Pru, the One MICHELIN Star fine dining establishment at the luxury Trisara resort in Phuket, has always been synonymous with sustainability. The 100% locavore restaurant has been foraging for ingredients around Thailand since it opened in 2016. While pushing boundaries stylistically (just scroll through the restaurant’s Instagram for a glimpse at the chef’s jaw-droppingly beautiful dishes), Chef Jimmy Ophorst’s contemporary approach to cuisine follows his genuine vision of sustainability for future generations and his profound respect for Thailand’s local produce.
So, it came as little surprise that Pru received Thailand’s first Green Star, Michelin’s newly launched symbol recognising exemplary approaches to sustainability, at this year’s Star Revelation event in Bangkok. We sat down with Chef Ophorst after the ceremony to talk about this achievement.
What does this award mean to you and Pru?
“I feel this award shows what we have been trying to achieve for our whole community. And it says more about the people around us than us. Of course, I am very proud to receive it, but I see this more as our producers getting recognition through our restaurant than Pru achieving it on its own.”
What do you think makes Pru stand out amongst other eco-forward restaurants?
“For me, when I make a menu, I want to do something that I’ve never seen before. If I find something that tastes delicious while doing research and development, the whole dish is complete. For example, we travelled to Yala, in the South of Thailand, and found a small chestnut that is only grown there, or a special pink guava in the northeast. When people come to our restaurant, we try to teach them about the produce that can be found here, almost like an educational institute.”
What has been the hardest practice to implement?
“Consistency. When working with small, local farmers and fishermen, maintaining consistency can be difficult. I come from a family of farmers, so I’ve tried to share as much of what I’ve learned from the farm and from others around me with our producers in hopes that they will in turn make better products.
“And with the increase in quality, of course, comes an increase in price and then higher income for the farmers. We hope that this will start a chain reaction within the local farming industry where small producers around the country will begin to change their ways to be more sustainable and consistent.”
“I know that I can’t change the world, but we can also by talking to people and changing their mindsets.”
There’s this general idea that local food and produce shouldn’t come at a high price. As a white-tablecloth, degustation-centric restaurant, has it been difficult to convince customers that the menu price is worth it despite not having fancy, flown-in ingredients like truffles or bottarga?
“Our river prawns come from Surat Thani. The fishermen catch them at night and send them to us in the early morning. That is much more expensive than if I ordered a live langouste from Europe. Everything that we use is much more pricey than if we just flew in products. We are using only the most premium local ingredients, and we pay our producers extra for giving us the best that is available. We only put things on the menu when they meet a certain quality standard.”
Do you have any other sustainability goals you’d like to achieve?
“There are things I would like to work on within the restaurant. For example, the sparkling water of that famous brand is delicious, right? But it comes all the way from Italy. We are working to create a system that extracts water from humid ambient air and turns it into safe still and sparkling water.
“We are also expanding the way we get rid of our food waste. We have our own farm where we have always used our own compost, but now we are getting creative. For example, when we have leftover duck bones that aren’t good enough to use in stock anymore, we’ll give them to the street dogs.”
Do you think that in an industry that historically values quantity and low cost over sustainably-produced, local products, could we see more restaurants—high and low end—being more environmentally responsible in the future?
“I think it’s very difficult to say. It depends on the mindset of the restaurateur and chef. Right now, you cannot blame anyone for overlooking these practices because we are all in survival mode. Once this difficult time phases out and people have more capacity to start paying more attention, I do think we will see more people focusing on sustainability.
“When we opened Pru, we wanted not only to have a busy, successful restaurant, but we also thought of the whole island and how we could help put Phuket on the culinary map. We might not be where we want to be yet, but we are on the way.”
Do you think there is anything else that restaurateurs, chefs, and foodies can do to help promote the idea of sustainability within Thailand?
“I know that I can’t change the world, but we try our best to help out wherever we can through action but also by talking to people and changing their mindsets. It works. Five years ago, there were only a handful of organic farms in Thailand. Today, we actually have choices. Now, the farmers have deals with bigger corporations with a large reach that ensure they will get paid, even if, say, 20% of their crop ends up not being sellable.”
Any tips for anyone trying to be more green?
"I’d say generally just use more local products. I know a tomato from Thailand may not taste the same as one from France, but before reaching for the imported ones, maybe just try adjusting your cooking techniques so that it tastes just as delicious. That’s a little bit of what we do at Pru. For example, the seafood from Thailand is totally different from the seafood from Europe, so we have to adjust our cooking to the local products we have available. Cook it until it comes out the best way possible."
Here’s what our inspectors said about Pru in Phuket (One Michelin Star)
Pru stands for ‘plant, raise, understand’ and it is this ethos that underpins every aspect of this sophisticated, intimate and romantic restaurant, a stone’s throw from the sea. Its menu is built around dishes with ingredients sourced from ecosystems across Thailand like Phang-Nga, Nakhon Phanom and even its own 96-hectare organic farm. Dishes are seasonal, delicate and beautifully presented. The Phuket lobster and the Wagyu beef and baby corn are marvellous.
Hero photo: © MICHELIN Guide Thailand