Just Another Tomato in Thailand?

On the Southeast Asian island of Phuket, in Thailand, Trisara is not just another luxury resort with a lush backdrop of the Indian Ocean (though, admittedly, it is also that). The Sanskrit name means “Third Garden in Heaven,” and that garden also happens to grow prize tomatoes.

The kitchen also harbors another heavenly attribute: acclaimed chef Jim Ophorst, who recently won the national round of San Pellegrino’s Young Chefs award. With many of today’s celebrated chefs making grandiose claims and boasting intricate ingredients on their menus (that often read like a TV chef’s must-have laundry list), it’s refreshing to find a laid-back, back-to-basics, ingredient-driven chef.

Here Ophorst talks about an amuse-bouche he serves that features a tomato from his own resort farm, Pru Jampa, which supplies the restaurant. It sets the tone for a dinner at the restaurant.

World Tomato Society: What is special about this tomato amuse-bouche?

Jim Ophorst: That it’s just a tomato, cooked in a different way. It brings to life the ultimate flavor of just a simple tomato. It has a fresh, light, and intense flavor.

WTS: Can you identify the tomato varietal? 

JO: We use the Aperitif tomato because of its intense, sweet flavor.

WTS: What are the main ingredients in the dish, and where are they from? 

JO: It’s mainly tomato cooked together with homemade yogurt, basil oil, and a crumble of coriander. The tomato, basil, and coriander are from our own farm, Pru Jampa. The milk to make the yogurt is from a small shop in nearby Baan Don, where they sell milk from cows raised in Krabi.

WTS: What are the steps you take to cook the tomato?

JO: The tomato is boiled first to peel off the skin. Then we make the tomato crispy: We slice it very thin and cover it with icing sugar, then place it in the dehydrator for one night. This will let the icing sugar caramelize and the tomato get crispy. Granita is a frozen ice powder made from anything you want; we make it from tomato and a special vinegar. This is to create different temperatures and textures.

WTS: What was the inspiration behind this amuse-bouche?

JO: We wanted to showcase how flavorful a tomato can be, if you grow them yourself organically, as we do at Pru Jampa. To cook with fewer ingredients and still pull up the flavors is always challenging—but in this case, we can show the amazing flavor of “just a tomato.”

WTS: Do you grow other types of tomatoes at the farm? 

JO: At this moment we have only one type of tomato at the farm, but we are running tests with 8 to 12 different kinds of tomatoes. From this experiment, we can see in a few weeks if we are able to grow them at the farm or not. It depends on the pH in the soil, the type of soil, and so on.

WTS: Can guests visit the farm or go foraging with the chef during their stay as a culinary activity?

JO: Yes, the guests can do that, but it needs to be booked in advance.