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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Guido Campigotto – The man behind the label

When Andy Curtis told me his suggestion for my next interview subject was Guido Campigotto, the name didn’t ring a bell.  Not unusual for me, as I am still quite a newbie in the Hua Hin community.  But when Andy went on to say that Guido is the General Manager of Monsoon Valley, I admit that these words, and products, have been on my lips and at my fingertips on numerous occasions, so I was excited.

Guido Campigotto was quick to agree to speak to me.  He is a very busy man indeed and since he told me he was doing quite a bit of travelling over the next few weeks, we would have to delay our planned interview until an opening in his schedule was available. In the meantime, I did what interviewers everywhere do, a bit of background research, and boy, I was surprised.

With every one of the individuals I have interviewed for my current People of Hua Hin series, I have discovered that they have one or more grand passions.  Naturally, great food and wine are clearly some of Guido’s passions, not so surprising for a long-time Londoner of Italian birth. Still today some Italian youngsters are bought up drinking wine with their meals, albeit watered down substantially.

But a quick delve into Guido’s Facebook revealed he is also an avid motor enthusiast in the full sense of the word. If it involves a vehicle, Guido is interested. His passion for cars spans from lovingly restored classic cars to high level involvement in the Formula 1 racing scene (he is a passionate Oracle Red Bull Racing team fanatic but with Ferrari blood still pumping in his veins.)  Indeed, our interview had to be delayed while Guido travelled to Singapore for the Formula 1 Grand Prix, held on the Marina Bay street circuit over the first weekend of October.  This was Guido’s 99th F1 GP, and I strongly suspect he will hit his centenary of Grand Prix attendance in the very near future, particularly as Sergio Pérez of Red Bull was the winner in Singapore.

This year, 2022, is the 20th Anniversary of Monsoon Valley, and in this significant anniversary year, Monsoon Valley has a new Ambassador in Alex Albon.  Alex is the first Thai driver in Formula 1. Just weeks after suffering a medical complication from appendicitis which left him in ICU, Alex performed most creditably for the Williams motor team in Singapore, qualifying in 16th position. Unfortunately, he was one of 6 drivers who did not finish the Singapore race, which was marred by multiples crashes, breakdowns and safety cars, with the poor conditions bought on by the wet weather. Alex’s helmet, cap and safety gear proudly sported the Monsoon Valley logo throughout the race. What a bright idea it is to have the Thai Formula 1 driver as Monsoon Valley’s brand Ambassador. 

So, just who is the man behind the Monsoon Valley label, and how did he get where he is now?  

Guido was born in a village of around 200 people on the shore of Lake Como in the northern Italian region of Lombardy.  As an ambitious young man believing anything and everything is achievable, he spent his summer holidays working in the hospitality industry, and it didn’t take long for him to realise it would be the focus of an extensive career.  Soon after leaving school, Guido left regional Italy for the bright lights of London, to forge his career. He now describes himself as a Londoner from Italy.

Arriving in London one day, he started work in a restaurant, waiting tables, the very next day, with no opportunity to acclimatise or do any sightseeing.  Just 2 years later he was managing the very same restaurant and 4 years later he established the first of his own London restaurants, in partnership with his former boss.  In total, Guido ran 7 different dining establishments in London, at one point 3 of them at the same time.  Nearest to his heart, it seems, was that first one, Como Lario, opened in 1993.

A meeting way back in 1995 was pivotal to his current life.  This is when he first met the owner of Siam Winery, who owns both Monsoon Valley and Red Bull, including Red Bull Racing. Many interconnecting life threads have led to Guido currently living and working in Hua Hin as the General Manager of Monsoon Valley Winery. He was indeed lucky to take up a position with Siam Winery and his deeply respected friend in September 2019, since it allowed him to ride out the storm of Covid with minimal damage.  Guido speaks with much pride of the fact that each and every employee of Monsoon Valley Winery had stable employment and income throughout the pandemic

Guido’s first visit to Hua Hin was back in 1986, when it was a much smaller and less cosmopolitan place than it is today. Guido moved to Hua Hin permanently earlier this year from Koh Samui, and loves its seaside location, its proximity to Bangkok, its diverse community as well as the winery’s hillside location which is so reminiscent of the region of Italy which he left 35 years ago.

The Formula 1 racing scene has been part of Guido’s career path, as well as being a passion.  One of his London restaurants became the unofficial kitchen of the Formula 1 in London, under the auspices of its then Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone. It is no exaggeration to say that Guido’s restaurants have hosted music legends, royalty from many nations, film stars, major league soccer champions and high-profile individuals from around the world. I won’t embarrass Guido by mentioning names here, but the list did make my eyes bulge. And as well as working with the Red Bull team in Formula 1 racing, Guido has also worked alongside Benetton, Ferrari and Lotus, indeed bringing hot cuisine into the F1 arena with Lotus for the first time back in 1993.

Although Guido had a long, and indeed stellar, career in the hospitality industry in London, and it gave him money, acclaim and prestige, it wasn’t able to provide him all the things he now values so much about his life in Hua Hin.  Guido has three sons he clearly loves deeply, and of whom he is very proud.  He speaks with regret about missing so much of the childhood of his two elder sons, now adults and living in London, while he put what he now acknowledges as too much focus on his work.

Guido is grateful that in Hua Hin, he has the time and opportunity to experience the joy of watching his youngest son smile, thrive and learn. It wasn’t until the baby arrived into his world that Guido realised how much he had missed in his previous parenting. If he could give one piece of sound advice to his younger self, it would be “not to chase your own tail.” That said, Guido still feels he has one more restaurant inside him that need to come to fruition, perhaps here in Hua Hin within the next 5 years or so.  And of course, that time frame is dependent on the recovery of the hospitality industry, post Covid 19.

My most profound impression of Guido is that he is a man who has been there, done that, and now knows exactly what he wants, and what is important to him in life, while at the same time still appreciating that learning is a life-long undertaking.  In that, he is indeed lucky, since many never reach that point of self-awareness. 

When I asked him to choose just three words to describe himself, Guido chose grateful, humble and happy. He understands that money and material possessions, while nice to have, are not the most important things in life, indeed not even essential to living a happy existence. They are two things that the Roman Stoic school of philosophy classed as preferred indifferents, meaning it’s preferable to have them but you should be indifferent as to whether you’ve got them or not, as it won’t hurt you then if you lose them.  

Marcus Aurelius said, “Most of what we say and do is not essential.  If you eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity.” I don’t know if Guido has read any of the works of this Roman statesman, but he is now applying very similar ideas to his life in Hua Hin. He is embracing parenthood with vigour and holds his family close to his heart. His father died when he was only 11, but impressed upon him the importance of honesty, and Guido is living his life with openness and integrity as a result of this potent influence. 

Guido is saddened by certain aspects of modern Western society, which makes him appreciate Thai culture even more.  Despite increases in global wealth and access to education, he deplores the deterioration of family values, the narrow focus of the cult of “me”, the racist underpinning of much of modern society and the fact that people are becoming less prone to helping one another.

And while you can take the man out of Italy, you can never take Italy out of the man. Guido can’t live without pasta, and admits his best friend would say he talks too much, and with his hands as well! His favourite place in the world is still “his” lake, Lake Como, to which he has a spiritual attachment.  He told me how each time he returns to his ancestral home, he has to park the car and walk immediately down the hill to dip his hands into the water to recapture the essence of home.  A little ritual which has become almost a sacred experience. It would bring joy to his heart if Guido were able to live there again one day in the future. Given the ability to choose his last meal on earth, it would be a local delicacy, Missultit (a dried, salted Shad fish) served with polenta.

But that is hopefully many, many years in the future.  Guido still wants to finally get the paperwork all finished so that he can marry his partner, they can raise their young son to be a man proud of his heritage and compassionate of others, he can teach the boy to drive in his beloved Alfa Romeo and open that last restaurant that is nagging at him.  Oh, and go whale-watching in the Arctic.

My next article will shed some light on how Hua Hin is going to shine as the Riviera of Thailand, and the woman behind this vision. 

Hua Hin Features

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