Samui Wining & Dining
Franz J. Estermann, the new Executive Chef at Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort,
Koh Samui and Sheraton Samui Resort knows how to wow diners.

Page-106-1Just what does it take to be an executive chef? The short answer is a huge number of different skills. First off, there are all the cooking techniques you need to master. Then you’ll need to exercise a great amount of creativity – you’re an artist of the kitchen, after all. And then you need to know how to gather a dedicated team around you. Fail here, and no matter if you’re the best chef in the universe, then your diners will never know how good you are – teamwork is everything. You’ll also need to know how to train your team, present food to make it attractive, and manage all of the documentation that goes with running a restaurant and maintaining food, safety and hygiene levels. Master these and you’re in the door, just about – but then every day you have to prove that you’re dependable and reliable. And make sure, of course, that the food is startlingly good, always.


Franz Estermann has all of this and more under his belt. The proof of it isn’t just in his cooking, but the fact that he’s in charge of all the restaurant facilities at not just one major resort, but two. He was specifically chosen by Starwood Hotels, which manages both Vana Belle and the recently opened Sheraton Samui. They recognized his abilities and put him in charge of both. Luckily for him, the two properties are close together, in the quieter Chaweng Noi area, and are handily linked by the ring-road.

Franz has many years’ experience. He is a culinary expert who lives for food: preparing it, giving it some subtle twists, presenting it and sharing it. It’s always been that way. He says, “My parents owned a hotel in Switzerland and I grew up there, and saw on a daily basis how they worked and ran the place.Franz J. Estermann, the new Executive Chef at Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui and Sheraton Samui Resort knows how to wow diners. I learned a lot from them, and always had an intense love of cooking and food.”


Not surprisingly, Franz turned his passion for cooking into a career; he trained to become a chef, and specialized in Mediterranean cooking. From conception to reality, he’s able to put together dishes that will win over even the most jaded of diners. And his work has taken him to very different parts of the world. As well as Switzerland, he’s worked in Sweden, Saudi Arabia and extensively in China and Thailand.


But no matter where he cooks, health is a priority for Franz. Healthy food is becoming ever more important, he says, and this is a direction that’s going to continue; it’s definitely not a fad. “Health is perhaps the most major consideration when cooking these days. It’s a must. We also have to think about individuals’ needs. We have gluten-free dishes and we need to know about allergies and avoid culprit ingredients for diners who suffer from them. We need to address all these things.”


It’s all part of Franz’ background to incorporate healthy recipes into the dishes; when asked about his style of cooking, he says it’s ‘basically Mediterranean’. So already this kind of cuisine has a cachet for being healthy, and Franz says it’s possibly one of the world’s healthiest cuisines. He also loves its versatility and the fresh flavours.Franz J. Estermann, the new Executive Chef at Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui and Sheraton Samui Resort knows how to wow diners. “Mediterranean-style means there’s a lot of tasty seafood, and the meats are delicious, too. For example, along the Mediterranean coasts you’ll find excellent lamb – it seems to have a salty flavour, no doubt due to the sea. You also get plenty of fresh herbs that are always used in dishes, really bringing out their flavours, and on top of that, you’ll often find Middle-Eastern touches.” He’s very happy to make Mediterranean dishes for his guests but he’s not limited to them. Thanks to his experiences in China and Thailand, he’s extremely versatile. “Fresh herbs are also very important in Chinese and Thai cuisines,” he says, “and I use them when making Asian-style dishes.” Since his second home is Hong Kong, he’s more than familiar with the cooking styles there. He’s a globetrotter who can make an enormous variety of dishes: Middle-Eastern, Chinese, Asian, American – there aren’t many recipes he doesn’t know about. But whatever’s on the menu, he aims to make it as healthy as possible.


His day is certainly a busy one, and by the end of it he’ll have averaged some 13 hours. If it’s not high season, he can take two days off every week, otherwise just the one. He divides his time between the newlyopened Sheraton Samui and Vana Belle, as we’ve mentioned. Page-106-4Both are top-notch resorts with discerning diners expecting high quality food and drink. The ethos in both is for the culinary team to be close to the guests. Franz fits in perfectly; he’s a very approachable person and goes to great lengths to satisfy individual diners. And it’s not just a question of waiting for them to ask for something. He’ll check with guests if they’re happy with the food and makes sure he’s around to do so. However busy today’s chefs are, they can’t afford to have their head down in the kitchen and not know what their guests are thinking. Franz says, “You have to be a bit of a mind-reader, too – you have to be able to sense diners’ needs and wants.”


How does he cope with such a full work load? “You have to love cooking,” says Franz. “You have to have a heart for it – absolutely! If a diner comes to me after breakfast and says they’re booking again for dinner, then this really makes me feel happy. The job’s all about satisfying the guests.”


Judging from the number of guests who love Franz’ food, it’s hardly surprising that many indeed return to savour another lunch or dinner that he’s prepared. And with two popular venues to choose from, guests are indeed spoiled for choice.


 Dimitri Waring


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