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Global Food Sourcing Developments

As the global food industry continues to evolve, the importance of efficient and innovative sourcing has never been greater. The upcoming launch of ‘Phenix’ by Asset World Corporation (AWC), Thailand’s leading integrated lifestyle real estate group, on June 26, 2024, marks a significant milestone in this domain. This pioneering world’s food wholesale hub, featuring the largest food lounge in Pratunam area at the central of Bangkok, and developed under the concept “Flavor Gets Its Wing Worldwide,” promises to revolutionize the way food buyers and sellers connect. It offers an integrated platform that seamlessly blends online and offline experiences, aiming to create market opportunities, support Thailand as a global food hub, and sustainably strengthen the Thai food industry.

In anticipation of this transformative event, we are thrilled to feature insights from one of the industry’s most respected figures, Executive Chef Sebastiaan Hoogewerf of The Okura Prestige Bangkok. With a distinguished career that spans over two decades and a commitment to culinary excellence, Chef Sebastiaan will be a special guest speaker at the ‘Phenix’ launch. His deep understanding of global food sourcing, coupled with his innovative approach to culinary arts, provides a unique perspective on the future of food procurement.

In this exclusive interview, Chef Sebastiaan shares his thoughts on the current trends and challenges in global food industry, the impact of technological advancements, and the potential benefits of Phenix’s integrated platform.

Join us as we explore these topics and gain invaluable insights from a culinary leader at the forefront of the industry.

Sebastiaan Hoogewerf -Global Food Sourcing Development

Close up with Executive Chef Sebastiaan Hoogewerf

Chef Sebastiaan, could you share your perspective on the current trends in global food sourcing? How have you seen this evolve over the years?

–  I think over the years the boundaries have slowly dissolved as technology and products has come in closer reach then ever for the chefs, nowadays almost anything imaginable is able to get within days disregarding the distance. A lot of high quality Japanese ingredients are now used and blended in many styles of cuisines particularly fine dining.

For example, in Dubai, Asia I have seen a lot of development in premium solutions for frozen seafood and fish, sometimes even better then “fresh” since such products are caught in prime conditions and with Japanese technologies they have managed to really set the time still and deliver a premium “seasonal” product, where as sold as “fresh” often get fished not in season and due too time and logistics looses its quality.

And of course digitalization of catalogues, daily offerings by vendors etc. have all been modernized where as you used back in the day receive dozen of catalogues by numerous vendors.

Also social media has played and still has  a big role in educating the public about the climate changes, health consciousness eating, ethically sourcing, and also even just simply discovering of new ingredients from other countries previously unknown to many.

As well a important factor is that we also slowly learning that sourcing isn’t always a never ending supply and we also have a mutual responsibility to tackle such issues as climate change, seasonality sourcing and protecting mother nature.

 

How do you think the launch of Phenix will impact the global food wholesale market, particularly for chefs and procurement teams?

–  As chefs we spend many hours sourcing the best quality seasonal, innovative and best value ingredients for our guests on daily base, and in this fast paced industry we lose efficiency from going to countless supplier catalogues, visiting annual food expo, researching new produce, to requesting samples, test cooking them and then finally negotiating the prices, creating quotation etc.

Phenix functions as a “one stop shop” where chefs/procurement can do all of the above time consuming processes much more efficiently, such as visiting the supplier, examining the produce and even make use of test kitchens and do the negotiations with vendor all in one place and in one time, which create more valuable time behind our beloved stove and produce great food for our guests.

See it almost as a 365 days per year food expo and more..

Given your extensive experience with Michelin-starred establishments, how important is the quality of sourced ingredients in maintaining culinary excellence?

–  The seasonal high quality produce is of most highest importance in all of our restaurants which all make use of seasonal menus, for example seasonal Kaiseki in our Yamazato, Japanese fine dining restaurant, and seasonal menus for our 1* Michelin Star restaurant Elements, Inspired by Ciel Bleu where we serve Japanese Cuisine with Japanese Influence. To keep such standards, we work closely with our vendors in Japan, Europe and local farmers network and often myself and or my chefs visit the farms or markets overseas to see what produce quality is seasonally the best and discover new products and doing so for many years these vendors have learned to know our quality criteria.

Sebastiaan Hoogewerf -Global Food Sourcing Development

Can you discuss any challenges you face in sourcing high-quality ingredients for The Okura Prestige Bangkok? How do you overcome these obstacles?

–  The most difficult but also most important part is consistency. Over the past few years we have seen climate changes, which disturbed the seasonal produce, also we have faced challenges in the supply chain due too political issues globally such as the red sea route or simply premium products getting more scarce.

We work with over 120 suppliers for our F&B outlets and we always research new sources, testing of new innovative produce and as well as making use of multiple seasonal sources, Japan, Europe and Thailand offering then a very diverse arsenal to create amazing seasonal dishes.

As a chef I believe its our responsibility to respect mother natures offerings and also work closely together with farmers and vendors and anticipate global changes/challenges.

As well I think its our responsibility to educate younger generations and even our guests to what seasonally is responsibly available, and not just expecting items to be around 365 days per year, when I grew up we cook with the produce available in that season, and ultimately at its prime.

A chef must invest his time in product research to be able creatively overcome any challenge. For example myself have done recently a 2500km road-trip through the North of Thailand, when visiting farmers, this really made me proud of Thailand to see so much passion and hard work they put in their produce, high quality fresh ingredients which 15 years ago were unthinkable.

Sebastiaan Hoogewerf -Global Food Sourcing Development

Phenix aims to integrate online and offline food trading platforms. How do you think this will benefit chefs and restaurants globally?

–  As mentioned earlier, any time saved from the sourcing and procurement aspect of our work will be greatly benefitting in putting those hours behind the stove and developing your establishment and of course taking care of our beloved guests.

With sustainability becoming a major focus in the food industry, what steps do you take to ensure sustainable sourcing of ingredients?

In the last few years Thailand has enormously grown in their farming capabilities, in particular the consistency of high quality produce, and being here for nearly 15 years I have established a very fast network of farmers and vendors which I also personally visit to see how our produce is grown responsibly, and for example reduced packaging materials we swapped to a container system where vendors bring the produce in basically without packaging as we used to see in the old days, where others has been swapped to bio degradable versions. Other developments such as aeroponic grown lettuce and inhouse grown microgreens in used coconut skin vessels are all steps into a brighter future.

Could you highlight any particular ingredients or products that you believe will become more prominent in the global food market in the coming years?

I think we will see more of “Cultured fish” which would tackle the challenges of overfishing, ocean pollution, and climate change.

Plant-based, health beneficial

Seasonal, local, sustainable and responsible sourced.

How do you ensure that the ingredients sourced from global markets meet the high standards required for a Michelin-starred kitchen?

Of course we sample every single ingredient and monitor the entire supply chain, we visit the source, and maintain close connections with such premium vendors.as mentioned most importantly is too maintain consistency and have a great communication with the source of product, having access to daily fresh Japanese supplies to our restaurants and very blessed to have a 63 year old Japanese master chef in our brigade which provides us of great knowledge in premium Japanese produce and techniques

Sebastiaan Hoogewerf -Global Food Sourcing Development
Sebastiaan Hoogewerf -Global Food Sourcing Development

The Okura Prestige Bangkok has a reputation for its Japanese Seasonal Afternoon Tea. How do you source and select the ingredients for these unique offerings?

–  For our seasonal Japanese floral afternoon (Sakura, Lavender, Koyo (autumn) winter Tsubaki) we get inspirations of seasonal offerings from Europe, Japan and Thailand.

For example in autumn we use Japanese Dekopon & Mikan, French Maroon, French & Thai Chocolate, so seasonality really plays a key role for us and researching multiple seasonal available produce is our strength to get out our maximum creativity throughout our culinary offerings.

What role do you see technology playing in the future of food sourcing and procurement?

–  I think technology will play a bigger role in near future to shorten time consuming processes, and very importantly is to connecting vendors closely to chefs, as I think that  is very important for any chef to have full access to what produce is currently available to get inspirations for new menus and dishes.

Also internal purchase processes such as in hotels with multiple outlets has already been advancing with ability to approve/order or alter PR’s on the mobile phone or table, where as in past a exc chef would constantly had to move back to a desktop for such things and now any location can this be done saving a lot of time.

How important is it for chefs to build strong relationships with suppliers? Can you share any personal experiences where this has benefited your culinary creations?

–  It’s extremely important to have strong relationship with vendors as they learn to know your criteria and you build a thrust that they will supply you only with the best produce available and often so in very challenging time frames.

Yes for example in my new concept “Afternoontea Omakase” where we bring traditional hightea with a more funky modern twist served at our Sushi Omakase Counter every 3d weekend in the month.

By having gained a network of local farmers I have sparked my creatitivy out of there offerings such as local Thai cacao, stingless bee honey,single origin vanilla,organic lemons,mountain salts, Northern fresh vegetables,mushrooms,local produced cheese, caviar etc many items of which many chefs didn’t know they are available in Thailand.

 

Phenix features amenities like the Taste Kitchen and Food Lounge. How do you think these facilities will enhance the experience for chefs and buyers?

–  Such features would create amazing opportunities to directly test cook and sample interesting products and food you even could bring your potential client for a food-tasting, or demonstrations, plus creating a complete wholesome experience where you could combine sourcing, test cooking, supplier visiting and sampling new foods all at once. Plus there will be so much more as international cooking competitions with live-feeds, concerts with chef-table facility, and many more. The first ever event and concert there with famous artist Lisa Ono will be proudly catered by our Yamazato & Elements restaurant on 6th July.

Can you share your thoughts on the impact of global food sourcing on local food cultures and cuisines?

–  Top tourist destination cities such as Bangkok with amazing world renowned Thai cuisine will always draw huge demand for its amazing flavorful and diverse cuisine and premium fresh fruits, such demand creates thankfully also a lot of job opportunities for many people and with the arrival of the Michelin Guide Thailand 7 years ago it only became bigger and better and really currently putting Thai cuisine and Thailand as a premium culinary destination as a very strong contender.

Also is Thai cuisine continue its popularity abroad and we first hand experienced and supporting this by currently providing Thai cuisine promotions and masterclasses in our sister hotels in Okura Taipei and in September at the Okura Manila.

How do you stay informed about new and emerging trends in the global food market?

–  I’m fortunate enough to really say that I don’t “work” but I see this profession as my big passion, so any travel I make in Thailand or abroad I always open to keep learning new techniques, new flavours, new ingredients,

I think us as chefs never stop learning and should always be humble and open to learn, the real artist remains mother nature and its our job to respect and let the produce shine in our dishes.

I strongly believe that in our job the most important is the fundamentals you have to understand to be able to create your own signature in your style of cooking, new generations often starting first days with tweezers, mini pallet knifes and shortcut molecular wizzardy they saw on Youtube, tiktok or elsewhere, but controlling the basics would be my best advice for any young chef.

What advice would you give to young chefs and culinary professionals about sourcing ingredients and maintaining high standards in their kitchens?

–  In your early years, put your head down and roll up your sleeves, work hard, be eager to learn , be the first one in the kitchen last one out, learn basic techniques, be a sponge to your mentors,

Don’t run before you walk, learn from trial and error, be firm but fair, learn discipline and work as a team at all times.

Travel and discover ingredients and different cultures and cuisines ,explore, talk with farmers, taste everything, demand the best quality for your guests and understand that consistency, seasonality, passion is the key.

Always stay hungry to feed your creativity and Never let a mistake leave the kitchen

Food for Thought

Technology is at the heart of the revolution in the global food wholesale market, exemplified by platforms like Phenix. It is transforming how buyers and sellers connect, streamlining the procurement process, offering real-time access to a vast array of products, and facilitating seamless business negotiations.

The integration of online and offline platforms not only enhances efficiency but also expands opportunities for global collaboration. By leveraging technology, the Phenix platform ensures accessibility to a diverse network of buyers, traceability, quality assurance, and sustainability in sourcing. These elements are crucial for maintaining high culinary standards, driving the food industry forward, and fostering strong growth.

As we embrace these advancements, it’s essential to consider how technology will continue to shape the future of food procurement.

  • How can digital platforms further improve the accessibility and reliability of global food sourcing?
  • What role will emerging technologies, such as blockchain and AI, play in ensuring transparency and efficiency in the supply chain?