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Our Alumni Diaries
Naruemon Chitmonkongsuk

Le Cordon Bleu Dusit

Our alumni, Khun Aey - Naruemon Chitmonkongsuk, shares her success stories as being a director of Chez Charlie restaurant, a homemade style French restaurant where many French customers enjoy their meals and become regular customers.

Khun Aey together with Khun Suthat, the husband who inspired and supported her to open this restaurant, warmly welcomed us to their restaurant. Even if Chez Charlie is a small restaurant, it has a very nice atmosphere with stunning decoration representing the Eiffel Tower on the wall. It makes us feel like we are eating in Paris! to the most of our time, let's get to know them.

What's the story and the concept of this restaurant?
Aey: When I studied at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit, I don't think about opening a restaurant. I went there because I felt like it. French food is a kind of food that has so many aspects. I wanted to know about it so I studied and I really like it. When I brought food home from my practical session to "Khun Suthat", who normally doesn't like foreign food, he said "What is so delicious?" Much better that in restaurants or hetels we eat at.
Suthat: When I got to know French food, I started to like it. So I went to talk to my professor. He said that French food was classified as hi-end food. If you think you like it and you know Thai people like to do things for others, why don't you bring out French food, let people know it and make it affordable. It's the way to promote French food, as well as your passion. This was our first concern.
-- So we did quite a bit of research about the concept of our food a year before opening. Just open a restaurant, anyone can do it. But we thought about a restaurant that we really wanted to do. We had to think first. I told her there were many people who started up a business and ended up in a "grow or die" situation which had to be avoided at all costs. The 'die' part means you have to discard your business, even though you are disappointed to give up after investing so much time and money. This happens when a business cannot "grow" anymore. From this, we decided the concept: our food should be purely French, not fusion. We felt that we had to respect to its origins, its culture. For example, we eat Thai food abroad and feel that it's not really Thai food. It's the same. We decided to open a restaurant. We wanted to sell real French food. The Taste of the food must be real French food taste.

Where does the name Chez Charlie come from?
Aey: Charlie is our son's name. The word 'chez' means 'at' or 'place' in French. So, Chez Charlie means Charlie's place. We wanted to make a simple French restaurant where you come when you want to feel like eating at home or at a friend's place. Our son represents this idea.
Suthat: We try to make this concept work because when we talk about French food, people usually think about fine dining. An American customer said to us that he wanted to see more city restaurants with quality food like ours, where he could wear shorts and have fine dining at the same time.
Aey: Our concept revolves around home so one thing we really pay attention to is hygiene. For example, we have specific shoes to wear only in the kitchen. One of the rules in the kitchen is to keep the floor dry at all times. We are the first restaurant to over get 5 stars for hygiene from Health & Cuisine magazine and we got this pre-occupation with hygiene from Le Cordon Bleu Dusit.

What's the menu of the restaurant?
Aey: The menu is mainly composed of stews, crepes, soups and salads. All ingredients used here are the same as those used for fine dining. Crepes are like French "rice and curry". We chose crepes because they're easy to eat. We don't want to make crepes, and the stuffing and roll them. We want to make our crepes as fine dining food. Insteading of serving them in fine dining fashion, we serve the stuffing on the crepes, which looks trendy. Out stuffing is cooked and made with an old style French pan, just like at school. We have for example Chicken Apple Walnut Crepes, Ratatouille Crepes or Smoked Salmon Crepes.
-- We concentrate on customer's health through encouraging better nutrition and hygiene. We use only organic vetgetables and fruits from the Royal Project for our salads like Chicken Breast Salad. We also use more organic and high quality eggs and meat. French dressing is sugar free. A 60 year-old American customer said "this was not a salad but food. He'd never had any salad that tasted so delicious before and that's why it was food, not a salad."
-- We don't put cream in our soup. Our lamb stew doesn't have any lamb scent. When we prepare the lamb, I trim it myself for 3 hours to make sure I don't serve fat or parts that should not be in our customers' plates. The food showcase you can see when you walk in is there to show the storing temperature of our food. What you see is what you get!
-- Fruits are freshy-cut for our blended fruit juices to serve in freeze glasses. They are sugar free - we use honey instead and only add a little bit of ice. Drinking water or water we use for cooking is very well strained. We use good quality ingredients because we respect food. We make every dish just like we would for our family. Each customer benefits from being provided with healthy food.
-- The preparation of our restaurant's menu is another concept; we apply cooking and conservation techniques we studied. For example, for ratatouille, we cut each vegetable at the same size, as the school taught me. We make our customers benefit from what we learned and what the chefs taught us.
-- Some customers asked us what our signature dishes are. We told them we didn't have one because every single dish is our signature. This comes from our customers because they think "every dish is delicious". Some customers trust us a lot and ask us to make whether we want to cook for them, for example, five customers came in and asked us to serve fine dining food. If we have all ingredients we can certainly do it. Other customers brought prawns and asked us to cook for any dishes.
-- Even if we only use nice ingredients, we don't charge a very high price because we want our customers to be able to afford our food. We want Thai people to understand French food. Some customers were shocked when they realized we used organic vegetables, while still charging a low price.

Who are the customers?
Aey: Actually, we wanted to open this restaurant for Thai customers. But only few Thai customers come here, around 5 percent. There are days we almost don't have any Thai customers. French tourists come here quite a lot. They are curious as to how Thai people can cook real French food. So they come here to see for themselves. Some don't even speak English at all. They ask to see utensils or the kitchen.
--Some said it was like a kitchen in France when they saw it. Some asked how we could know how to cook or serve like this, where we learned since we're not French. We told them we learned from Le Cordon Bleu Dusit, which then started a nice conversation in English.
--We received French companies for meetings here. They want to see the kitchen, looked at our stew pots to know whether they were iron or not. Well, our stew pots are made of iron just like in France.
--We are very lucky to serve very important customers, such as friends of Princess Galyani Vadhana. They said if the Princess Galyani Vadhana had been here, she would have come. French chefs from a famous restaurant came as well; we never expected to have such customers.

How was it when you studied at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit?
Aey: When I studied there, chefs were very strict but it was fun to learn this way. I told "Khun Suthat" about what I learned every day. When I came home, I used to rewrite everything until midnight. My husband said it was like I studied for a Master's degree.
Suthat: I saw she was very dedicated during her studies. She paid a lot of attention to details and wanted to improve, to see the difference between when she started and when she finished studying. And she really made a difference. Today, she is the one who cooks and is not limited to French food. She can cook any kind of food much better. She understands the basis and all the details that are important for cooking and she can adapt them.
Aey: During my studies, everyone saw me as a funny person, I like to talk and laugh. But in classes, I was very concentrated. I wrote down a lot of notes. During practical sessions, my friends always asked me why I looked so serious. I told them I had to because chefs took time to teach us. It was a good opportunity for us to learn from experienced chefs. I wanted to grab this chance and learn everything I could.
--I came in third place when I graduated the Supior Level. But I don't want to tell this to my customers. What matters is whether your food is good or not on a daily basis. The important thing is not the certificate with Le Cordon Bleu logos in it, but having customers wonder if your food is from Le Cordon Bleu. We have to acknowledge our institute's value, and not only rely on what is has given us. We also have to respect this institute.

What made this success?
Suthat: After being open for three months, a lot of people said it felt like it had already been open for 3-4 years. They asked how we managed to make it so perfect. We told them we were well prepared before open it. A lot of young people from the new generation want to open a restaurant so they enroll at Le Cordon Bleu to study. When they graduate, they open it. But when they're not ready, they keep changing their concept and goal. That's why we have had to prepare well since the beginning. For those who want to study at Le Cordon Bleu, you have to make it clear why you want to study so you won't be confused. Thus, you get what you really want to learn. And Le Cordon Bleu will have successors, not only the graduates from Le Cordon Bleu . This is very important.
--Another important aspect is when you cook, you have to respect food. Customers also respect your food in return. They eat eveything and trust you. During our first year opeing, from a business point of view, we cannot talk about satisfaction just yet. But we succeeded in what we wanted to do. We are happy to cook for our customers. We believe if we do good things, good things will come. Money should never be your sole purpose.
- The most important thing is to be very clear about concept we have. Back when I was about 20 years old, my frined wanted to open a book store because he loved to read. I told him when you work at a book store, you don't spend your time reading. Your job is to put books in bags. Passion and business are totally different. The same goal for people who love to eat and want to open a restaurant. Loving food and opening a restaurant are two completely different things. Cooking means staying in the kitchen the whole day; you have to cook and prepare dishes. This is why you have to be sure about what you want to do.

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