handed down from Luca’s grandmother.
Toscana and Moom Talay, Beach Road (between Soi 6 and Soi 7)
Tel: 038 362 370 email: firstname.lastname@example.org