If you’re into Thailand’s television cooking show, you may have heard the glorious name “Chef Alessandro Frau” of Acqua Restaurant, Phuket when he snatched Iron Chef Thailand’s trophy back in November 2013 with his innovative Sardinian food.

Like many notorious chefs in Thailand, Alessandro has travelled across the world working as a chef in London, Sweden, Finland, Paris and Mexico. What sets him apart from other city chefs though is his choice of anchoring himself in the beachfront city of Phuket. He has, what you might call a strong nostalgia for his seaside Sardinia as well as a deep love for his new home-like city where he now proudly calls home.

Iron Chef Thailand 2013

Far-famed for his excellence in interpreting traditional Sardinian cuisine into his own well-curated dishes featuring touches of modernity, one other thing diners can expect to see so obviously is how he absolutely loves to cook. The vivacious chef likes to go great lengths when cooking for others – which in actuality – is what he does all the time at his beloved Acqua Restaurant at Kalim Bay, Phuket.

Acqua Restaurant

Apart from the Iron Chef award, you’re likely to also know him – or his restaurant – thanks to the mountain of awards received since day one: Best Italian Restaurant in Phuket and Thailand from Ospitalità Italiana, Award of Excellence as one of the restaurant with the best wine list in the world from Wine Spectator and last but not least, the prestigious awards by HAPA (Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards) that claimed Chef Alessandro to be Icon of the Year, King of Kitchens and Western Masterchef.

Aspiring chefs or food devotees who want to pick his brains for culinary knowledge, read all about his insights and thoughts during our full and exclusive interview with Chef Alessandro Frau below.

Images credit: Acqua Restaurant

You won Iron Chef Thailand in 2013, did it change your life in any way?

It has been a nice experience for me and my team but it didn’t change anything. The funny thing is that, not until after the show, people started recognizing me and calling me “chef”.

What was your first job?

My first job was during my school years, selling coffee, cappuccinos and sandwiches in a food truck which belonged to my cousin.

Who is your role model?

When I started working in the food industry in London, my biggest role model was Marco Pierre White. At the time he was a young and controversial modern chef. I used to sometimes walk outside of his restaurant in London dreaming about what was happening in there and wondering about ways to get closer to his words and even to get training with him in the kitchen.

If you were to be an ingredient, what would you be and why?

For now, I’d definitely be a Mediterranean red prawn because it would be such luck to get to swim in one of the most beautiful seas in the world. It is also my absolute favourite ingredient in the kitchen because of its uniqueness and yummy taste [laughs]. Really, red prawn is the kind of ingredient that will stand out in every dish.

What is one food movie everyone should see?

Burnt with Bradley Cooper because the movie really describes how tough and difficult life in the kitchen is. You’ll definitely see how much passion and hard work chefs put into their work through the film.

What meal inspired you to become a chef?

My grandmother’s homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach.

What kind of stories are you telling through your food?

I’m telling stories of all my experiences and memories about food and life back in Italy and other countries that I’ve lived and been to through my food. Each dish represents my life growing as a chef and that’s why my food has both modern and traditional touches.

Why Phuket?

I came here for a holiday in 2003 with my wife, Marcella, and we loved everything about this city. Coming from an island like Sardinia to an island like Phuket, many things about this city make us feel like home.
In 2004, we decided to move to Phuket just to experience what working in Asia is like for a few years. My first job here was an Executive Chef at Sheraton Laguna Phuket. I worked there for 4 years then my wife and I decided that it was about time we open our own restaurant. Then Acqua Restaurant was born because of our shared dream.

Chef Alessandro and his wife, Marcella.
What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten in Phuket?

I think it is called “Moo Hong” (a traditional Thai pork belly stew). When I first had it at this local Thai restaurant in the area, the flavour was a totally new experience for me.

What are the essentials in your pantry?

For sure a bottle of good extra virgin olive oil and some nice and ripe tomatoes.

Raisins or no raisins?

Absolutely no raisins.

Wine or water?

Water is the essential one [laughs] although I am very passionate about wine. I do like to try and discover new wine and always keep myself open to learn more about it. I also appreciate a nice bottle of wine especially when I want to drink and share it with friends.

Pasta or rice?

Definitely pasta [smiles].

Pineapple on pizza or no?

Are you insulting me? [laughs] I’ve never seen a pizza with pineapple on it in Italy. And it doesn’t and shouldn’t exist in the Italian world. So, no pineapple.

What do you eat for guilty pleasure?

Caviar.

How often do you prepare your own meals at home?

Not as much since we are normally at the restaurant all the time so we just cook and eat there. So approximately I’d say I cook at home about two times a month.

What is your favorite tool in the kitchen?

The sous vide machine. It is such a great tool that helps to cook the ingredients whilst keeping their true flavours intact. By using the sous vide technique to cook your food, it will help to maintain the tenderness, moisture and all the nutrients which belong to the ingredients.

Do you find it challenging having to constantly create?

I love creativity and as a cook, I’d say I’m a very creative person. However, what challenges me the most about the creative process in the kitchen is creating “the perfect” dish.

Three things that make you a chef?

Passion, creativity and determination.

What’s your biggest pet peeve in the kitchen?

When people cook carelessly, that’s my biggest pet peeve in the kitchen. Cooking is an act of love, you can’t and shouldn’t be careless when you do it.

What is your biggest regret in life?

Nothing. I am honestly happy with all the things I am doing and did.

What is your greatest fear?

Getting stuck in a broken elevator.

Your advice to aspiring chefs?

Be ready to work hard, stay humble and never think that you are already successful enough because there is always something to learn.

If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Tuna. It is one of my absolute favourite foods to eat.

Unexpected party. What do you cook?

A pasta dish because pasta always makes everyone happy!

It’s your last supper. What do you eat?

One kilogram of Beluga caviar with charcoal-grilled Sardinian country bread.

Last but not least, what’s for dinner?

Come to Acqua Restaurant and I’ll show you what I eat!

Kankanit Wichiantanon
Writer, Bangkok
Kankanit is a writer by day and a baker by night. If there’s one thing you should know about her, it’s that she can wax poetic about food 24/7. Her daily routine is writing, cooking, eating, repeat. They are the things that inspire her from morning 'til night.