On The Pass with Chef Steven John

Written by Christopher Menning | April 20, 2021

Chef Steven John plating dishes

Having celebrated its third birthday as of this year, The Empty Plates dining concept has been in full swing, with Chef Steven John making waves in the F&B scene. From serving creative dishes to hungry diners in his own home to now private dining in various unique locations, he has taken his own twist on fine dining to new heights.

Steven’s Thai/ Swiss background is evident in his cuisine. He uses a wide array of  Asian flavours alongside classic European dishes. One such dish featuring on his latest menu being smoked duck breast, smoked leaks, “ratatouille”, white sweet potato with fermented soybean sauce in coconut. 

We caught up with Steven at one of his pop-up’s at the popular Smalls bar in Sathorn to learn more about his concept and learn what is next for Empty Plates Bangkok.

Chef Steven John plating up dishes for Empty Plates

Tell us about the appeal of Private dining?

There are a few different points that are very appealing to me. After running a private chef’s table at my home for over 2 ½ years, it was just refreshing for me personally to get away from home! It also expanded the range of people I could serve, it gave me an opportunity to cook for a bigger number of guests, organize bigger events at rental locations, get to see nice houses, apartments etc.

I’ve instantly also noticed the difference in the comfort level of my clients. When you meet your clients at their home, they are completely relaxed, totally themselves and they let their guard down, which is a good thing. Sometimes people cramp up or can’t really be themselves when they dine out, they feel pressured by the environment, how to dress, how to sit, talk or behave. In a private setting, this all goes away and it makes it very enjoyable and special in my opinion.

As a chef, I don’t have to cook the same menu every week. Every group has different dietary restrictions or food allergies I have to take into account. Every week is a new challenge to put together tasting menus that my clients will be able to indulge in.

Where did your cooking philosophy come from?

From all the places I’ve eaten around the world that were memorable, inspirational and utterly delicious, if it’s streetfood or fine dining. I tried to put all the things I like in one box and create my own philosophy. My philosophy since the start is “fine dining made simple” – cook with ingredients people are familiar with but present them in a different light, be creative but don’t just do it for the show effect, maximize my limited resources and show that you don’t need to go to culinary school to create scrumptious and beautiful plates.

Can you tell us about some of the food you often cook/ ingredients you love to use?

Well, that’s a tricky question because the ingredients I love to use sometimes do not align with what your customer base wants. Many chefs say they cook whatever they want, doesn’t matter what their guests think. I can’t be that way, at the end you have to please your customers. If it was me, my menu would always be stacked with dishes like my Ants-Egg Betel Leaf Sandwich, Venison Tataki or Foie Gras stuffed Frogs Legs, but you can’t always go all out like that. You have to know when to take a risk and when to play it safer. I love to use seasonal ingredients, I try to use as many local ingredients as I can, but I’m not afraid to use luxurious, imported ones too. One of my favourite local ingredients is local, wild giant tiger prawns from Satun, which I can get fresh every day.

Guests enjoying a meal at Empty Plates

What is one of your star/ most popular dishes right now?

A dish that is very popular right now is the Pork & Cabbage dish. I cook a meaty pork belly for 24 hours infused with bourbon, it’s very succulent, tender and fatty, it’s paired with homemade spicy sauerkraut, a sauerkraut puree, dehydrated cabbage cheeto chips, pork fat crumble and crispy chicharron.

What does the future hold for Empty Plates?

Very difficult to answer due to the time we are living in. I stopped setting goals a while ago. The sky’s the limit as long as I feel the same passion and love I have for cooking, hosting and making people happy with my food. I have many ambitions, but let’s see for ourselves into what Empty Plates and myself can evolve to.

What would you like to see more of to help Gastronomic tourism in Thailand?

I’d like to see a bit more honesty again, I feel like some have lost touch with why they are in the food business. Customers aren’t stupid, you can milk people’s money only for so long.

I’d like to see more independent restaurateurs and chefs, who aren’t tied to big money investors. I’d like to see chefs become more professional outside the kitchen as well when you do collaborations and that food is judged fairly without any “political” incentives.

To learn more about Empty Plates

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