I spent few days as an apprentice to Prin Polsuk, the head chef at acclaimed modern Thai restaurant Nahm in Bangkok, known for cooking homestyle Thai food with flair that seduce palates.
What influenced you to become a chef?
It was actually a book I picked up about 15 years ago called Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. He trained at The Culinary Institute of America, and the book told it like it was. Everything he said came across as brutally honest and I couldn’t wait to get into the kitchen. Some of my earliest memories revolved around food and the smells and tastes that would come from my grandmother’s kitchen, surrounded by the rice fields of Lampang, in Northern Thailand. As a young kid I spent days with her, while the adults worked in the fields. She made curries using the ingredients she found foraging and encouraged me to taste everything. When I began cooking, it was as if I had developed a memory of tastes in my mind.
What is the essence of Thai cooking?
It’s constantly evolving, but at its core it’s about blending flavors together. The layers of flavor are important in each dish, yet balance comes from the entire meal, not just one dish. In traditional Thai households when the bulk of the food is set on the table, it’s everything at once. You may see curry dishes, soups, salads, and stir fries, and always rice. The flavors need to blend, from the fresh vegetables to the smoky flavours to the seasoned fish or meat. It all has to compliment each other.
Nahm has been voted for many years one of Asia’s finest restaurants. How do you maintain your home style ethos?
We do everything from scratch, from grinding the spices for the curry paste to making our own coconut milk, which is a hard, full time job for one person. There are no rotary evaporators, centrifugal juicers, sous vide machines or ultrasonic homogenisers in our kitchen. But we do have a small army of 25 cooks. We do it like they did in the old days, everything by hand. Those 25 people in the kitchen work diligently to feed patrons of a restaurant which only seats 100.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I don’t cook the orders like many people might think. I do supervise the other chefs, but I am usually deeply involved in developing new dishes, new curries, and new ideas. People tend to look at me with curiosity and frequently ask what I’m trying now. You saw me experimenting with the fermentation of bamboo with jasmine rice water, lemongrass and Kaffir lime leaves for example. In a week’s time we will know if it works, so that we can bring an additional depth to our curries.
What is Nahm’s secret?
There is meticulous research into developing our recipes. We taste, taste, taste and then taste again. It’s about finding the perfect ratios of ingredients but also striving to add surprising layers of flavors; for example we asked ourselves how to make our fish sauce with the scent of flower blossoms or how to include different intensities of heat into the same dish. All our subtle additions spark magic in the taste buds of our guests and give them extreme satisfaction.
How has working with David Thompson influenced you?
David is passionate about antique cookbooks and has collected them for 25 years. He loves to find ancient recipes that no one remembers. He showed me how amazing Thai cuisine was a century ago and how much of that quality has been lost. My work with him is to rediscover and incorporate into our menu food excellence, from royal palace dishes to immigrant-influenced street food..
Do you have a personal mantra?
Working hard beats talent.