From breakfast to after-beach cocktails and delicate dinners. It is all served at Two Chefs, a group of restaurants conveniently located along Phuket’s west coast beach areas that so many Scandinavians are found of. Started in 2001 by some Swedes this restaurant brand has by now gained solid recognition both among tourists and the ever increasing resident population on the island.
When meeting the young chefs behind Two Chefs – which by the way are now three – it becomes clear that their focus rests on the food and delivering a dining experience beyond their guest’s expectations.
Over nearly a decade they have fine-tuned the formula with the promise of price worthy and exquisite food to those guests who really appreciate it.
Two of the chefs are from the northern part of Sweden and thus typically more taciturn while Henrik Öjelind from an urban area outside Stockholm is more outspoken.
They all manage one restaurant each and their humble manners most likely go well with their Thai staff. The atmosphere is cheerful. They cook food too but mostly oversee the operations. In fact, the high season is so busy that they then even hire Swedish restaurant managers as extras.
Two Chefs Becomes Three
On the Thailand adventure so far and the secret behind their apparent success within a usually tough and competitive business sector, it all typically started with vacation trips. Then they were offered jobs in restaurants – which lead on to opening their own business. Henrik, Billy Ågren and another previous business partner had worked together before Two Chefs was started.
“I was called on after one year and we ran the restaurant in Kata together. In 2004 we opened in Pattaya as well but decided to split up the business in 2006 and we continued here on Phuket,” Henrik begins.
Business prospered and they opened another one on Karon Beach in 2007.
Krister Westberg who was offered a job by Billy and Henrik gave it some careful thinking and concluded: “Wow, Thailand, a good country with nice climate and good people to work. I decided to sell my business in Sweden and moved here hoping for the best. Now I am grateful I was offered this job.”
“He was very talented, and joined as co-owner a year later [in 2008] when we opened at third restaurant in Kata Center,” says Henrik.
That latest one is their most modern and where guests tend to order more steaks and lobster than in the others. Otherwise the concept is the same.
During the initial years having the Scandinavian customers was very helpful.
“It was what made us break through as we got good contacts with guides and travel agents, and gained their confidence. This gave an extra boost, and as we had several restaurants we got their attention. And then things could move forward much faster.”
“Today we have moved away from being a heavily Scandinavian-oriented restaurant to being a purely international one,” says Billy who is in charge of composing the menus on which one finds international dishes, Scandinavian specialities and exquisite Thai food in modern style.
“The Thai food is an add-on. Those who want to eat Thai food really don’t come to us. They choose Thai restaurants in the area. But often it is the case that not all in a party want to eat Thai food. Then they choose us as we can offer it all, which is an easy solution for many bigger groups,” says Henrik.
As for Thai dishes Billy explains that they serve the classics but in “Two Chefs’ own style, more international. We did not reduce tastes, but the presentation and method are different.”
“All classic ingredients are there but we have added and sifted away certain things,” he explains further. “In our Tom Yam, for example, you can eat everything. No hard galangal and everything is free from shell.”
“The same goes for all seafood, there are no bones. We serve only fish filets, which is appreciated among many guests,” Krister adds.
Billy: “We served the lobster as pure meat too.”
Home-made and Scandinavian
Overall they service high-quality; sourcing the best possible products (for example imported beef salmon and snow fish, while the lobster is local) and servicing home-made food.
“We make more or less everything on our own; bread, pasta and all desserts. We smoke the salmon and make our own fondues.”
Aside changing the menu slightly ahead of each high and low season Two Chefs offer a larger menu during low seasons.
“And in addition to that we have ‘Two Chefs Special’ every day which can be anything from stuffed cabbage to sushi,” says Billy, which makes them all burst into laugher.
Apparently those two examples are very unusual on the menu, after all. But their menu stretches from potluck to fusion, Billy corrects himself.
Smoked salmon, Skärgårdstallrik (‘archipelago plate’; a platter of cold fish, including strömming, gravlax, baked whitefish, a variety of herring, whitefish etc) and of course meatballs are their Scandinavian specialties.
As for the presentation and service they avoid the fine dining label but prefer that the dining experience is a positive surprise for their guests, in the sense that the diners don’t come expecting white tablecloths and all the rest of it.
“We don’t want to have that perception. Then if guests come here and get the feeling of fine dining, they’ll get that for a lower price,” says Henrik.
Exquisite but Affordable Wines
Contributing to subtle dining for their guest is an ambitious and, again, affordable wine list.
“We are continuously developing our wine selection. In order to attract the food- and wine loving guests one need to be able to offer a good wine list. And we’re still working on improving it. It’s good to have a broad wine list selection too in terms of quality and price, so it can suit many different guest types.”
“It’s a fun challenge that we’ve been working on for a long time now. The selection is very good, but can of course improve even further,” Henrik elaborates further.
The idea is to always have one staff in each restaurant who is a wine connoisseur.
And the outcome has not sounded a long time coming: “One notices increasingly that guests are not afraid to buy slightly more expensive wines. And I can say that we have wines of relatively high quality, and if you compare with a fine dining restaurant our prices are half in comparison.”
As a final word of advice the Two Chefs team thinks that Phuket is worthwhile visiting during the low season.
“Phuket during this period is underestimated and has been for along time. There’s potential for growth if only people knew that it’s a good period to come. Clearly it’s better; less people and more natural. In high season it’s very touristy and crowded here,” thinks Henrik.