Jérôme Coldefy in his Bangkok apartment.
Don’t let his simple kitchen fool you. Jérôme Coldefy has cooked unforgettable dinners in more unusual settings and offbeat locations, from the pavements of Chinatown to a yacht off an island near Koh Samui.
The French chef behind Bel Ami, the niche “pop-up dinner” service he started nearly eight years ago in Bangkok, likes to create tailor-made menus and unique atmospheres for his clients and their guests. A lobster stew is best enjoyed in an artist’s atelier next to the river, while a fricassée of snails thrills visitors at a private residence in the capital.
Coldefy’s cuisine — and notion of dining — is like no other in Thailand. Often set in atypical locations, minimalist or even ramshackle, his banquets can be modern interpretations of lavish “Grand siècle” dinners or friendly, intimate suppers. French restaurants in Bangkok are mostly characterised by pomp and ceremony, the Auvergne native says.
“Eight people are crammed in a kitchen just to decorate your plate,” he adds. “It’s beautiful, but where’s the taste? Where’s the joy? And where’s the sharing?”
Instead of a 12-course meal, where guests are fidgeting with their smartphone cameras and waiters interrupt the conversation every now and then with the next dish, Coldefy offers classic, hearty French cuisine.
French comté, to be paired with a glass of Pouilly Fumé or Chablis and served along with apples or walnuts.
“I like to cook generous food that people will enjoy eating while drinking good wine. Suddenly, you’ll find that conversations flow better,” he explains.
Setting himself apart from the austere nouvelle cuisine trend, Coldefy takes inspiration from French gastronomy masters like Fernand Point or Paul Bocuse. The meals that he offers are neither heavy nor light, but always tasty, with special attention being paid to the ingredients he hand-picks.
Working almost entirely with products imported from France, he rarely presents the same menu twice, his dishes evolving with the seasons. To ensure the fine quality of his cuisine, he requires that importers source his ingredients from specific locations.
“Lobsters come from Roscoff in Brittany. Foie gras is imported from the Lot region,” he says, while his black truffles, girolle mushrooms and white asparagus are also flown in from France. “Beef is either Argentinian or Tasmanian. Lamb comes from salt marsh meadows, where the animals are raised on grasses with higher iodine content, giving their meat a distinct taste.”
‘The best French bakery in Bangkok’ — Amantee’s bread, made with stone-ground organic flour.
A true gourmet, Coldefy likes artisanal products such as Bordier butter and bread from Amantee — “the best French bakery in Bangkok”, he adds, where stone-ground organic flour is still used. “I only work with quality products. There’s no way you would get the same taste and result with industrial butter or creams,” he says of two keystone ingredients in French cuisine.
Indeed, his method is distinctively Gallic. In a country with deep-rooted regional traditions, the simplest, freshest ingredients are often the best.
Coldefy was born in Auvergne and spent a large part of his childhood in his grandmothers’ kitchens. While he grew up in Paris, he spent his holidays in the countryside, visiting inns and tasting traditional delicacies. One of his fondest memories is of a cottage in a hamlet near the city of Clermont-Ferrant.
“When you entered, you would think that you just walked into a basket full of girolle mushrooms,” he says, his face lighting up with a smile.
Bel Ami’s lobster and morels.
A self-trained chef, he initially worked as a commercial director in the food business, but enjoyed the company of Michelin-starred chefs, from whom he often received suggestions and advice.
“Whenever I wanted to impress a very special client, I didn’t take him to lunch or dinner in a restaurant but cooked for him instead,” he adds.
This is the underlying idea behind Coldefy’s Bel Ami. In a city such as Bangkok, with a wide array of dining options, why not treat yourself to a unique, customised experience? Coldefy elaborates his menus with his clients, depending on their tastes and those of their guests, as well as the ambience they’ve set for the dinner.
While he needs between four and 10 days advance notice to gather his ingredients, the French chef strives for simple but tasty, elegant dishes.
These fresh vegetables come straight from Rungis, the Parisian wholesale market, south of the French capital.
“I rarely cook more than four or five courses, otherwise the taste buds become saturated,” he explains.
While he has prepared private dinners in homes or art galleries, what he enjoys most are the magical settings provided by Bangkok’s old buildings. “The city has an incredible historical heritage. It would be a shame not to take advantage of it.”
Holding a dinner on a theatre stage, or — for a decadent feel — inside Charoen Krung’s old Customs House or Sathon’s ghost tower are among the chef’s fantasies. “I would love to cook for a dinner in the middle of ruins. Just add a grand piano with a musician, and voila.”
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Small Ratte potatoes can be simply steamed and served with thick crème fraîche and caviar, Coldefy says.
Roscoff, a commune in Brittany, isn’t only known for its picturesque architecture but also for its delicious lobsters.
Cooking up a storm.
Fresh black truffles from France.