12 Tips for Koh Samui from a Star Chef
August 1, 2014
Locavore chef Alex Gares shows Jeninne Lee-St. John how to find the bona fide homegrown flavors of this Thai island.
Published on Aug 1, 2014
The first thing you need to know about southern Thai food: "It's spicy," says Alex Gares. "And if they tell you it's spicy, do not even taste it." This coming from the executive chef who put pork trotters boiled with sea anemone, and frog stir-fried with turmeric, garlic and cilantro on the menu at KOH, the new cliff-hanging, tree-straddling restaurant in the clouds at Four Seasons Koh Samui (219 Moo 5, Angthong; +66 77 243 000; fourseasons.com). Gares is all about going local with a menu that's a greatest-hits compendium of dishes that were his staff members' favorites growing up, such as the melt-in-your-mouth pork belly kra pow. "We're not tweaking or Westernizing the dishes," he says. "We're bringing real Thai food to our visitors that want to try to it." Here the el Bulli-trained Barcelona native shares his island itinerary for the real McCoy Koh Samui experience.
Stir-fried frog legs at KOH Restaurant.
"I like to sit on the pillows in the bamboo huts on the beach at  Haad Bang Po [Moo 6, 4169 Ring Rd., Bang Po; +66 81 788 8936] where a grandmother and daughter team cooks southern food and fresh seafood like steamed sea bass." + "For real Thai food, go to  Ranong [Moo 2, Chumchon Chaweng Yai Soi 4, Chaweng]. They make great local soups. Get the pork spare ribs with hot basil and kaffir lime." + "I don't really go out for Western food that often, but when I do, I quite like  The Larder [9/144 Moo 2, Chaweng; +66 77 601 259] and  Barracuda [Soi 4, Maenam; +66 77 921 663]."
"On  Baan Bangmakham and  Bang Po beaches, wait for low tide and you'll get 50 meters of beach. Walk out onto the rocks and  pick oysters. My six-yearold daughter and I eat them fresh right there. I have to tell her to stop after she's eaten 20." + "Also at low tide, I go to  catch crabs with my daughter—blue, white, sand, any kind. She was so proud, she cooked them up herself. Just last week, we also caught seven nice prawns. You might try taking [your catches] to a local chef to cook for you." + " Ordinations are family celebrations, like weddings and funerals, and are very welcoming. I was once in a temple with 200 people. Everyone was looking at me, not the new monk, because I was the only foreigner. But it was great. I was eating real, deep Thai home cooking the grandma was making."
Gorge on local oysters.
" 4 Monkeys Coffee Bar [Moo 6, 4169 Ring Rd., Bang Po, Maenam] is just a few pieces of bamboo, really. It's a cute little wooden shack on the beach with a retro feel: vintage portraits of the King and Queen on the wall, old Thai furniture and cool artifacts. The best time of day is around sunset for sundowners, when there's a nice cool breeze. Try their banoffee pie—amazing."
4 Monkeys Coffee Bar
+ "Two other nice local bars are  Sawasdee Cup [Baan Bangmakham; +66 81 956 2669; facebook.com/SaWasDee.CuP.Samui], reasonably priced with good mojitos, and  Blue Marlin [Bang Por beach]. Three minutes from the hotel, it's a nice place to spend a relaxing few hours on the beach to drink and eat."
Sawasdee Cup Samui