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Chef brings taste of Thailand to Bermuda

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Try Thai: L’Oriental chef Adisak Saephoo prepares his acclaimed pad Thai, a stir-fried rice noodle dish. His recipe is a secret but the dish contains dried shrimp, sriracha, fish sauce and chopped garlic and onion, and is one of the most popular items on the restaurant’s menu, especially with Thai expatriates living in Bermuda (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Adisak Saephoo claims his Pad Thai is the best on the Island. The L’Oriental chef is so confident, he is willing to do a blind taste-off and have the public decide.

It is not an empty offer. The 46-year-old knows a thing or two about food from his native Thailand.

“My father is a chef, my older brother is a chef and my younger brother is a chef. It’s almost like a chef family,” he said.

Mr Saephoo was formally trained and worked on private yachts and in five-star hotels in Malaysia and Europe before coming to Bermuda.

However, his early introduction to cooking came from the family business, a chain of restaurants called The Chicken Rice Shop.

“I grew up around food and restaurants,” he said, adding that neither he nor his brothers stuck with the family company.

“We all wanted to make our own life. When I was young I wasn’t interested in cooking, but in engineering.

“I was about 20 when my father, who was working in a hotel, lost his staff and asked me to come help.”

He got hooked. It led to jobs in several hotels in Phuket, the region of Thailand he is from.

“Thai food is my speciality but I can cook Chinese, Japanese and European dishes,” he said.

Along the way, he mastered one of his country’s national dishes, pad Thai. The stir-fried rice noodle dish is commonly served as street food in Thailand and is a staple in most restaurants there.

According to Mr Saephoo, the actual recipe varies by region.

The dish he serves on Bermudiana Road is a combination of what is typically on offer in central and southern Thailand.

“The first day I joined here they had pad Thai on the menu but the sauce was sweet and sour,” he said.

“I told the chef that wasn’t pad Thai and made it for him using my own recipe.”

His recipe is a closely guarded secret, however, Mr Saephoo let a few ingredients slip, such as dried shrimp, sriracha, ketchup, fish sauce, and chopped garlic and onion. They are fried in oil at a very high heat and seasoned with sugar.

“I let the chef try it and he said, ‘Oh, I like it and I think Bermuda people will also love it’,” Mr Saephoo said.

His version was on the spicy side, so he modified it for L’Oriental’s customers. He has since developed a following.

“Our pad Thai is really popular,” he said. “Everyone who comes to the restaurant asks for it.

“It’s the best on the Island, many people have told me. The original pad Thai in central Thailand is made with tamarind juice, palm sugar and fish sauce, so it tastes sweet and salty.

“The southern [version] has a little spice because they add chilli paste. Here, I mix the two kinds so you have sweet, sour, salty and spice.”

The dish benefits from authentic Chanthaburi noodles and jasmine rice. It is a hit with the 60-odd people from Thailand living here, Mr Saephoo said.

“Thai people in Bermuda, when they want to eat pad Thai, come here,” he said.

The chef moved to the Island to work for L’Oriental 2½ years ago.

“My friend worked here as a catering chef and said the owner needs a Thai chef who could do Chinese food,” he said.

“I’d never heard of Bermuda before. I’d been working in many countries in Europe and my friend said if I was happy working there I should come and see Bermuda.”

His first reaction was, “wow”.

“The sea is very clear, the weather is good. In the winter it’s not too cold and in the summer it’s not too hot — it’s almost like my birth country.”

The worst part is the 21 hours of flight time between here and Thailand, Mr Saephoo said.

Dish of the day: At L’Oriental on Bermudiana Road, Mr Saephoo dishes up a pad Thai, above, that is a combination of what is typically on offer in central and southern Thailand. The chef, from Phuket, specialises in Thai cooking and comes from a family of cooks (Photograph by Akil Simmons)