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Saturday, April 1, 2023

Thierry Berno is a gentleman and humble to boot

Thierry Berno is the very first of the interview subjects in my People of Hua Hin series who has displayed serious doubt about why I would want to interview them.  In Thierry’s eyes, he is just a normal guy with nothing special or particularly interesting about him.  Luckily Gigee, who recommended him to me, and I, know better. Indeed, it is me who should be a bit concerned.  Thierry writes a regular monthly wine column for Hot Magazine Thailand, so is certainly more than capable of critiquing what I write about him!

Thierry is the face behind the re-invigorated presence of Italasia in Hua Hin, a job he began almost 11 months ago now. And to all accounts, it is a fine job he has been doing, rebuilding the profile of Italasia as a supplier of premium wines, spirits and catering needs to the hotel, restaurant and catering businesses of Hua Hin, as well as to the private purchaser. If you haven’t had a chance to visit Italasia yet, I recommend you get a group of people together and ask Thierry if you can visit his refurbished Secret Tasting Lounge, a tastefully decorated, comfortable area where you can spin the vinyl of your choice, test out Thierry’s pride and joy (his speakers with the inbuilt sub-woofers) and work your way through a couple of bottles of wine of your choice.

Thierry loves that his job has him working in close contact with some very passionate people, wine buffs and chefs alike.  Luckily, Thierry has the right people-skills to handle the stressors and tension that working with people of this calibre requires. With his keen appreciation of what is needed to succeed in business, Thierry understands that to make others happy, he needs to ascertain their expectations of him, then either meet those expectations or work towards helping them adjust those requirements. For Thierry, the most important and enjoyable aspect of his life is the people he encounters. When he talks about these people: his partner, his beloved mother, his long-term friends scattered all over the world, his staff and his business associates, it is clear he treats them all with care and empathy, and that what they think of him and his personal reputation really matter to him.  He admitted he didn’t always show such keen attention to his school subjects and recalls his maths teacher categorising him as apathetic in maths lessons.  Maths is still not at the top of his loves, it is safe to say.

But being the day-to-day boss and chief decision maker at Italasia Hua Hin is not always easy for Thierry.  He is quietly spoken and mild-mannered, and will take all steps in his power to avoid confrontation, though he does acknowledge that sometimes tough love is the only alternative when you are in charge.

Thierry has lived and worked in numerous places in Thailand, including Rayong and Si Racha as well as Bangkok.  Indeed, he has experience Asia-wide, but part of his heart remains in Pusan, South Korea where he completed his tertiary education, eventually graduating with a Master’s Degree in Applied Languages and International Negotiation while he worked on his Korean language skills.

Quite an interesting and unusual education for a French boy from Nice, on the Mediterranean coast.  Thierry has always felt a connection to the sea and is happiest at the seaside. He is the only non-military member of his family, his brother currently on deployment with the French Navy.  But young Thierry felt no pull towards a military career, despite the fact that he was certain he wanted a job and a lifestyle which would afford him the opportunity to travel.  His first trip outside Europe, a trip to China in 2002 which he describes as a life-changing experience, cemented his intention to work abroad, a determination he has certainly fulfilled since. Thierry still wants to further broaden his travel experience with a trip to Brazil, where he has lots of friends from his university days in South Korea. Whether he is more interested in Brazil’s natural beauty or having a ready-made party crew is debatable.

Thierry took the job with Italasia in Hua Hin after only two brief visits with his partner to check out the area.  His second visit was enough to convince them that Hua Hin was a liveable town and that they could even thrive here. Although Thierry had previously lived in what he categorises as mid-size Thai cities, it was the multicultural but specifically European bias of the local community and the services provided to it, that he found particularly attractive.  Thierry hopes to see the local area also thrive, with regular national and international flights from the airport, a nightlife precinct designated as a walking street without vehicles of any sort, and better public transport including designated bus routes.  I hope we don’t have to wait too long for these upgrades either.

While there are some predictable things about Thierry Berno, including his taste for gnocchi pesto Genovese and a pan bagnat, a baguette stuffed with salade niçoise, there is quite a lot that Hua Hin doesn’t yet know about this man.  Thierry has a motorbike, but several accidents have changes his riding habits and he bought himself a slower, less powerful bike to assist him in resisting the temptation to speed. Getting out on the bike, his partner Mimi behind him, to explore the local area is high on his wish list, but Thierry is undoubtedly a workaholic.  He knows he is better at working than relaxing as he doesn’t ever have to force himself to work.  The same can’t be said of taking time for himself.  Thierry is still to get to Pala-U waterfall after nearly 11 months.  This guy seriously needs to take more time to relax. 

We spoke about how Thierry can sometimes wish to just be left in peace, to have some time all to himself.  I have to admit I couldn’t help smirking, (on the inside only, of course), when he told me that as a young boy, he loved the peace and quiet of the wardrobe to relax.  I suppose I really should have asked if he ever met a lion or a witch in those dark, quiet confines.

Even less well known is that Thierry is a musician of some note. He has a very broad taste in music from Operation Ivy to the Deftones, from Motörhead to the dulcet tones of Nina Simone, from Jamaican ska to rock, appreciating as well as performing music. I asked about his singing abilities and he commented that he is completely happy only providing backing vocals. But Thierry has been the bass player in quite a few bands, including Overstay, Wooden Lucy and his current band, Bangkok Blue Beat, a 60’s and 70’s Ska band playing covers and original songs. The fact that he plays the bass guitar explains his obsession with top-of-the-range sub-woofers. An even more obscure bit of information about Thierry is that he counts the release of the 3 albums he has played on as his greatest personal achievement to date, along with his work in mixing, mastering and producing these albums.

Social media had been an integral part of Thierry’s work life during the period when he worked in the hospitality industry in food and beverages sales, and so he is thankful that in his current job he is not required to engage with it so much, as he found the longer he spent online, the greater his negativity about the state of the world.  This is a well-acknowledged phenomena amongst people of his generation who can find it challenging to disconnect from their devices. Thierry has the perception that the world of his childhood was an easier and friendlier place than our current world, but agrees that this pessimism might be rooted in the cynicism of the caustic American comedians who make him laugh aloud, such as Doug Stanhope or Bill Burr. Thierry does have quite a wicked sense of humour himself.  When I asked what he couldn’t do without, his quick-fire response was “air” but my teacher- face of exasperation was enough to make him quickly change his answer to “music”.

Another interesting personal quality of Thierry’s is his deliberate choice to be non-competitive in all he does. Even as a kid, when playing video games with friends, he would choose to play co-operatively with them to jointly achieve goals, rather than the more-often-selected adversarial approach, where only one player gets to be the winner. He strongly agrees with my assessment that the only person in life truly worth competing against is yourself.

Looking back on his teenage years at my request, Thierry told me his younger self, a teenage punk, would never have believed he would own, and wear, a tuxedo, as he did for two gala events he attended in 2022.  Now he has one, Thierry will be finding further events where he may wear it. Thierry would also have great financial tips for his younger self if he could find a way to offer him advice.  In a more advanced take on giving himself the lotto numbers, young Thierry would be implored to invest in bitcoin, buy and keep video games pristine, boxed and unused, and to buy collectable wines, which Thierry believes still have the strongest return on investment. But, in both his business and personal lives, Thierry is not really a planner, preferring to instead just go with the flow and see where that will lead him.

I would love to attend a dinner-party hosted by this man. Besides the fact that the wine-pairing would be perfectly curated, the attendees would be a fascinating group indeed.  Thom Yorke, the front man and songwriter from the band Radiohead would be the guest-of-honour and Thierry would be encouraging him to divulge his secret thoughts. There would also be lots of pets around. One thing that is guaranteed to make Thierry happy is a friendly animal.  He still has fond memories of one particular job he did in South Korea where the office has three pet cats who made a vast improvement to the quality of his workday, just by their very presence. I have to admit, I admire a man who loves animals.

Felicitee Lawrie
Author: Felicitee Lawrie

Felicitee Lawrie spends as much of her life as she can in Hua Hin, Thailand. She is passionate about exploring the local culture, keen to make contacts among the Thai and expat residents of Hua Hin and in particular wants to learn more about the food culture of this area of Thailand. If she is able to promote local businesses and producers along the way, this is indeed a bonus. Felicitee has also been enjoying her writing in the People of Hua Hin series of feature articles, finding so many local people have fascinating stories to share with her.

Felicitee Lawrie
Felicitee Lawrie
Felicitee Lawrie spends as much of her life as she can in Hua Hin, Thailand. She is passionate about exploring the local culture, keen to make contacts among the Thai and expat residents of Hua Hin and in particular wants to learn more about the food culture of this area of Thailand. If she is able to promote local businesses and producers along the way, this is indeed a bonus. Felicitee has also been enjoying her writing in the People of Hua Hin series of feature articles, finding so many local people have fascinating stories to share with her.

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