The tastiest recipe for happiness.
It’s not often that one meets someone so totally in love with what they do, it actually shines. Tyson Ophaso, his hair slicked back in the latest style, smiles, and gestures at his vast garden,
“I love what I do. I start the day in the garden picking fresh ingredients which I combine with happiness and my love of cooking.”
He brings with him the style and excellence learned from a long career in the US. That he has high standards is immediately obvious. A quick look at the kitchen tells you that this man is a master. Rows of copper pans give levity to the context of discipline.
At lunch, my fabulous slice of salmon crowns a circlet of fresh crunch-cooked zucchini and carrots picked that morning, basted with a wine-based sauce. At great value, and worth leaving the city center for. My friends agree. Welcome to Swan, where beauty and quality make for fine dining.
So how does a man who spent thirty-two years in the US, working in some of the finest establishments in New York and Los Angeles, end up in Souan Mone on the outskirts of Vientiane?
“Laos is my birthplace. I started to feel like I needed to reconnect with home. Nature was telling me I had to get moving. It took three years of planning as I was a corporate chef with a substantial hospitality business based in New York. We managed hotels, night clubs, restaurants, and food services. Our job was to design entire concepts in food and hospitality. I was traveling a lot and it was stressful. Corporate America demands high standards.”
“I guess the kicker was when I fell sick a few times. Nothing can capture the loneliness of being ill in a big city. Family is the best medicine.”
“I do miss the opera, theatre, the arts generally, and the convenience of living in a city with good public transport. Instead of Manhattan’s high-rise skyline I now have trees. I wake up in a garden instead of a crowded city. It doesn’t get better than this.”
“It all started in high school. I was fourteen and living in New York with my cousin. A friend suggested I work at his uncle’s restaurant. I agreed and was so glad I did. Watching the men and women cooking, peeling vegetables, juggling pots, flavoring food, was like theatre. I was entranced as they all had their role in this dream that ended with wonderful food. I was hooked.”
He’s been hooked since. The food I had at Swan is inventive, fresh, well balanced. Tyson mixes cultural references, a touch of chili in a tartare, the warm tang of basil on salmon. The zing of ginger.
Dinner was preceded by three amuse bouche, a tiny ball of grated carrot in a chair of seeds and nuts, followed by a tuna tartare resting on a bed of herbed cucumber, and to top this, a slice of just-cooked duck breast served with apple and a disc of pumpkin circled with a sauce made from Cointreau and passionfruit juice.
“I brought back the high standards. Yes, I do inspect kitchen staff’s hands,” he laughed as I tried to hide my own dirty nails from my own morning in the garden.
You must be thinking, that would cost a fortune – way out of my price range. That is five-star food. It follows the prices would reflect that. But Tyson’s philosophy does not equate quality with cost.
“I’m an investor. Not with money but with reputation, excellence, staff development, making a beautiful place that I hope will become a regular haunt for some. I hope our guests can leave their anxieties at the door and simply enjoy the beauty of the surroundings, the attention of my wonderful staff and the good food.”
“I realize I have to build clientele. It’s the same as planting seeds. You have to wait to get a result. I am hoping our reputation for value and excellence tempts people to come, even if it is out of town. In fact, that is why I chose this place. It did not remind me of Manhattan!”
Night. The moon cut through the spreading branches of the Poinciana still in bloom, and the air smelled of wet grass. As I wound down the path having just had two glasses of very good house wine and a variety of fabulous entrees, my thoughts were romantic. What a place to bring a lover; or a much-loved relative, a partner on an anniversary, or just yourself with a good book.
Swan is 6 km south of town in Souan Mone Village, Vientiane.
For more info visit facebook.com/swanrestaurantlaos