Home is where the heart is, and this chef has chosen to hang his toque in Phuket
Now in his early 40s, Flaxman was first exposed to cooking at the tender age of five _ not at all surprising when your family happens to be in the restaurant business. These days he is the executive chef at Villa Zolitude Resort & Spa, Phuket - a rainforest retreat with 30 private pool villas nestled on lush hillside offering panoramic views of Chalong Bay.
Soon after graduating in hotel management and catering from a college in England, Flaxman flew home to Zimbabwe and opened his own catering company.
Later, the talented young man returned to Europe to acquire more experience in the hotel industry.
He got the chance to travel around Europe as part of a team that did the catering for parties and other events hosted by high-end clients. He has also cooked for a string of internationally acclaimed entertainers, the likes of Bryan Adams and English house-music band M People.
Despite the success he's achieved at a relatively young age, Flaxman still comes across as a rather modest, self-effacing individual.
"I'm very lucky," he said. "Because in my childhood back there, I thought that when you were born in Africa, then you stay in Africa."
But the adage doesn't apply to everyone born on that continent, obviously.
"[Today] I have a house in Phuket. Although I come from Africa, my home town is Phuket [where his family includes three adopted children].
"I can't choose where I was born, but I can choose where I want to live, where I want to die. And I will die in Thailand. This is my home."
So what motivated you to come here in the first place?
It started during a movie-premiere party in London for The Beach [which was filmed in Thailand] where I was part of the culinary team. That stirred in me a yearning to visit Thailand. Leonardo [DiCaprio] was also present at the event.
After doing that party, I just knew I had to go to Thailand. It was so inspiring.
After that, I got together a group of 10 chef friends from various countries to visit Phuket for two weeks at the same time every year [after that] for holidays.
And then it got to a stage that I never wanted to go back home [to Europe]. So one day I packed my bags, not knowing what I would be doing, and just came to Thailand.
What did you do then?
When I first moved to Thailand, in 2004, I worked at Watermark Restaurant in Phuket, then I went to Koh Samui. Afterwards I decided to move to Singapore [as an instructor for Sodexo to teach chefs about hygiene, safety in the kitchen, Western cooking techniques and how they can be applied in Asia] and followed that up with an assignment to work in the Maldives as a private chef, before returning to Thailand.
What's your work philosophy?
What inspires me is to teach people to open their minds to whatever is out there. I also enjoy the 'wow factor' when I present my dishes to guests and they say 'wow!'. I get a lot of pleasure from people saying 'it's fantastic' or 'the dish has a wonderful flavour'. That makes me very happy.
Cooking a well-made dish comes down to basic cooking techniques. First thing is the smell, then the visuals, then the taste. All of your senses have to be ignited to create a fantastic dish.
For example, at the moment our signature dessert is banana pizza. The inspiration is from banana roti in Thailand. The dessert has a pizza base with sliced banana and chocolate on top and then it's baked until the chocolate melts. It's a crispy pizza. And on top, instead of using cheese, we use roasted macadamia nuts. I guarantee if you order it once, you will order it again!
Is there any African dish that you'd recommend trying?
Piri-piri chicken, which is marinated roasted chicken. It originally came from Mozambique. Piri-piri is the name for a very small type of chilli, commonly known as African bird's-eye chilli. For me and my family, whenever we have a barbecue, we'll always have piri-piri chicken. The taste is spicy, herby and lemony all in one. My version of piri-piri chicken is the authentic taste from Africa, as I grew up there. It is served with potatoes and salad.
Do you have a particular working style?
In Asia and Thailand, you have to be diplomatic. If you are kind and caring, you can get anything from everybody. If you shout, scream and show you're angry by throwing pots and pans at your subordinates, you won't get anywhere.
I also like to interact with guests as it's important that they be able to see you and know that they can talk to you. There is much more to being a chef than cooking.
What are your plans for the future?
I'd like to learn more about royal Thai cooking. Although I know most of the basic Thai cooking techniques, I want to take it a step further by learning traditional royal Thai cuisine.
I'd also like to work with my partner and have a four- or five-room boutique hotel. I could take care of the restaurant and my partner could take care of the rooms and make it totally upscale.
Credit: Karnjana Karnjanatawe, Travel Writer - Bangkok Post