I am always in awe when I meet chefs that chose to live off the beaten path and bring their passion for cooking with them all across the world, opening their gastronomic traditions to the influences of the most diverse food cultures.
Gilbert Louis Negro, the executive chef at Intercontinental Ko Samui has been working for the brand for 38 years, and yet his career has been anything but boring.
After starting his journey at the Ritz Carlton in Cannes, he spent 12 years in Africa cooking for the brand’s safari lodges in Gabon, Zaire (now Congo) and Zambia.
He’s had a good dose of the Middle East, working in Bahrain and Dubai, and, two years ago, he landed in Thailand, where he now leads the kitchen at Amber, the main restaurant at the Intercontinental Ko Samui.
Together with Tao Srikhem, the Specialist Thai Chef in charge of the typical local menu, Chef Gilbert shows me how to make the perfect Tom Kha Gai, a delicious chicken soup in coconut milk whose recipe you’ll find at the end of this post.
Chef Tao is one you can definitely trust when it comes to Thai food: he learned to crush chilies and coriander roots at 10 years old from his mom and at 17 he was flipping pans at cooking school in Bangkok, where he then started working for the Sheraton hotel.
After four and a half years as the head of Thai cooking at the Ritz Carlton in Dubai, Tao came back to his mother land, making the guests happy at the Intercontinental Ko Samui, where he accommodates even the most demanding visitors (like yours truly) preparing allergy free versions of the Thai originals, that, just like our Tom Kha Gai, still taste amazing and are suitable for those who are dairy intolerant or following the Auto Immune Protocol.
But before we start cooking and since I have the chance to chat with two world class chefs, I want to pick their brain on the most delicious foods they came across during their international experience.
What is you favorite INGREDIENT from:
- Chef Gilbert: “Muamba (also called Moamba or Mwambe), a sauce made with red palm oil derived from the fruit (not the seed) of the African Oil Palm and that is used in stews and to season chicken”.
- Chef Gilbert: “Goose liver, duck and water mushrooms. I also love fresh mussels, lobster and oyster… but we import all of them from France here at the Intercontinental Ko Samui, so I get to cook with these ingredients a lot”.
- Chef Gilbert: “Green and red curry pastes. In France you can only find them if you shop at Lafayette in Paris”.
- Chef Tao: “Thai Eggplant, Thai Basil and Tofu.”
- Chef Gilbert: “All the spices and chilies from the Arabic cuisine in Bahrain”.
- Chef Tao: “Cumin and Coriander Seeds.”
What is your favorite DISH you’d take with you from:
- Chef Gilbert: “Liboke, a Congolese words that indicates packets of food, especially fish, cooked and wrapped in banana leaves. Traditionally these dishes were cooked in an underground oven”.
- Chef Gilbert: “Bouillabaisse, a typical spicy fish stew originally from Marseilles. I included that dish in the menu at Flames, our beach restaurant, as well Moules Mariniere, mussles cooked in a sauce made with white wine, cream, celery and lemon”.
- Chef Gilbert: “Duck Red Curry, which, here at the Intercontinental Ko Samui, we cook with litchi and pineapple and has a delicious taste!”
- Chef Tao: “Pad Thai and Tom Yum Kun, a soup with shrimp, chilies and chicken and prawn stock.”
MIDDLE EASTERN CUISINE:
- Chef Gilbert: “Libanese Food and Biryani.”
- Chef Tao: “Chicken Masala, a dish I learned to cook from my Indian friend and colleague at the Ritz Carlton. 40% of the population in Dubai is made up of Indian people and this influence is largely perceivable in the local cuisine”.
Now that talking about all these delicious, eclectic foods made us hungry enough, let’s get to the actual coking!
This quick and easy Tom Kha Gai soup contains all the most amazing flavors of Thailand, it only takes 10 minutes to make and it’s absolutely suitable for people with food allergies or that are following special diets! You will love it!
Allergy Free Tom Kha Gai
- 150 gr Free Range Chicken Breast (boneless and skinless)
- 250 ml Coconut Milk (canned)
- 100 gr Straw Mushrooms (replaceable with Champignon mushrooms)
- 30 gr Galangal, sliced
- 30 gr Shallot, sliced
- 1 stalk Lemongrass, sliced
- 2 Kaffir Lime Leaves (broken)
- 1 tsp Sea Salt
- ½ Lime (juiced)
- 1 Coriander Root (crushed)
- 2 tbsp Fish Sauce (optional if not AIP)
- 10 gr Palm Sugar (optional if not AIP)
- Heat up a large pot, crush the coriander root and put in the pot together with the coconut milk.
- Add in the lemongrass, galangal, shallot, kaffir lime leaves and boil for 7 minutes.
- Add in the salt, mushrooms and the chicken cut in bite sized pieces and boil for 6 more minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat, squeeze in the fresh lime (adding it while it boils would turn the dish bitter) and serve.
- To decorate, top your Tom Kha Gai with a sprig of Coriander Leaves and a couple slices of chili.
I hope you loved this interview and I am sure you’ll the recipe even more! Head over to an Asian supermarket, get some flavors from Thailand and don’t forget to let me know how this dish came out by leaving a comment below. …
Sawasdee Kha! Ambra