Having worked for Chin Chin, Kong and Hawkers Hall, Golf Laovanich has become known for perfecting his ‘balance of flavours’. His new restaurant Spring and Summer has a fun and punchy menu that brings together the freshest taste of Asian cuisine. The menu will change seasonally and is designed to combine a selection of 3-4 dishes to create the perfect balance in flavours, a key component of Asian cuisine.
How long have you been cooking?
For the last 10 years. I used to own a Thai restaurant in New South Wales 4 or 5 years ago but this was like a dead end. It was very countryside and I think ok iy is time to do something else so I moved out to Melbourne three years ago and worked for the Lucas Group ; Chin Chin, Hawker Hall, Kong so I learned this and that from them and then I thought, ok it is time for me and I opened Spring and Summer.
Where did you learn to cook?
Actually I learned from my grandma. She inspired me. And then I thought ok I can do this.
What region are you from specifically?
From Thailand, Bangkok.
What kind of food would your grandmother cook?
Home style type food. It’s not that great, but it’s traditional. I grew up with that. So it’s going to be growing in me as well.
Are there things that your grandmother taught you now that you can still use now or do you have to use a totally different way of cooking here?
I use basically what I learned from her but because I learned a lot from the chefs I worked with, I twist it up a lot more. I worked for a Japanese restaurant and a Korean style restaurant so I pick this and that from them and make my own thing. But I still like…I want all the food out of my kitchen to have a lot of taste and balance. People can have a dish they have had before but it will be different from us. We like to take care of all the ingredients. You know Pad Thai but you have never had our Pad Thai before.
Ok. So is that because it’s more authentic or because you’re using really good ingredients and, as you say, taking care of the flavours.
What would be different about your Pad Thai?
Everyone thinks Pad Thai is just a sweet and sour thing. But for me I like to take it back to the traditional way. We use dried shrimp and preserved turnip because you can get a deeper flavour from them and more crunchiness. Every mouthful will give you something slightly different. I put in a little signature sauce and give it more depth.
That’s sounds interesting. I’ve heard Spring and Summer described as Pan-Asian, so that means you can go across various Asian styles?
One thing we don’t want to do is set Spring and Summer in the Thai region. We wan to do Korean, Japanese, Malaysian, we want to do everything that’s good for people. I can achieve that with an Asian background. We know how to do things and then we try and twist everything to Australian palates.
That’s a lot of regions to cover. How do you narrow that down for your menu?
We have started with a small menu, just 20 dishes. Then every 3 or 4 months we will change it up. This is our second month and when it gets to summer we will put on some different dishes that people might not know. For now we have just started so we need to put on dishes people feel comfortable to eat. If we put something different and challenging on, they won’t understand but I’ll just make sure that everything is ok for them to eat. Not too challenging or spicy. But some people like very very spicy. Then it is fun to cook for Melbourne people. Some people can’t handle spicy at all and some like it really really spicy, more than me. It’s good. Now we are trying to balance it for everyone.
So, apart from from your Grandma, where did you learn to cook; where did you do your apprenticeship?
Actually I did it with Kong a few years ago. I worked for them and did an apprentice chef thing. But I have worked in a lot of venues but before that I just cooked so then I got my certificate two years ago. But basically I already knew things.
The Asian thing is different from French cuisine anyway. So you make sauces and things differently. I didn’t learn anything from the book actually. I learned from experience.
Ok. And what about other people? Have their been particular people who have taught you things…apart from your grandma?
In the Asian tradition we don’t teach. For example, in Japanese cooking you have to cook rice in the kitchen for 10 years and then you have to cook omelette for another 5 years. Traditionally we just share things and see how things are done. We don’t follow recipes. We have to understand things. Like rice. That’s why you have to take 10 years. To make sushi, you have to understand rice. If you don’t understand, it won’t work. The rice is different in different seasons.
Are you saying it’s different in summer, for example, to winter?
Rice in summer time and the rice we grow in spring is different flavour and texture; softness. It tastes completely different. So you have to understand every ingredient you’re going to use first then you can use it.
Do you ever really know everything then or are you always learning?
I am learning every day. We share with each other. We have Korean chefs who do a different thing from Thai chefs and that will be different again from Japanese chefs.
Last night I just learned that we can use the water from the rice we wash to remove the smell from seafood. That’s’ the thing. That’s the good thing about being a chef; sharing and learning. Every day we can grow.
I love that. How long have you been open?
This is our second month. We opened on the 1st September.
Ok. That’s good. The first day of spring.
Yeah. We waited for that.
So the name Spring and Summer, what will that mean in autumn and winter?
This is a common question. We want everyone to come in and feel good all year around just like when the weather changes to spring, you have more variety of vegetables and we will use a variety of vegetables in our dishes. It is very Asian. We have a lot of colour in our dishes and texture. That’s my image of what I want to serve to people.
Have you cooked for your grandma now that you have been working in restaurants?
She had a taste but she said it’s too westernised. Because I cook for Australians, the taste is going to have a lot more going on than in the traditional. So for her it is too much, that’s what she said. She cooks basic food, but we are cooking commercially so we have to twist it a little bit, because otherwise people wouldn’t understand.
The dishes on the menu are changing and improving all the time. We had some people in last night and it was their third time and they said it had got better every time. That makes me happy.
Spring and Summer
192 Barkly Street, St Kilda
Wednesday – Friday 5:30pm – late
Saturday & Sunday 11:00am – late