Chef Thitid “Ton” Tassanakajohn, 29, has been the toast of Bangkok’s restaurant scene in 2015. His debut restaurant, Le Du, scooped third place in our yearly Top Tables fine dining guide. Since then, the Culinary Institute of America graduate has opened three more restaurants: Taper (brunch staples and Asian breakfast dishes); Baan (home-style Thai dishes); and Baa Ga Din (deconstructed Thai street food). Here, he discusses restaurant trends and his hopes for Bangkok’s food scene.
Quite a few Bangkok chefs have gone down the street food route recently, from Bo Songvisava and Dylan Jones’s Err to David Thompson’s Long Chim in Singapore. Why did you decide to as well?
Yeah, but they’re quite different. Baa Ga Din is basically inspired by street food but recreated with modern, fun twists. If you order chicken rice then it’s nothing like the chicken rice you would get on the street. We use a lot of the same equipment as we do in Le Du, and the thinking is actually very similar: taking inspiration from classic dishes and doing them in a modern way. The difference with Baa Ga Din is that it’s much more casual.
David Thompson said he would never do a Thai street food restaurant in Bangkok because we have the real thing.
Right, David did say that. How are we going to make street food better than someone on the street when they’ve been doing one dish for 20 years? I totally respect those people. But I want to create something that people can relate to as street food but in a different setting.
You now have four restaurants. Which is closest to your heart?
Definitely Le Du. It’s really my passion—my first restaurant—it’s everything I want to do as a chef. It speaks to the soul of my style of food. It’s still where I spend most of my time; it’s like my baby.
The dining experience at Le Du is very chef-driven. Do you get customers who aren’t happy with that still?
Some people have a problem with that, but that number is fewer and fewer. People who come to the restaurant now have studied about it before they arrive so they know what they’re going to get. But I still get the usual questions: Why is it priced like this? Why are there only a few a la carte options? We encourage people to take the full experience.
Would you rather get rid of the a la carte menu altogether?
Yeah, I’d love to. But some people want that. Even if they order the entire menu, we tell them, that’s going to be more expensive than the set menu and the portions are the same, still that’s what they want to do.
What would you like to see change on Bangkok’s restaurant scene?
I want to see more young chefs doing Thai food—any style of Thai food. It could be traditional or it could be modern. But I want to see people come out and do something that relates to Thai cuisine. I don’t actually see a lot of new young chefs. We have a tight community—Paolo [Vitaletti of Appia, Peppina], Dylan [Jones of Bo.lan, Err], David [Thompson of Nahm], Gaggan [Anand of Gaggan], Nan [Bunyasaranand of Little Beast]—all these people are older than me! I don’t have any connection with anyone who’s upcoming.
Any more restaurants planned in the New Year?
Not for now. I really want to focus on Le Du. I opened so many restaurants this year! Baan and Baa Ga Din came out of nowhere. We will be relaunching Taper with a dinner service. I’m still discussing with my partner but we plan to close at lunch on weekdays and turn into dinner service and lunch at weekends. Interview by Oliver Irvine