I’ve liked cooking since I was young. I was the youngest son and always hung around my mom—she loved to use me as her assistant in the kitchen.
The death of my mom changed my life. My dad told me to find a job after I finished ninth grade. I started out as a dishwasher at a hotel in Chonburi, my hometown. There were no Western chefs in Pattaya then; they were all Chinese.
I learned through experience. I moved around to learn different types of cooking from various kitchens, like Chinese food at Mandarin Hotel [Samyan], Western food at Regent and Hilton, and then I became a Thai chef at the Mandarin Oriental. I was there for 28 years. That’s such a long time.
Quitting my job at Mandarin Oriental wasn’t an easy decision. I enjoyed working at Sala Rim Naam, but deep inside, I’ve always had the desire to cook the way I want. At Sala Rim Naam there were certain rules I had to abide by. They put hundreds of millions of baht into their traditional Thai food; it was a huge responsibility.
Do the things you desire while you still have the power to do them. If you wait till you’re in your 60s or when you’re retired, how can you have the power to pursue your goals? That’s why I quit to start doing a chef’s table at my own place, Khao. It’s Thai food with modern presentation.
Our fine-dining potential is limited by a perceived Thainess. Thai food isn’t just about sharing the same meal. It can grow beyond this. At my chef’s table, I do away with the Thai tradition that everything is served in sharing portions. I only do single servings, so that everyone can taste every element of every dish.
Elevating Thai food to fine-dining doesn’t mean losing Thai flavors. Real Thai food tells the story of recipes that have been fine-tuned over centuries. It’s about knowing your ingredients and the right time to use them.
I do modern presentation, but I’m not interested in molecular dining. Thai food is clean; it needs fresh produce. You need to go to the market to pick out the freshest ingredients and cook them straight away. You should be able to taste the very essence of nature.
I chose to do a chef’s table because I want to present a journey and promote Thai food as an intimate experience. It lets you explain the origin of every dish and the cooking techniques behind them.
It’s good to have Michelin chefs here so Thais can get a taste of the world’s finest cuisine and learn how to develop our own. But we should know our food best; not wait for foreigners to tell us.
I love rice. I grow rice and eat rice. That’s why I named my restaurant Khao [Thai for rice]—it’s the food I love most.
Most Thais know nothing about rice. I was embarrassed when, years ago, a foreigner asked me about rice and I couldn’t answer his question. It’s shameful that we live in a country that has some of the best jasmine rice in the world, and yet we know nothing about it.
I’ve grown rice for five years now. I bought land in my hometown especially to grow it; land that hadn’t yielded anything for 50 years.
Growing rice isn’t an easy task at all. My wife warned me that the sun would burn my face, but I don’t care. I experience the beauty of the world not through my eyes, but through my feelings. I get that through growing rice. I transplant the rice seedlings one by one all by myself.
Thai spicy salad is my favourite dish. I love that it’s got everything; it’s spicy, sour, sweet and salty. I also like pastes with lots of herbs in them, like nam prik khee ga.
It takes a mix of skills to be a good chef. You need to be able to teach people, take care of your people, manage them and know how to promote yourself. Needless to say, you can’t do it all alone.
Be a frank person. I love to speak out, instead of bottling things inside me—that’s a sure-fire way to add stress to your life.