Is there a silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic? One of Thailand’s most talented chefs certainly believes so and says his industry has learned all sorts of things over the past 18 months that are already being welcomed by customers and workers alike.
“There’s so much more emphasis nowadays on how the food business conducts itself, from transportation and delivery of goods to personal hygiene and storage,” says Herve Frerard, Director of Culinary at Montien Hotel Surawong Bangkok.
“This is down to Covid-19 which has taught us all to be far more health-conscious. And this is especially true of the food and catering business, where our already high standards are even higher today.
“For example, at the Montien we only work with GMP (Good Manufacturers Products) suppliers whose workers have been properly tested, and companies that deliver products in refrigerated trucks.
“We’re also much stricter with our workers’ personal hygiene – wearing masks and gloves at all times in the kitchens, washing hands more frequently, regular temperature checks on our fridges and even checks on staff lockers to ensure the highest levels of cleanliness.
“You see this trend to better hygiene right across the board, even in the way street vendors now prepare and sell their meals.
“Everybody benefits from this trend, including the customers, of course.”
Chef Herve, a 20-year veteran of Thailand’s restaurant scene, went on to talk about other new trends as well as the latest developments at the Montien.
Now that the lockdown is easing, what plans do you have for the hotels restaurants?
As part of the revival of the Montien, we have combined two former restaurants into a brand new one – Ruenton, serving Thai-Chinese cuisine. This is now up and running, and proving as popular as ever. The larger space is multi-functional with several separate rooms for private dinners and parties. It’s also given us a bigger venue for our buffet breakfasts.
We have also opened Phar-Ram IV Bistro, a Parisian-style bakery-bistro. It’s an entirely new venue which serves light lunches and pastries, and then later becomes an evening wine bar featuring a European menu with French flair.
The Montien’s former signature restaurant, Le Gourmet Grill, which opened originally back in 1967, will be revived in due course. And for those with long memories will be pleased to know that our former ballroom dancing hall AnAn will reopen and feature a range of functions.
Another exciting development is the opening of the hotel’s main lobby on the South Wing, scheduled for December this year. This is the face of the hotel and therefore a very important step.
Once the lockdown ends completely, do you think the restaurant business in general will return to how it was two/three years ago? If not, what changes do you visualize?
It will definitely return to what we had here before. But restaurants will have to raise their offer to attract new and old customers.
What kind of restaurants and chefs will prosper in this new era?
We’ll see smaller restaurants, for sure, more family oriented and closer to the people. You can also expect a new wave of bistros and wine bars. You’ll also see more private chef’s tables in people’s homes and exclusive venues.
Who has been hardest hit because of the lockdown – can they come back?
It’s not just restaurants owners who have suffered but also the people who worked there, sometimes for years. Restaurants that were institutions, open for 25 years or more, have closed. The owners may well have lost their confidence in the future and won’t reopen.
" The following are well documented F&B trends and influences that are expected to affect the restaurant business over the next couple of years. How accurate are they, in your opinion?"
That’s true. Ruenton has always offered home delivery, and has been extra busy recently, but we’ll probably see a small slow down as people return to dining in restaurants. During Covid-19, a lot of people started cooking at home, so this will have some impact on a return to normal.
Diners will be far more concerned about what goes into their food and will demand more information on the menu.
People are far more careful and health-conscious about what they eat. They want to eat responsibly and sustainably. We’ll see an increase in demand for organic foods and imported items, but there’ll be a higher price to pay.
There’ll be an increase in veganism and vegetarianism among diners.
Absolutely. At the Montien, we already have more vegetarian items on the menu. We even hosted our first vegan dinner recently. It’s a good thing because there’s so much processed food in Thailand.
Flexitarian’ diets featuring only occasional meat will increase in popularity, with steak restaurants losing out. This is seen as one of the biggest food trends in 2021/22.
When I was a young boy back in France, we had a very mixed diet, and beef was certainly not a regular item. Here in Thailand, meat consumption is up because home deliveries have made it very easy to supply quality products. This will continue for a certain group who can afford it.
In the past, people didn’t know how to order steaks and were prepared to pay as much as 8,000 baht for cote de boeuf in a restaurant. Now they understand meat much better. Thailand is a young country and a lot of beef will be consumed here in the future.
In response to increased popularity of low-card diets, products like cauliflower will feature in dishes like pizza crust and gnocchi.
Yes. And many more.
Greater focus on low-waste food and unnecessary (plastic) packaging.
This is happening across the board. Plastic is a huge problem, but more and more places are using biodegradable products for packaging.
In terms of reducing waste, we’re now seeing companies buying left-over products from operations likes bakeries and other outlets, repackaging them - with details of their origins - and re-selling at a much lower price. It’s a growing business, with endless possibilities. Think of the daily wastage in wet markets, for example.
New era of desserts, using unique ingredients and even plant-based resources.
You only have to look at the popularity of afternoon teas in Thailand these days to see the potential.
More fusion cuisines – Thai-Mexican, Chinese-Brazilian and others.
For sure. Not just Mexico and Brazil, but also the cuisines of many other South American countries will feature here in Thailand in the future. Thai people are very curious and don’t mind trying new ideas. In the past, Italian cuisine was all the rage, but it’s in decline simply because there are too many Italian restaurants here now.
And it’s time for more Thai chefs to be recognized for their work. Ironically, it was a foreigner, David Thompson, who became the first chef to be famous for his Thai cuisine.
Greater demand for top quality products
No doubt about it – people are buying quality food: the best fruits, the best cheese and best butter, meats and so on. There’s also a rise in popularity of alternative cooking oils like pumpkin seed oil, sunflower seed oil and avocado oil.
Chef Hervé Frerard is an acknowledged master of the secrets that drive French cuisine, the deep respect for ingredients filled with emotional connections, memories and fresh seasonal produce – in fact, simple cooking and an appreciation for the seasonal availability has been called Hervé’s tour de force.
Throughout his lauded career, Chef Hervé has cooked for such notables as the Thai Royal Family, Queen Elizabeth II and various celebrities around the world. He also served as the personal chef to French President François Mitterrand.
Chef Hervé has been living in Thailand for the last 20 years with his wife and two children. He is an advisor to the Royal Project Foundation, initially His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s personal project, in the region north of Chiang Mai, where he organizes a “Weekends Gourmets”, in which he cooks with on-site products exclusively coming from the Project.
He also visit farms all around the area where he constantly finds new seedlings or breeds, which he takes back home to Bangkok for new gastronomic creations. Each year, Hervé trains talented young Thai chefs to compete in the world famous “Les Disciples d’Escoffier” contest. His last recruit became the first Thai person, and the first lady ever, to win this prestigious competition.
Chef Herve created Chef Club Concept along with this friend Stephane Debaets and launched the concept in New York, Aspen and Taiwan.
Since November 2020 he is now working as Director of Culinary in Montien Hotel Surawong Bangkok.