Prin Polsuk, the former head chef at Nahm, quietly carries the torch for both Thai cuisine and young Thai chefs. Recently, Prin stepped out of David Thompson’s sizable shadow and opened Samrub for Thai, a semi-private cooking studio behind 100 Mahaseth. We asked Prin about inspiration, his obsession with ancient cookbooks and where the future of Thai food is going.
Was cooking always in your plans?
No, I only wanted to eat. I became a chef by accident. I studied engineering, [but] I didn’t really excel in the subject. I ended up working at the Mandarin Oriental with chef Vichit [Mukura]. It was a whole new experience for me. I had never worked in any big kitchens, but chef Vichit took me under his wings. I worked in the butcher’s room for three years, cleaning everything, butchering everything. When I started to cook, I met David [Thompson]. I don’t know if it was destiny, but I found a job application looking for Thai chefs to work in London in the newspaper, and I tore it out and sent my CV.
What have you been doing since you left Nahm?
Around the time that I left Nahm, I had recently met Mint, my partner and my boss, and we had a lot of conversations about how can we make great Thai food more accessible. We did our first pop-up at Jack’s, a riverside bar near the Shangri-La hotel. It was kind of an experiment to see whether we could serve great, clean, delicious food in an atmosphere where people would value the food more than its surroundings. Then we decided to open a tiny kitchen, make it more regular and invite friends and family to eat and drink together.
Tell us about Samrub for Thai.
It’s about sharing knowledge... and also because I like to drink after work. We want everyone to have a more personal approach with us while also making it educational through the experience. We also want to save lost ingredients—we travel a lot, we meet a lot of locals, we encourage them and we support them.
You’re a collector of old cookbooks. How do you use ancient Thai recipes in your cooking?
These books have helped to open my mind about Thai cuisine and sparked my interest in lost ingredients. I cook because I respect my culture. As Thais, we always cook for our parents, our family and friends, of course serving monks first. We respect them all so we prepare everything with sincerity, with passion and with love—this is what makes the food so delicious and heart-warming. Most of the recipe books I read don’t offer measurements, so they challenge me and my taste buds. They inspire me to cook dishes I’ve never made before, while adding my own touches. [At Samrub] we change the entire menu every month to keep things interesting and creative—plus, if I didn’t do this, I’d never get through my current book! Every single dish I make is inspired by the past, by street food, and by local home-cooking that not many people get to experience. I don't want these recipes to disappear. The countryside is also a place where I find ingredients and inspiration from the older generations. I don’t know if I can make a huge difference but at least I can do something for the people of Thailand and for my guests
What are your top three favorite cookbooks?
David Thompson’s cookbook is one of my favorites. I also really enjoy “Etxebarri” by Juan Pablo Cardenals. Lastly, I’m currently cooking and researching from a book called “Mae Krua Hua Pa” (“แม่ครัวหัวป่าก์”).
Where do you eat when you’re not working?
We love going to Eat Me; it’s [my partner] Mint’s favorite. We also spend time at 100 Mahaseth, Jua and Sake no Mise. We love the somtam in Suan Phlu, opposite the police station. But the most comforting food is always our home cooking. Sometimes I cook, sometimes Mint cooks.
"I don’t watch chefs on Netflix or Youtube."
Are there any chefs in Thailand that inspire you?
David, for sure, my mom and the amazing people in the Thai countryside. I don’t watch chefs on Netflix or YouTube—I follow the chefs that live in the country, the ones that grow their own ingredients, the ones that wake up every day to prepare the same things, and the ones who cook in their homes and use what’s available.
What are your thoughts on the future of Thai cuisine?
There’s really nothing new now, I guess. Everything has been done—molecular Thai, innovative Thai, now everyone is coming back to the original. The future will get better if the food and restaurant industries work together to preserve ingredients, techniques and styles. It’s not about Thai food. It’s about Thailand in the end.
Many young Thai chefs look up to you. How does that make you feel?
Wow, really? That feels amazing. The thing that I do now is research as much as possible and try to share everything with my team, my friends and my customers. I want my team to not only learn how to cook, but to understand the meaning, the history and why it’s important to preserve it as well. Teaching the young generation is key for the future of Thai cuisine.
Do you think Thailand is catching onto the sustainability trend?
I think Thailand is getting better [and] there will be a greater impact in the next five to 10 years. For us, we keep close relationships with local farmers and fishermen and try to have a very diverse menu using new and forgotten ingredients. I believe diversity is a key for sustainability and food security. We change our menu every month, we follow the seasons, we encourage people to eat differently.
What is your idea of happiness?
Cooking with my wife, my family, my team... everybody.