ScandAsia met up in southern Thailand with Mr Conny Andersson, who can appropriately be seen as a ‘travelling chef’, having been on assignments as a cook to far-flung corners of the world. The setting and the timing could not have been more appropriate. We wanted to learn more about how he attended – during his stint at this resort – to the need for healthy and nutritious cuisine and the overall high expectations from the guests of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas concerning the culinary experiences. And, as it turned out, his team was just about to launch the resort group’s new ‘Eat with Six Senses’ concept, via one of its resorts, and for Conny again a relatively isolated setting.
Conny had previously joined the Thailand-based hospitality brand as the executive chef for Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain, another of the group’s exotic destinations, in China.
In his latest posting overseeing on group level as well as on-site at Six Senses Yao Noi, Conny and his team was using this Phang Nga bay-based island property as the guinea pig for the brand’s launch of a new programme with a nutritional guideline connected to the food menus and to well-curated packages (including experts’ advice) concerning health, spa, nutrition and diet.
While Koh Yao Noi can be seen as remote by Phuket standards, it is after all only a short land transfer, followed by a speed-boat ride, away from its international airport – to compare with chef Conny’s previous stints on Leeward Islands in the West Indies (Four Seasons Nevis, his career includes 18 years with the world-renowned Four Seasons brand), Bali and at The Datai on Langkawi. In Southeast Asia he had previously also been with The Grand Ho Tram Strip in southern Vietnam, so Six Senses marked his fourth time being posted or spending time in Southeast Asia.
The well-travelled Swede thinks it’s a fantastic thing to be able to travel while working – not an unusual attribute among chefs actually.
The setting for this particular resort comes as no surprise. With its strong local island culture and relatively intact nature, not to mention the property’s a stunning panorama view overlooking Phang Nga bay’s many small islands and carts, it’s an ideal setting for Six Senses’ concept of back-to-nature luxury and genuine eco-friendliness. This island is in fact home to the in Thailand these days rarely found hornbills (their habitat shared with the resort’s visitors) – and islanders conducting local farming, including fish cage farming of red snapper, and fishermen conducting small-scale fishing.
The resort sources a lot of locally grown seasonal produce, delivered directly to the resort’s chefs as a ‘farm-to-table’ operation. That is in addition to on-site edible landscaping. One highlight for guests is that they can visit the free-range hen’s garden and pick organic eggs and hand over to the kitchen to be prepared for their own breakfast.
It is a delight for everyone to interact with these beautiful and happy-going hens that are very keen on coming up close as you enter their home. Aside the many human visitors, these hens are also entertained with jazz music!
As Conny and his colleague visited the gardens to harvest herbs and vegetables needed in the kitchen that day, he explained how they were about to share their new health and nutritional diet advice with their guests.
“The offers are presented differently and the menus are according to these programmes that we offer. So, upon arrival you’ll get a screening from a doctor to see what could be suitable, with a consultation on your food intake, and the head chef on site, so that you have a direct dialogue, and are in direct contact should there be anything you’d want more of or don’t like. Then it becomes a very personal experience,” he said. “And it’s not that we force anyone, it’s not as in a boot camp; you still have choices whether you want come on a detox, or simply sleep and eat well, drink right, and get the right nutrition for a fitness holiday. Should you still want a hamburger you can get one, but we have the offer to eat healthy, natural, organic food on our hotels.”
Conny described the Yao Noi property as their “mother ship of Six Senses” that has operated for over 10 years and works very well, and thus constitutes a good place as a test bed for new projects of this kind. Conny is passionate about food, including how it keeps us healthy and thriving.
At Six Senses, started by the Swede Eva Malmström-Shivdasani and her husband Sonu, he could recognise himself in many things.
“Things are there for a reason, not only to look good; when it comes to furniture, food, drinks etc. thought has gone into it. It’s not only a bottle of wine or a plate of food in front of you but someone having thought a bit deeper about it, which one often does in Sweden,” thought Conny.
“In some way it felt quite natural to start working for Six Senses, perhaps just by being Swedish and having grown up in the countryside and how we respect nature and produce and do not litter, make pickled and smoked food, home-made jam etc. And Six Senses goes about things in the same way – thinking natural.
Their concept’s philosophy provides as much dietary information as possible about each dish on the menu, directly underneath each item’s description, as a refinement of Six Senses’ already healthy-driven concept.
“We’re enhancing that even more by taking a few additional steps, and that is not only about having healthy food. Many times today when going to hotels one wants to learn something, so we want to share some knowledge with our guests. If staying with us for a week guests get a consultation, can learn cooking, and we many programmes. Also, when one leaves the hotel one wants bring something back home, so we share recipes and knowledge on what to eat once you have arrived back home. This gives guests an entirely different experience than an ordinary hotel,” said the Swedish chef.
On offer are the personalized Six Senses Integrated Wellness Programs, such as ‘100 % Full Potential’, ‘Sleep & Resilience’, ‘Cleanse & Detox’ and ‘Trim & Fitness’. Dishes corresponding with any of the wellness programs are marked as such along with dietary specifications, including annotations such as gluten or lactose free.
Examples from the menu at The Living Room, the resort’s cuisines-of-the-world restaurant: Tuna carpaccio, red onions, capes, avocado, and preserved lemon (100%, Trim, Sugar free, Gluten free, Lactose free); Pumpkin ravioli, grilles kale, burned butter and sage (vegetarian, sugar free); Pan-roasted sea bass, grilled asparagus and tomato basil relish (Trim, gluten free, sugar free, lactose free); Tandoori tiger prawns, south Indian potato and mint chutney (sleep, 100%, trim, sugar free, gluten free); Yum Ma Kue – Garden eggplant salad with herbs, avocado, prawns and boiled egg (Sleep, 100% gluten free); and Chef Alex Super wellness salad with raw veg and leaves, nuts and seeds (Detox, 100%, Trim, Sugar Free, Vegan, Gluten Free, Lactose Free).
“There’s always something healthy in each menu section and the breakfast buffet; like nut milk and hazel milk. You can discover things to bring with you back home and we are happy to share our knowledge. And now when looking at the menus and really being able to read what it is, it’s almost like we are sharing a recipe right there, I think people recognise this immediately,” Conny elaborated.
In launching the new programme Six Senses also make use of their Wellness Board, which includes well-renowned Dr. Steven Gundry from New York and nutrition consultant Patrik Wallberg from Stockholm, Sweden.
Steven Gundry’s institutes have shown that feeding the body’s micro biome nutrient dense fibres and resistant starches dramatically improves overall health. Moreover, healthy gut bacteria have shown to improve mood and attitude. Dr. Gaundry has reviewed all menus and enhanced them so guests can enjoy the same great taste, but prepared in an even healthier fashion.
The first project Dr. Gundry worked on, in tandem with Nutrition Consultant Patrick Wahlberg (who has been a project director for several spa and fitness openings around the globe) and Sophie Bohnstedt of Sophie’s Raw in Stockholm (adding two Swedes to the team), is the smoothie and juice menu.
Preparing the wonderful culinary experiences is so much more than simply combining ingredients.
“It’s a bit different concept than the other hotels; how we are thinking and how we are cooking. It’s an art form that combines taste and good looks added to our commitment to create dishes that are good for you – the art of wellness through food.”
“We’re setting up what one should purchase and avoid and try to assist all the hotels in the group in finding the right produce – and sometimes one simply cannot find organic on the market. In China, for instance, it has its challenges,” said Conny.
All natural and selected organic are their ingredients of choice – which can be challenging to say the least in Thailand, a country that according to its Agriculture Ministry imports 160 000 tonnes of farm chemicals a year, and where 70 chemical pesticides that are hazardous and not allowed in the west are being used. In the past five years, the import of toxic farm substances have increased by 50 %, making Thailand the fifth biggest user of farm chemicals, according to the World Bank!
“We use natural fertilisers and pesticides that we produce ourselves. And we work with an agricultural school from Krabi that assists us in running our farm. Many of the small farmers don’t have organic certification. So what we like is to support local farmers doing the right thing. That’s more important,” commented Conny.
Local Mozzarella and tomatoes grown in Phuket are sourced, along with also seasonal produce from around Yao Noi, as much as they can.
“Ideally everything could be sourced in the surroundings but one also has to import things, which is not our big priority, but a must sometimes. When it comes to meat, one then has to ensue it is naturally fed, that the chicken is organic, fish comes from sustainable fishing, and so on. It’s a fine balance to thread, since many things are controversial when it comes to food. But one must make the right choices and do the right thing. This is always at the back of one’s mind.”
“Guests show great interest, and one can see that when our guests walk around in our gardens and they want to pick their own eggs in our hen garden for the breakfast, they get a kick out of that. And the more we see the guests’ interest, the more we are inspired to do.”
Footnote: Conny Andersson has left Six Senses Yao Noi but continues working with Six Senses in the capacity of consultancy.