Travelling Chef Loves Working in Asia

Connecting to Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River, which caught worldwide attention of the less appealing kind in the past few months, the things to highlight in this story are twofold: that the well-known Bangkok Marriott Resort & Spa no longer bears this name and secondly its Executive Sous Chef who is Swedish.

Get to know more about Mathias Olsson who has been with Bangkok’s only true city resort since two years back already, and which has rebranded to Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort & Spa. It is thereby enhancing the indigenous cultural experience (always in focus for this Thai brand) connected to the resort in Bangkok. For it is the life and landmarks by the river that best give a sense of this city’s ancient past, while the endless water flow symbolises timelessness.

Back and forth to Asia
They are rare in these waters, Swedish chefs, so how has this particular riverside property managed to entice him – or the opposite? Probably his valuable experience from hotels elsewhere in the region and that Asia ranks high for Mathias as a place where to live and work, are of significance.

His most recent position was with a five-star hotel start-up in Dubai, Angsana, and most close to Thailand he has earlier held the position as Executive Chef for the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Cambodia.

Previously he had travelled back and forth to Asia during a number of years while doing seasonal chef work; ski seasons in Switzerland and sometimes during the summers in Norway.

“And I used to go almost every year for 3 to 4 months to Asia and travel around everywhere. Then I thought: why not try and find a job here in Asia cause I liked it more here than in Europe anyway.”

Said and done, and the first job he got was in Singapore, but bringing his fiancée and establishing a popular café they were yet unable to stay on due to that she could no longer extend the visa. So eventually they were forced to move on to new shores.

Chef on the seven seas
Becoming a skilled chef he had previously learned the hard and only way; in his case in a five-star hotel in England by working his way up from the lowest position in the kitchen.

And prior to that he had followed in the footsteps of his grandfather who was a sailor, taking jobs as an 18-year-old chef on cargo ships and by that building his interest in travelling and getting to see the world.

But the cooking was not that interesting aside travelling everywhere and after two years he came back on shore and wanted to improve his cooking skills.

International chef
Having worked large parts of his adult life outside Sweden, he is not particularly Swedish anymore, which fits Anantara Riverside Bangkok well with its wide variety of cuisine in the ten outlets.
“I guess I’m more international because my wife is Swiss and I spent a lot of time in Switzerland and don’t speak much Swedish anymore other than with my family and my Swedish neighbour here in Bangkok.”

“Sometimes we serve some herring or marinated and smoked salmon and these things I do the Swedish way. But I’ve worked in eleven countries now and spent a lot of time in England, Switzerland, and France – so my cooking is traditional French and German more than Swedish.”

Everywhere he has worked he takes the best with him and utilizes it at the next position (in Bangkok he will continue for at least another year, “unless they move him somewhere else within Anantara” – indicating he is happy to continue working for this Thai brand).

“I don’t cook much Thai food myself, but from working in Singapore I’ve had Chinese staff, and from the Middle East many Indonesians, Philippines and Indian staff so I’m well versed with most dishes from around Asia.”

Asian cuisine is not taught to chefs in Europe, he says.

“You have to come here and experience. You can learn new things every day. I go to food markets with Thai chefs and they can always show me something new.”

Mostly he helps out on cooking the Western food while his duty is to oversee the whole operation and the 130 cooks involved.

He finds being Sous the Chef, a position which he has held for nine years, to be a good role where one doesn’t have to spend too much time in the office and still has time to cook in the kitchen – even though he would like to cook more.

“With so many outlets it’s more managing, such as recipe- and menu writing. But I do a lot of hands-on training.”
But within a year or so he expects to take on an Executive Chef role as he is climbing up the ladder.

And here we get to hear an opinion why perhaps far from all western chefs can handle to come over and work here in Asia. It requires a different approach:
“Asia has always been hot! A lot of people want to come here but it’s very different working here than in Europe. When I take care of things in a hotel there I only need give an instruction once and it works. Here, in the kitchen environment you have to be more patient and spend a lot more time on training and you need to follow up a lot. It takes a while to get things done sometimes. So the management style is completely different from Europe.”

Scandinavians more daring
Visitors from Sweden perhaps staying a bit longer and becoming keen on some Swedish food can certainly turn to Mathis and he will cook whatever they wish to have, as long as they let him know in advance, he says.

“Usually Scandinavians are quite adventurous, they will have any food; Indian, Thai etc. and they like to try new things while some other nationalities will only eat their own food. So there is really not the need to have any Scandinavian dishes on the menu.”

Case in point, one of Sweden’s largest evening newspapers, Expressen Mat, has just visited him to do a theme on Asian-inspired food and for ScandAsia he showcased Japanese food at the newly renovated The Japanese steakhouse Benihana which delivers, as witnessed, a very lively ‘eatertainment’ through theatrical Teppanyaki style.

Nothing short of very special dining experiences, Anantara Bangkok Riverside in addition to this offers Italian cuisine in a Tuscan villa setting, a legendary Sunday brunch at the Riverside Terrace, or how about dining on delectable Thai cuisine while gliding past the city’s famous cultural sites!

And there is even more on-water luxury to enjoy from Anantara, with the truly unique offer for overnight cruises upriver on a couple of one-hundred-year-old rice barges which have been painstakingly rebuilt from teak and restored; blending quintessential old world charm, modern comforts and truly personalised service.

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

View all posts by Joakim Persson

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