Anyone who can use the words sociology, anthropology and cooking in the one sentence has to be an interesting person. Robb Vaughn, one of the partners in
the new Tequila Reef Restaurant, and responsible for the cooking side of it, is one of those - an interesting man who thinks while he cooks.
Robb was born in San Diego, California, the younger child of an aeronautical
engineer father. By the time he was 13, the family had moved to Hawaii, where Robb completed his schooling and then entered the University of Hawaii where he completed three
years of a Sociology degree. This he described as, “A truly useless degree course from a 2nd rate university, whose motto was Truth, Knowledge and a Great Tan.”
Dropping out of uni, Robb moved to the beautiful island of Kauai and became a fully fledged hippy with shoulder length hair (where is it now, Robb?). “We
were not ready for the world, we didn’t want real jobs, we wanted to surf.”
It was there in Kauai that Robb met the Magic Mushroom. This was a surfer style restaurant and he and a friend invested $3000 each and bought it. It should
be pointed out that the $3000 came from his long suffering father, who when he saw his son’s living quarters at the restaurant said, “Robb, do you know you live in a
As his business partner was a drama major it was decided he would do the “front of the house” duties, so the almost sociologist Robb became the cook by
default. However, he found that he loved it. (For those with an eye for trivia, the original menu for the Magic Mushroom is framed on the wall at Tequila Reef.)
After 12 months, they sold the Magic Mushroom and went their separate ways, with Robb, now engrossed in his cooking career, taking a 12 month
apprenticeship with a French restaurant. “This was my entry into the real world.”
From there he was snapped up by the Sheraton in Maui, whose executive chef became his mentor. “A complete Nazi perfectionist!” It was this man who
recommended him for further chef management training within the Sheraton group and it was with them that he rose through the culinary pecking order.
By now, the still young Robb, at 26 years old, understood that his career path was actually a means of travel to the beautiful places in the world, and he
moved to Carmel in California. It was from this base that he became exposed to the California Nouvelle Cuisine, and with frequent trips to Mexico became enamoured of that
country’s cooking as well.
By the time he was 30, he had moved to L.A. where he became vice president of Merlin McFly’s restaurant and then moved around the country opening up the
new McFly’s chain.
However, after the chain was sold, he packed his portable skills in his overnight bag and moved to San Francisco where he worked in consultancy positions
for the openings of new restaurants for a couple of years and then opened up a Mexican restaurant there himself.
Around this time, Robb also made his first trip to Thailand at the behest of his cousin Darrell Woolley, who was also in the restaurant business in
Thailand, but in the management side. The culinary attraction of Thailand was very strong for Robb. “Thais are obsessed with food. I am just fascinated by the Thai street
vendors in the way they cook.” Following this attraction, Robb made another trip to Thailand and spent some time here to do a cooking course at the Oriental Hotel in
Bangkok and then returned to San Francisco where he opened his own restaurant, The Occidental, in 1993.
This restaurant was very popular, known at one stage as San Francisco’s Martini Mecca and Cigar Bar. Life was good, but like all good things, there was
to be an end after the pralines, coffee and cigars! The restaurant building was earmarked for demolition, as it had not been built to the new earthquake standards, and
restaurant cigar smoking had become outlawed and the Occidental was closed last year.
This time the cousins put their heads together and the Tequila Reef project was born. As Robb said, “Moving to another country was something I had never
done before. I have a curiosity about life and like learning new things. A recipe is like anthropology. How the culture values its foods can tell you so much about the
country,” said Robb, getting all excited about the project ahead of him.
For Robb, success is “Being able to live in beautiful places and having the ability to move somewhere to learn new things, new cultures and be
creative.” When asked what his advice would be to those who would wish to follow his steps through the world’s kitchens he said, “Chef’s make the worst husbands. It
is very difficult to have a personal life because you’re always working. It takes immense work - you need passion.”
There is no doubt about the fact that Robb Vaughn has maintained his passion. “I find cooking intellectually stimulating. I am still buying cook books
and in the kitchen you live in your own world, where you can create things.” That passion includes a five year business plan for the Tequila Reef project which involves
agricultural ideas such as importing and growing his own special chillies as well as expansion within SE Asia.
You get the feeling that Robb Vaughn will never stop. He is a wonderfully articulate host whose enthusiasm for his food is infectious. Pattaya welcomes the
sociological anthropological chef. A breath of fresh air in Soi 7.
Pattaya Inquisition: Who am I?
by the Pattaya Interrogator
Due to my serving for the secret service, I can only be known through an alias, Chris Kays. My codename is Cosmo, due to my ability to disguise myself free
from limitations and prejudices. An academic under achiever I have graced many a sporting field. The highlight of my rugby career was showering with Laurence Dallaglio
amongst other members. Since playing rugby in Pattaya, many a Panther has played with me and many panties squirmed at the sight of my tackle. I have also had my name
published in the Wisden Cricketers almanac – nobody reads it, just keep doors open with it. So, I’m a jovial character with more fun than malice in my system,
occasionally serious, but never over the top. Thanks for the interview.
PI: How are you and the world getting along?
CK: The world and me are just fine. I test it to its limits and the world throws up more challenges for my mental and physical states; it certainly
isn’t going to beat me.
PI: How long have you known Pattaya?
CK: At times, it feels like forever, others as if I’ve just arrived. Having been here only 9 months I am still only scratching the surface and
finding many delights are hidden below the superficial facade. There are some great people showing me around, thanks Panthers, Panties and supporters.
PI: Where is your spiritual home?
CK: I’m still looking. I wouldn’t tell you anyway, you’d tell everyone else and then there would be all sorts of people there I don’t want
around. No estate agent has taken me there yet, nor has anyone else for that matter!
PI: What CD are you most proud of in your collection?
CK: Anything by Nina Simone – A great singer, pianist, composer and songwriter – Bittersweet is a great collection of her greatest work, go listen
PI: How are you at cooking for yourself?
CK: Not quite a master chef, but give me some ingredients and I’ll whip something up. My favourite meal experience has to be… To start, raw
oysters, savoured with a glass of Tattinger, followed by a sumptuous fillet steak medium rare with stuffed tomatoes, potatoes dauphinois and asparagus… And this would all
be washed down with a bottle of Wyndhams Estates 888 Red wine. Finally, to satiate the appetite, a bowl of fresh strawberries and vanilla ice cream, how do you eat yours? Oh
yes, and don’t forget the chocolates and port…
PI: Are you happy in your career?
CK: Yes. Challenging for the main part, rewarding always and a great way to see the world and its people in their habitats. And I still have sufficient
free time to do all the things that make me tick.
PI: If you had to take over somebody else’s life, who would you pick?
CK: Steve Redgrave. You’ve got to admire that dedication, fitness and desire to win again and again and again…
PI: What are you like in the bathroom?
CK: Mmmm…, methodical, meticulous, melodious and marvellous…
PI: What is it about you that is the most controversial?
CK: Ambivalence. Along with my passion for sport, particularly rugby, quite often at great sacrifice.
PI: When was the last time you cried at a movie?
CK: Wow, toughie this one. Probably Bambi. I don’t really cry at films (Penny says never), but I do get emotional watching sport.
PI: If you could have a dinner party with 4 people from the present or the past who would you invite?
CK: I’d have to invite JK Rowling, Madonna, Princess Diana and Will Carling – you work it out.
PI: Where are you coming from & where are you going?
CK: I’ve come a long way from birth, and I’ve got even further to travel. Where am I going? Unfortunately to death. This isn’t meant to be a
morbid statement, just realistic. So now you’ll begin to comprehend, but never understand, why I live my life at 100 mph and never let opportunities pass me by twice! Enjoy
life and keep smiling, don’t let the bastards get you down!
Updated every Friday
Copyright 2001 Pattaya Mail Publishing Co.Ltd.
370/7-8 Pattaya Second Road, Pattaya City, Chonburi 20260, Thailand
Tel.66-38 411 240-1, 413 240-1, Fax:66-38 427 596; e-mail: [email protected]
Chinnaporn Sungwanlek, assisted by Boonsiri Suansuk.
E-Mail: [email protected]