The King & Thai Executive Chef – Suree Coates
Suree Coates Chef Patron of the much acclaimed King and Thai at Broseley near Historic Ironbridge in Shropshire UK, runs The King and Thai with her partner Simon Turner. Chef Suree has a real passion for food. Awarded Thai Curry Chef of the Year 2011/12, and more recently South Asia Chef of The Year 2013/14, you can also often see Suree on stage at the regions food festivals. Chef Suree’s Cook Book ‘Cook Thai ~ With Suree Coates’ was launched in September 2013 at Ludlow Food Festival to much acclaim – foreword by Chef Will Holland.
Chef Suree grew up in Thailand and moved to England 25 years ago. She and Simon ran the original King and Thai in Ironbridge before relocating to the old Forester Arms in Broseley, which underwent a transformation to become the restaurnt that diners know and love – travelling from as far afield as Manchester, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and even Bristol, just to dine at the King and Thai. Below is an interview with Chef Suree…
What is your earliest memory of food?
Cooking with my grandmother at the age of about five. As a small child in Thailand it was my job to set the fire as everything was cooked over charcoal, and to make the curry paste. Many hours of pounding away at a pestle and mortar taught me the importance of a good quality food processor.
My grandmother taught me the importance of good quality raw produce and that fresh cooked food is always the best. In Thailand food is a very big deal, it’s a family affair with everyone getting involved. My father would bring fresh fish from the river; herbs and spices grow wild and can be picked fresh, fresh vegetables were always available and locally grown. This is how Thai food should be, and it’s what I strive for from the King and Thai.
Who influenced your decision to become a chef?
I fell on being a chef by accident. During my younger years I, like many Thai girls, was taught how to cook at school; this included the basics and how to cook for larger numbers of people. Upon leaving school I progressed into further education where the food education course included everything from hygiene to decorative fruit carving. I knew that cookery would be my path as I enjoyed watching people eat the dishes I’d produced. To this day it’s something that still pleases me – to see and hear people enjoy the food I’ve produced. It’s what I think being a chef is about.
What was the first dish you cooked?
This is a hard one as it was so long ago. It was most likely a red or green curry I’d cooked under guidance from my grandmother for the rest of my family.
What prompted you to write your first Cook Book – “Cook Thai with Suree Coates”?
When I moved to the UK over 25 years ago I wanted to see what type of food that Thai Chefs cooked over here – I could nt find any genuine books. And there have been non since, that show how to cook Thai Food simply and properly. Cusomters often ask me what is ‘the secret’ to a good Thai Curry or Pad Tahi, well in my book I share (some) of my secrets.
Thai food is essentially peasant and street food, and using good quality fresh ingredients, and some simple tips, you cant go wrong. I wanted to share my own passions, and tips with people who also love Thai food, so they can cook it at home and at parties – also explaining how to appreciate the differences of Thai food compared with Chinese or Indain – Thai food is much fresher in flavour with no powders, but more grinding and blending of roots, fresh spices and herbs. It’s very healthy and has many medicinal properties. Many of my herbs come from my own restaurant garden – so if I can encourage people to grow their own, buy good quality fish, great steaks and enhance them with Thai flavours – that will please me.
Where is your favourite restaurant?
I don’t have a particular favourite but I’m lucky living in Shropshire as we have some very fine restaurants that cater for all tastes.
Ludlow is famous for its fine cuisine, and I was delighted when Chef Will Holland agreed to write the foreword for my new ‘Cook Thai’ Cook Book. He is a real inspiration for me and many UK Chefs. Closer to home there are some fantastic places from the village pub doing a fantastic Sunday carvery using local beef and seasonal veg to the new breed of Indian restaurants who are moving away from the balti house style of cuisine to a more refined dining experience. I also like to experience fine dining, and I am in awe of the Michelin Cooking at Simpsons in Birmingham where I was lucky enough to learn a thing or two in their kitchen, and inspired by Chef Richard Turner also in Birmingham.
Which celebrity chefs do you admire?
I do like Gordon Ramsay but mainly for his vision and business acumen; Rick Stein because he’s passionate about fish and treats it with respect. I loved meeting the Hairy Bikers at the Shrewsbury Flower Show a few years ago – they loved my food, and use of local ingredients, and were keen to visit our restaurant, and said they will be back. Also James Martin’s desserts are a revelation. Unusually for a Thai Chef I love making and experimenting with desserts. Many daily desserts are VERY popular.
Which nationality cooks the best food?
Hard one that, I’d be biased if I said Thai. I’m fond many types of food, I love a good Sunday roast, like Italian and French cuisine and I’ve a special fondness for southern Spanish food with all its mixture of Moorish influences.
I love the freshness of the seafood and the simplicity of the preparation. Tapas are fantastic if the right places are found. I’m lucky as my partner’s mother lives in Almeria in the south of Spain and as it’s not a tourist trap the food is genuine and local.
It’s an agricultural area on the coast so seafood and good fresh vegetables are readily available. Being only 50 miles from Morocco the north African influence creates an interesting blend of flavours.
What is the best meal you’ve ever cooked?
I did a big roast dinner one Christmas ago, I’d got a big rib joint from my butcher, it was Dexter rare breed beef, 21 days old and had great colour and marbling with a good layer of fat. This was roasted for a very long time on a low heat over a bain marie.
I did roasties cooked in dripping and fresh winter veg. This type of cooking isn’t my natural style but I had fun and was very pleased with the results. Loving British beef, I love to cook with it in my restaurant. My ‘Beef Massaman Curry’ and ‘Weeping Tiger’ use only the best 28 day aged beef from our local butcher – my customers love it. Many wont have anything else – it could be something to do with my ‘secret’ weeping tiger sauce.
What is your favourite ingredient?
Any type of seafood. Back in Thailand fish is a staple food, be it fresh water or sea caught. We put fish on the menu at the restaurant most nights and only use fresh, it’s very popular but we are restricted to how much we have in as its shelf life is short and we try to keep waste to a minimum. In the UK now there is a great selection of fish and I try to come up with new dishes which complement the fish available to me on that day. We often travel to the wonderful Birmingham Fish market VERY early in the morning to source our fish – the stall holders keep back their best catches for me as they know how much I love cooking with fish and they really appreciate my knowledge.
What is your favourite piece of equipment?
My wok burner, It cooks quickly sealing in the flavour while maintaining the crisp and crunch of the vegetables, It’s not for the faint hearted as my partner puts it: “Its three jet engines bolted to a table” and he’s not far wrong when the kitchen is in full swing. I also love experimenting with my new ‘ThermoMix Machine’ – it’s a revelation and really makes you think how to approach dishes.
Have you cooked for anyone famous?
We had Mark Williams from The Fast Show dine with us. He came back the next night as well.
I also prepared some food for the Hairy Bikers – they loved it! We now get a few ‘famous’ faces in our restaurant since the awards, and lots of Chefs.
What would you choose for your last meal on earth?
Wow, very hard one this, It would most likely be all my fave things on one plate, so I’d have fish with roast beef and pork and chocolate, It wouldn’t be pretty. It would have to stimulate all my taste buds, so you’d have spicy and salty with sweet and sour. It would have to be comforting as well as textured with fragrant hints. Sounds a lot like Thai food then.