From Boodle Fights To Beachside Dining At This Palawan Resort Getaway
Resort hotels may evoke sunshine, an easy-going lifestyle, and going into relax mode, but for Alex Atthasarn, executive chef at Club Paradise, life is anything but laid back
One of my favorite resorts in the Philippines would have to be Club Paradise on Dimakya Island, Palawan. One takes a flight to Busuanga, then a 15-minute bus ride to the private jetty, and you’re off by speedboat to the island resort. In some 30 minutes, the welcome view of the island with its pristine beach and coral formation comes into view, and your mind instantly switches to de-stressed mode. You’re thinking of days spent snorkeling or scuba-diving, lying in a hammock, enjoying sunset cocktails, and a massage at night. It’s island life, and there’s nothing like the sea air, or countless stars in the sky at night, to whet your appetite.
Club Paradise General Manager Joegil Escobar is a master at making you feel that Club Paradise is your second home; and Executive Chef Phaithoon “Alex” Atthasarn more than meets your expectations on the food and beverage side. Hailing from Thailand, he used to be in charge of the Asian restaurant at a five-star Makati hotel before taking on the kitchen reins at Club Paradise. But if you think the relaxed lifestyle extends to Chef Alex’s kitchen, think twice—it’s a tightly run ship that needs to be on its toes all the time, anticipating the needs (and whims) of the resort’s guests who come from all over the world.
Invited to join Discovery Group’s CEO Jun Parreno and Director of Sales & Marketing Cathy H. Nepomuceno at Club Paradise during their Top Producers Awards getaway, I had the chance to watch Chef Alex in action, and talk to him about running the F&B of a resort hotel.
“We try to create meals and food options that are close to home for our guests. The food selection is more relaxed; it’s comfort food, and personally, I love it when they use their hands. Our very popular Boodle Fight is an example of how this philosophy works precisely because it’s being served in a resort environment, and not in a city hotel,” he explains. “We change the menu at least twice in the year, and the suggestion of our guests is very welcome. Naturally, we cater to the palates of both local and international guests.”
While I loved Chef Alex’s Fried Vietnamese Spring Rolls, the one item that took me by surprise, which I queried him about, was his Edamame Hummus. Chef Alex was smiling when he explained how they were improvising and thought it would be a good new option for vegetarians. It is really good! And with Chef Alex being Thai, make sure to look out for his Pad Thai, Beef Salad, and red and green curries.
Club Paradise happens to take its environmental mission seriously. “We’re also very big on sustainability because we are an island property. Our nearby Taranuman farm supplies us with our mint leaves, Thai basil, galangal, eggplant, lemongrass, and more. The welcome drink of Cucumber-Calamansi involves ingredients all grown on the farm,” describes Chef Alex. “It’s our version of farm-to-table for several dishes offered at our Firefish Restaurant. And we’re expanding this to mud crabs, shrimps (from) our own seafood farm, as the island is a no-fishing zone.”
At this point, Manager Joegil chimes in, “The way we look at it, we are just the visitors on Dimakya Island, and the efforts towards sustainability and protecting the environment is not just a matter of being state-compliant, but it’s the culture and way of life for everyone working at the property—and we invite our guests to be part of this advocacy.”
Club Paradise implements its EcoConserve program, spearheading four initiatives: Sea Guardians, Green Thumb, GarMa for garbage management, and FEW Champs, where FEW stands for fuel, energy, and water efficiency. Joegil elaborates, “As Sea Guardians, we do regular beach and ocean clean-ups, coral plantings, and there’s no fishing allowed in the area. Dimakya is a nesting site for hawksbill and green sea turtles, so we’re very proud and protective about this—we make a ceremony of our releasing the hatchlings to the sea.”
What I loved about shadowing Chef Alex while he worked was his rapport with his line crew. When I requested he pose for me in the kitchen, he automatically called for his staff to join him in the photo, and you see the result.
That teamwork was put into action to prepare the arrival lunch of the Top Producers. I had checked in the day before, and saw his team create from scratch a really great outdoor set-up beside the clubhouse to seat some 40 people. A squall arrived, drenching all of us, and so they packed up and created a new set-up inside Firefish Restaurant. At this point, the guests had not arrived yet due to some flight delay. Well, when they finally arrived, the weather had cleared up, and the decision was made to revert to the original outdoor set-up. This involved a number of chafing dishes and grilling on-the-spot. Chef Alex was pure grace under pressure, smiling throughout the changes, and making sure everything would delight the guests.
Mentally, that lunch alone had me saluting Chef Alex, and giving him my highest fives. I didn’t even want to think about the grand buffet he would prepare for the Awards night, or the two remote island meals he’d have to prepare the next day—a boodle fight lunch in an inlet some 40 minutes away, and a sunset by candlelight farewell dinner on a deserted island 10 minutes away.
Thinking of the logistics for preparing and cooking these meals were giving me a headache, so let’s just call Chef Alex “Captain Cool”!
Club Paradise, Dimakya Island, Coron, Northern Palawan