They are rare and far between in Bangkok’s five star establishments, even there are usually a few in the region. So enjoy, while you can, the Swedish Chef de Cuisine Kenny Karlsson, who is residing at Sofitel So Bangkok’s Red Oven! He is still young and out on a culinary adventure; travelling the world and likely to make him to the next stop in a distant future –unless Bangkok and Sofitel So can convince him/them to stay longer, that is…
Chef Kenny turned up out of nowhere coinciding with Sweden’s National Day in 2015 when the hotel was celebrating this occasion with a Swedish feast during two days. It has become a tradition at the fashion-forward design hotel Sofitel So Bangkok to give attention to the cuisines of the world in connection to various National Day celebrations, enabling for all of us to discover various local classics from different parts of the world. So behind the Swedish theme a newly arrived Swedish chef was hiding!
Given the opportunity to present Swedish specialties for two days Kenny had added some signatures to the buffet; for instance Dill stewed potato with cured salmon, and Skagen on brioche with salmon row.
“When I had just started they said: ‘Let’s do a Swedish menu for the Swedish National Day!’ So they gave me that assignment.”
Perhaps this was a kind of litmus test, to show his creative side and ability to also train the staff to cock those specific dishes – which went well, according to Kenny. The Swedish Ambassador with family was among the dining guests.
When ScandAsia visited the young chef earlier in 2015 (three months into his stint) he was just about to finalise the new menu he had composed for Red Oven, a warm and colourful dining outlet with panorama view of Lumpini Park, popular for its lunch and dinner buffets.
He told us that he had incorporated some Swedish flavours here and there into the menu.
“For instance the appetizer Marinated salmon Carpaccio served with horseradish cream, salmon roe, shallot, deep fried capers & chives – simple but so good!”
“I have my own style; I like trying out various flavours. I’m quite down-to-earth,” explained Kenny. The presentation and flavours are essentials for him, while he’s not into having a descriptive menu yet.
“I like the small little details and sometimes one spends too much on that,” he confessed.
“Ever since I worked with my previous food & beverage I have the mindset to source locally; we had almost the entire menu based on locally source ingredients. It’s the same focus here – good quality for a good price, instead of importing,” he added.
Certain products are simply not available to import to Thailand or just way too expensive.
He previously worked in Australia, a country known for its high quality meat, seafood and produce.
“Then one has to rethink, and do something on the Thai market instead and adapt to that.”
At Red Oven there is something for everyone, and they have many walk-in guests coming to enjoy the buffet offers.
“They come to munch on foie gras, and the seafood is popular.”
“One gets more of a market feeling here: one has something from all the big cuisines of the world. Thai, Japanese, European… the cuisines of the world!”
Ticking off destinations
Kenny, at this early stage in his chef career, is also travelling the world to live and work in some of its big cities and countries.
“Before set out to travel I already had my eyes set on a few specific destinations. Australia, Hong Kong, Thailand and the US were among those. I would like to work sometime in New York, so I’m ticking them off and I am quite certain Hong Kong will be next.”
However, it will be a joint decision by three persons when and where to move on.
Kenny went to work in Australia in 2012, where he met to guys in Melbourne, and they became ‘brothers’ who have been staying together since then, though working in different outlets. One is a bartender and the other sommelier; all currently working in Bangkok.
“The lads and I are talking about going to Hong Kong. It’s quite smooth when we are all within the restaurant business, and they are very good at what they are doing too. If we can travel as a team, we might be able to start something together in the future.”
“It’s great fun, and it’s about climbing the ladder,” he commented on frequently changing position and destination.
From Radisson Blu to Sofitel So
Kenny actually applied for the job at Sofitel So online and got it. His previous position was with Radisson Blu in Uppsala north of Stockholm, which probably helped in landing him to the Bangkok job. It is also in and near Uppsala where he built his career and had his chef education.
“I want to gain as much experience here with Sofitel So as possible. My job at Radisson Blu in Sweden was very different from what I’m doing here. I did much more cooking there, while here I’m much more in a managing role, doing promotions, arranging with VIPs etc. So it’s a very different working style and that took me a couple of months to adjust to,” commented Kenny.
“I have also worked mostly in hotels, where I get to do all kinds of things, rather than in just a stand-alone restaurant. Within hotels you have all kinds of tasks and I get more out of that role and I can utilize that when I want to go somewhere else – within Sofitel for instance.”
As for Bangkok itself he was positive too: “Before I came here I did not know much, and had no idea how it would be and was quite surprised by this city and its traffic. There is always buzz somewhere; Bangkok never sleeps. And that fits the bill – big cities suit me. When I go to the countryside I am yearning to go back to the big city and its pulse, so I enjoy it here.”