Patong’s past and present inspire Danish chef Morten Nielsen

Chef Morten Nielsen is back in Thailand, following his most recent stint with Dusit Thani Guam Resort in remote Micronesia. But Morten has now been for a bit over a year on the much more accessible island of Phuket, as Executive Chef for Hotel Indigo Phuket Patong, There, he is part of introducing five-star dining, as an essential ingredient in this amazing design hotel, situated in Patong proper!

Executive Chef for Hotel Indigo Phuket Patong, Morten Nielsen. Photo: Joakim Persson

Morten is known for his involvement in the fusion food movement and love for Thai cuisine, including a prestigious previous role with Thailand hotel chain Dusit’s Benjarong Royal Thai cuisine restaurants.

“I’ve been taught classic techniques and classic French cuisine. But during my whole career I’ve been a bit of European and a bit of Asian – I used to work in fusion restaurants so I like the mix of everything. And that was beneficial when I started here; that I not only cook French, Italian or Spanish but a little bit of different things. It’s been a fun time and a fun opening.”

He is now on a new adventure with InterContinental Group, where he has been hands-on since pre-opening stage in conceptualizing the new hotel’s F&B outlets.

“There are so far only four Indigo hotels in Southeast Asia, the first one opened in Bali, followed by Bangkok, Singapore and Phuket. It’s a luxury lifestyle brand; small scale but very much design-focused so there’s a thought-process on everything. We have three major influences on everything that is in this hotel, taken from Patong’s neighbourhood: forest, fishing village and nightlife,” explains Morten.

Seafarers came to this jungle island for the first time over 500 years ago and before tourism fishing dominated as livelihood. Then charter tourism grew and Patong develop into nightlife-driven beach resort with a reputation as a nest of sin.

“From the three influences, and focusing on steaks in our Butcher’s Garden, for example I found some beautiful tattooed steak knives, which reflects Patong’s nightlife.”

The all-day dining Butcher’s Garden includes and innovative butcher room that the Dane compares to a “walk-in closet room”.

“We have a dry-age cabinet and a deli fridge. Some of the pieces we cut to order and you can choose your meat so you see what you get. I have for instance ten pieces of rib eye and you can choose which rib-eye you want.”

The idea with this is to offer full transparency and interaction. Guests can also choose their own wine bottle.

“People want to see what they get, that it’s done correctly and freshly made. And they want to see where their food comes from. I put up a couple of posters so that when they ask for a rib-eye, I can explain a bit where it comes from. And it’s very much experience-driven with our open kitchen; you are welcome to have a look and see for yourself that it’s a real flame from charcoal giving the meat its flavor. People love to have this kind experience when they go out dining, and it’s something fun for kids as well to see how we do things.”

He also points out that the restaurant is not focusing only on steaks but on everything; wine, other cuisine and casual service. Facing the road the hotel also offers Pots, Pints & Tikis – a casual street-front tiki bar, serving authentic craft beer, unique cocktails and small bites with both indoor and alfresco dining options. From the hotel one can access its bar section through a hidden door in the wall.

“My focus right now is to give more knowledge and to teach our guests, about what they are actually eating. I think it’s important that people know what it is they’re eating, where it comes from so they know it’s actually sustainable, and from Thailand. Pretty much everything in this restaurant is sustainable because Indigo is about the neighbourhood and supporting it, nurturing it. The community is about all of us. I think that’s fun and what makes Hotel Indigo Phuket Patong a great place too because it’s not only about us, but about our neighbours, including the restaurants next door.”

As for Patong Morten agrees that the hotel is definitely something new; the whole concept and level of quality and design that the Indigo hotel represents. And it is part of the makeover Patong is undergoing.

“There is a huge clean-up to make Patong a more interesting place for families and more people to come to. We at Indigo and couple of our competitors have raised the bar for people coming to Patong in terms of choices. Now you can stay in a nice hotel, without going into the crazy life of Bangla road.”

“These hotels bring a new life into Patong, but of course change does not happen overnight so people need to realise that there are some good, new things happening in Patong now, and that there are those genuinely contributing to changing the perception of why one should visit this destination.”

Within five years from now Morten thinks its reputation will have transformed thanks to the new hotels and offerings for visitors.

Having been there for a little over a year there he can see himself staying for a longer while at this hotel, though there will certainly be many other offers for a chef of his experience.

“There are lots of opportunities and it’s about finding the right match. Here we can now start reaping the harvest of what we’ve done during the pre-opening and opening stages; we can see if the concept works or not. In the beginning people gets to know you and then they start coming again, which means that people like what you are doing. And having passed ten months we’re not in the opening face anymore; now we’re running a hotel and the impact of our efforts should be visible.”

Photos: Joakim Persson

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