Meet Our Executive Sous Chef Shanmuga Raja Ravi
Life has come full circle for Executive Sous Chef Shanmuga Raja Ravi, who made his way from the Mediterranean restaurant Azur at The Park Chennai to Pla Pla at Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui in Thailand. For someone who loves snorkelling as much as he loves seafood, it is no surprise that this kitchen guru can present a mouth-watering spread when he finds himself near the sea, using the choicest ingredients and the classiest techniques.
In this tête-à-tête, he shares his passion, inspiration and the culinary identities of various delights at Pla Pla.
Tell us about your journey to donning the chef’s hat. What or who inspired you?
My parents aspired for me to become an engineer, so you can imagine that being a chef was a distant dream. I have always loved food and wanted to pursue a profession that suits my passion, and here I am!
Did travel play a role in your journey?
Travel certainly played a big role in my career. I got to experience and learn more about the value of food and its diversity, which has inspired many of my menu concepts.
Tell us a little more about Pla Pla and the concept behind it.
It has a chic, open-air atmosphere and an engaging dining experience. The focus is on true taste and quality service, coupled with a panoramic view of the Gulf of Thailand. In that sense, Pla Pla offers a harmonic blend of sea and nature. Another important factor is the choice of dishes on the menu – focused on seasonal produce, highlighted by one or more textures to offer authentic variety.
What is unique about Pla Pla?
The anticipation of dining here grows on arrival at this beautiful beachside open-air restaurant. Tastefully furnished with eye-catching artwork, it exudes a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere in every sense of the word.
Tell us about the sustainability efforts at Pla Pla.
We are making small but steady steps in the direction of being sustainable with the products we use at the restaurant. We aim to offer the most sustainable seafood from the Samui region. We work with a specific set of fishermen who bring us produce as per our requirement – size and quantity of fish – which reduces wastage, while also supporting the local fishing community. Our focus is to incorporate sustainable fish into the menu – those which are available in abundance, thereby having minimal impact on the reef and the ocean’s ecosystem. In the kitchen we use Salt’e – produced by a leading sea-salt farm in Thailand. We maintain our equipment to ensure that they run as efficiently as possible. Recycling of tin, glass, used oil, plastic, or cardboard is a priority, while our vegetable peels are transferred into home-ground composts, which are then reused in our landscape.
Thailand is a new territory for you – why did you choose Pla Pla?
For a seafood lover like me, there is no better choice! Mother Nature’s abundance is best discovered in the Gulf of Thailand that is home to several options that can cater to every palate. The Asian belief that seafood brings the entire family together is witnessed when dining together at a restaurant like Pla Pla, and I get a lot of joy in witnessing this beautiful connection through the cuisine and experience that we offer here.
How does Koh Samui influence your cooking style?
Every country has its own cooking style in which we need to modify our palate to deliver the right gastronomic experience for our guests. This is even more important in a place like Koh Samui, which is one of the top producers of fresh fish from the Gulf of Thailand.
What are the most common cooking techniques used in the restaurant?
I enjoy slow cooking, confit, and slow braises for their intense flavour. I would say, resolutely, that modern and revisited cuisines from the world, with bold and vast flavours are executed by fusing contemporary techniques. Behind every dish is a story, and ideas emerge when these stories are exchanged through fun engagements.
Working in a kitchen can get stressful at times. What do you do to stay calm?
Most of the time we enjoy the work. There are times when a proper break from work can rejuvenate you. For me, it is either travelling to a new city or country.
Is there another chef that you admire or would like to collaborate with?
I am inspired by Chef Enrico Crippa and Chef Ciccio Sultano for their unique and bold combinations in Italian cuisine. Aside from this, I admire the work of Chef Heston Blumenthal and Chef Eneko Atxa at Azurmendi, who are the pioneers of multi-sensory food pairings and encapsulation. They came to public attention with unusual recipes that are now renowned the world over. In Asia, I admire the work at Nadodi restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, with a modern take on southern nomadic food.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
An engineer, I guess. I am also passionate about adventure, art, and photography. I love exploring the world of scuba diving and hiking volcanic mountains!
What is your favourite quote?
“Aim for the sky, if not at least reach the top of the trees.”
What is the most rewarding part of being a chef?
Honestly, we get paid for eating! I enjoy being creative with food, it goes without saying, “being a chef allows me to truly indulge in my passion for cooking,” which in-turn gives me the chance to provide guests with immense happiness.
What is the most exciting thing you have ever tasted?
There are many, however, the Georgian dish ostri (which I tasted at a street-side stall in Batumi), is sure to delight with rich flavours, while giving you energy for a full day of sightseeing or hiking. I had the opportunity to learn the traditional ostri recipe from a local chef, and we created a delectable dish with tomatoes, onions, garlic, tomato paste, adjika and fresh herbs. Perfect for a cold winter day!
What is your favourite food?
I love food, and I eat most of the day. If I must pick one at the moment, it is dosa. I can enjoy this for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
What are your favourite countries?
I have lived in several places and fallen in love with different aspects of each – whether it is the landscape, the culture or the tradition. Here in Thailand, I can connect with the tradition. It is much closer to my Indian roots and that makes me feel comfortable immediately.
Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui, Thailand