The tale of Thai chef Khun Jirapa Kaosarang or khun Benz as she is more famously known is a remarkable one of fate and good fortune
She was working in a remote 1 star hotel near Phuket when a couple stopped to enquire about the local amenities. After a friendly exchange, she invited them to sample a meal she had cooked herself. It was a random slice of gastronomic exquisiteness that marked the start of an amazing journey. The couple were none other than Soneva owners Sonu and Eva Shivdasani who were on a project site trip for a potential resort project in Thailand.
So enthralled were they with khun Benz’ food they promptly offered her a job at their flagship resort Soneva Fushi. “Our expectations were low when we went for dinner, but we were blown away by Benz – she cooked the best Thai meal Eva and I ever had”, said Sonu. That was back in 1999 but she seized her opportunity and worked as a chef there for ten years, developing her skills and expertise exponentially as the Soneva resort grew in influence and significance.
Having become an accomplished gourmet chef over those ten years, she then put in a heartfelt request to return home to Thailand. Sonu and Eva gave her their blessing – on condition she opened her own restaurant at their Thai resort Soneva Kiri! Aptly she and her restaurant are called Benz. Why? Because that was her nickname after a cousin drove her home from hospital in a Mercedes for the first time after her birth.
The new restaurant is located deep in the mangrove, a short boat ride down the small river Klong, which was once described as a “steaming upstream into a very green Heart of Darkness”. From the outset, she decided she would rely exclusively on fish caught by local fishermen and on ingredients grown either in the resort’s organic garden or on nearby Koh Chang. So at the start of the day, she has little idea what will be on the menu that night but shapes it after her twice weekly visit to the local fishing market ‘Ao Salat’ to see what kind of a morning her fishermen have enjoyed.
Her menu, featuring anything up to nine courses, depends entirely on the exotic pickings her suppliers are able to offer. On the fish menu (there is some meat on the menu too) will be principally fresh squid, crabs and scallops. Guests can now see for themselves what khun Benz is looking for each morning and how she makes her selection by accompanying her to the market, helping her to select her fish then learning how to cook it, a la khun Benz. For guests who want to eat rather than learn, Benz’ Restaurant is a veritable food temple offering up selection of dishes from Benz’ spectacular repertoire, the crispy sweet corn in chilli sauce, stir fried morning glory and wok seared prawns earning her more acclaim and elevation to lofty heights as a contender in the best restaurant in all of Thailand league.
Her signature dishes, invariably accompanied by an ensemble of fireflies on neighbouring trees, include Gai Thord, Kanum Wan, Sweet pea shooter, Mieng Kam, Panaeng Gai and Yum Phak Boong.