Phuket’s culinary scene has been on a steady rise over the past years. In late 2015, the island became the first city in the ASEAN region to be named “City of Gastronomy” in UNESCO’s prestigious Creative City Listing.
The Michelin Guide Thailand, which used to feature Bangkok as its only destination has expanded its list in 2019 to include Phuket and Phang Nga – a testament to the island’s rich and growing culinary landscape. While only one restaurant in Phuket has nabbed a coveted star since then, 47 other restaurants as of 2021 have either been awarded a Plate Michelin for exceptional food or a Bib Gourmand for being an excellent restaurant where food is very good and at reasonable prices.
One of these restaurants is the European Contemporary cuisine hotspot, Surf & Turf by Soul Kitchen. Established in 2016, the Thai-German-owned restaurant along Phang Nga Road in Phuket Town has received the Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand distinction for the last three years consecutively (2019, 2020, 2021).
In January, owner and head chef Tom Köffers together with his partner embarked on a new venture and started a private dining service and catering company, Table Creatives.
We had a chat with Chef Tom about taking inspiration from Southern Thai cuisine and blending it with his European roots, the pressures of recognition, and what to expect from an exclusive private dining experience.
Truly Classy: Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you Chef Tom. Can you please give our readers a brief introduction about yourself?
Chef Tom Köffers: Likewise! It is such a pleasure to be speaking to you today. Thank you for having me. I am Tom, head chef and owner of Surf & Turf by Soul Kitchen and now our new sister company, Table Creatives by Surf & Turf.
TC: Can you tell us more about your culinary background?
Chef Tom: I always knew that my passion was for cooking at the age of 12, cooking for my family and friends and started working at the age of 18 in my hometown Dusseldorf, Berlin. I’ve also worked at Michelin Star restaurants, as well as in Copenhagen, in one of the many renowned restaurants familiar to the world. As I started working at a very young age, I traveled around learning to create the distinctive tastes from every cuisine I encountered and loved. My love for food definitely has a big role in developing myself as a chef.
And of course, opening Surf & Turf by Soul Kitchen and receiving the Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand in the 2nd year of opening is one of my biggest proud moments.
TC: With such extensive experience and training in Europe, what brought you to Phuket?
Chef Tom: What brought me to Phuket is a very typical story of how I fell in love with the beauty of Phuket, Thailand and saw an opportunity to grow something different in the food scene from my culinary experiences that we do not often see on this island yet. In addition, combining my love for Southern Thai food with my European techniques that I have gained to create something unique and will definitely set a new standard for the island.
TC: How would you describe the cuisine served in Surf and Turf by Soul Kitchen?
Chef Tom: It would be described as European Contemporary, inspired by Southern Phuket cuisine where some dishes will have a lot of kick with the spice, incorporated with my German roots and French techniques. The atmosphere is cozy and a humble space that serves as a casual dining restaurant. We only have 20 seats, so bookings in advance are highly recommended!
TC: How often does your menu at Surf and Turf evolve and where do you find inspiration?
Chef Tom: My menu reflects a lot on what is happening around me. It is really who I am, from my new favorite Thai dish I discovered in a small street food stall or a recipe from my mother back in Germany that I miss. Or really just something spontaneous – sometimes what I crave in the kitchen turns out to be a masterpiece.
Although, I have a few dishes that have stayed signature since the beginning. Some customers book and reserve the specific dish in advance in fear that it would be sold out when they arrive, as we prepare them fresh every night.
TC: Does the 3-time (2019, 2020, 2021) Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand distinction bring any kind of pressure to the table? How much has changed since 2018?
Chef Tom: There are now many cool restaurants popping around Phuket town area influenced by young local blood. It is very exciting for me to see our small island’s food scene grow. For me, personally receiving the Bib Gourmand has shown me that I am going in the right direction and is a reminder of how my hard work got recognized.
TC: Let’s switch gears and talk about your latest endeavor. How did the idea of Table Creatives and the whole private dining experience come to life? Can you please tell us more about the services that you offer?
Chef Tom: My partner Numtan and I saw an opportunity to grow, as clients of the restaurant and even close friends started booking us at their private venues. We combined our forces and built a new brand, Table Creatives – her as a creative director and I as a chef, already familiarized by the Phuket food scene. In addition, Phuket has numerous beautiful private villas which fit our idea of being the perfect additional service, it is to complete their trip at their beautiful venue with great food and a personalized experience.
As a chef, it is also an opportunity to create fine cuisine and to challenge my skills, to grow and keep things exciting, expanding my creativity and dishes that do not fit the concept of Surf & Turf by Soul Kitchen – it now can be shared and shifted to Table Creatives.
TC: Looks like it was a great idea after all! Resorts and luxury private villas in Phuket have already caught wind of what you do. What has it been like since the launch of Table Creatives?
Chef Tom: It has been amazing! The first 2 months after launching kept us very busy and tested us to the limit. We are very grateful for all the great responses and will continue to keep the good work and setting higher goals for sure in the years to come.
TC: Is there an effort to differentiate Table Creatives from what you do and serve at Surf and Turf? Is it supposed to be an extension or an entirely different experience? Simply put, aside from the private dining aspect of it, what can guests expect from Table Creatives?
Chef Tom: There is a big differentiation between both. Table Creatives serves as private dining, as a more exclusive on-location service – the direction of the cuisine is more profound, fine and the ingredients are more premium. Which makes it fall easily towards clients who are looking for a more exclusive and intimate experience on their special night.
Whereas, Surf & Turf By Soul Kitchen is a cozy and relaxed atmosphere that serves as casual dining and caters to everyone. So there is a big difference in terms of experience for sure, but at the same time, also an extension of service that aims to serve the same high quality of cuisine.
TC: What’s on the horizon for Chef Tom?
Chef Tom: We will continue to deliver our best and aim to be on the top for our private dining and catering service. The goal for next year will definitely be to expand and cater in Bangkok and other areas around Thailand.