“I spent around 2 years cooking classic, traditional dishes, teaching myself the basics of cooking until I felt able to take what I learned to the next level, which was creating my own style of cooking and using modern cooking techniques.”
When you look at these beautifully-plated masterpieces, you’d be surprised to know that they were made by the hands of someone with a heavy finance background. However, connecting the dots to the culinary world isn’t as far off as you think it is. Chef Steven John is a testament to this and proves that insatiable curiosity and affinity for adventure can go a long way regardless of what field you’re in.
Steven started his career in wealth management and stock trading in Switzerland. After a few years, an immersive trip to Thailand to explore his cultural roots became a turning point in his life. The beauty of the magical Land of Smiles enamored him to migrate and pursue a job in management for a kitchen supply company. Unbeknownst to Steven, that gave him an introduction and piqued his interest in the professional cooking industry.
“I moved to Thailand 11 years ago, my mum is from Bangkok and I was always curious about my Thai roots. After not coming to Thailand since my childhood, I had an opportunity to visit again and travel for 4 months as a young adult. I instantly fell in love with its people, the culture, the food, and natural beauty. After I had to return to Switzerland, I’ve decided to look for a job in Thailand. 6 months later, I moved here for good.”
He was no more than an occasional home cook at the time; diving earnestly into cookbooks and series of YouTube videos as his guide and reference. In 2013, Steven took a chance and worked for a newly-opened aviation recruitment center where he was often required to travel and train candidates of various descent. He took this opportunity to learn more about the Asian culture and gastronomy— its techniques, its local flavors and ingredients, and everything else that makes the continent an unparalleled culinary hub.
He trotted the globe to explore restaurants one after another. He even made use of his day-offs to work in some of them to gain professional kitchen experience and take up the challenge of being in an actual set-up where quality and agility need to be met despite the heated pressure of the constant movements of pans and woks. It wasn’t long until he mastered the fundamentals of cooking and developed a trademark that made him a true chef.
“I take a lot of pride in sauce making & cooking meats. Sauce is king. I dedicated a lot of time to the process and it shows in the taste. After dining in a 3 Michelin star restaurant in Switzerland a few years ago, I was so amazed by every sauce served. This chef is especially known for sauce making, he told me that night that they go through a crazy amount of bones for stocks and use a lot of wines. This led me to start investing more in stock making, if its quail, beef, veal, chicken, vegetable, or fish stocks. It's every base for a great sauce.”
“Flavorful, colorful, creative, surprising, cohesive, and delicious” is how Chef Steven describes his cooking. Inspired by the freshness of ingredients, its colors, and textures, he likes to utilize different textures, temperatures, and techniques to cook. “It's all about flavor and taste for me. Of course, I want the plates to look pretty and I love plating, but in the end, it’s all about taste,” he stated. “You can definitely taste the influences of my upbringing; the term fusion is so scrutinized but there are a lot of European elements and Thai elements or elements from foods around the world I like that go into my dishes.”
Get to know him more:
TABLE: For you, what is the least underrated food?
Steven: As long it's delicious, I can’t come up with any overrated cuisine or food.
T: What is the most underrated food?
A: Lamb. So many people don’t like it due to being maybe smelly when they tried it before. Lamb cooked right is very delicious and one of my favorite meats to eat
T: What is your favorite Thai food?
A: Issan food is my favorite regional food. But if it's narrowed down to one dish, it must be “Poo Nim Pak Phoong Gaeng Curry” (softshell crab curry).
T: If you could refer a restaurant to anyone, what would it be?
S: Go to Eat Me in Silom Soi Convent. For me, that’s the best place in town. I would recommend to start with a “larb moo” cocktail and then try your way through their a la carte menu.
T: What do you enjoy doing outside the kitchen?
S: I enjoy doing sports (basketball, gym, swimming), exploring the food in the city, going to fresh markets, and visiting the countryside to find new ingredients and meet local farmers besides spending time with family or friends.
T: Lastly, pineapples on pizza?!?
S: Used to love it as a kid, [but I] don’t like it that much anymore as an adult. [So] For me, it’s a no. I don’t discriminate against others if they like it though.
After years of never-ending learning and hosting dinner parties in his tiny apartment, he took things to the next level by doing pop-up events and officially opening his own venture called Empty Plates come May 2018.
Empty Plates, in itself, is a summary of the gastronomic journey than Chef Steven has embarked on. Serving a specialty 6 to 10-course tasting menu in a unique renovated unit on the 23rd floor overlooking Bangkok, you would get to savor and understand the different influences and passion that he has put in his work—all of the countries that he has been in, all the chefs that he has met, and all the nights he sacrificed to relentlessly perfect his craft; meticulously integrated to produce something only he can do.
Empty Plates is more than a restaurant. It’s a curated dining concept valuing culinary and social experience where you get to bask in incredible food in a relaxed, private atmosphere—an exclusivity that makes it one-of-a-kind. The menu is tailored to the guests’ preference and has to be booked two days in advance for a night of impeccable food spectacle that will leave you in awe from start to finish.
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‘TABLE Talks’ is where we sit down with personalities behind masterpieces and have a chat about their passion and inspiration and how they impact the lifestyle community. We aim to recognize the people behind our favorite haunts and appreciate their craft and skills that revolutionize the industry.