Hailing from Thailand, Ian’s earliest food memories was waking up at 3AM every morning to accompany his mother to the wet markets to select produce for her grocery shop. While Ian was at school, her mother would be busy preparing a dozen different curries and upon return, he would be pushing a food cart filled with his wares, screaming and advertising “Khao Geang Ron Ron Ma Leaw Jaar!” which translates to Hot Curry coming!
After completing high school in Bangkok, Ian moved to London to study English with no intention of becoming a chef. After working part time at the Waldorf Hotel THF, the chef saw potential in Ian’s skill and offered Ian a sponsorship to attend a culinary school in London. From there, he proceeded to Sydney, Australia and spent his years working under renowned Sydney French institution, Claude’s.
Today, Ian oversees his flagship restaurant Issaya Siamese Club, Namsaah bottling trust as well as his cooking school, Issaya cooking studio. Apart from restaurants in Thailand, Ian also consults restaurant Tangerine in Singapore as well as being chef-partner at a dessert bar in NYC. But that does not stop there, Ian is one of the judges on Masterchef Thailand and also one of the Iron chefs on Iron Chef Thailand.
– QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH IAN KITTICHAI –
1- How do you define your style of cooking and philosophy behind you flagship restaurant – Issaya Siamese Club?
The thought process when creating Issaya Siamese Club was to make it an immersive and interactive sensory experience for diners. We thought of engaging all five senses – from the visuals of the garden and decor, the music, the food, the plating, the interaction with our staff, etc. The menu features my signature Thai cuisine of traditional ingredients and flavours with varied and progressive cooking methods plated in a non-traditional and playful style. Issaya also features a chefs’ garden where aromatic Thai herbs grow year-round for our guests to see and learn about the produce.
2- What will/should your diners expect when dining at Issaya?
Diners should expect a delicious journey with menu and ingredients highlights from over Thailand.
3- When and how did you know you wanted to become a chef? Who and what inspired you to cook?
I was born in Bangkok and am the only boy of 8 children. When I was growing up, my mother had a green grocery and a food cart. All of my sisters and I would help her. When I was 12 or 13, I would drive my mother to Klong Toey market at 3am in our tuk tuk truck to select produce and ingredients for our food cart. After school, I would push the cart around our neighbourhood to sell the food she had made.
When I finished high school at 16, I begged my mother to let me go to London to study a short course in English. She borrowed money and sent it to me. I got a job as a pot washer at night and serving coffee in the morning at the Waldorf Hotel before school. I was eventually sponsored by the hotel to go to Culinary school. I went on to finish my culinary school and apprenticeship in Sydney, where my mother and sisters had emigrated. It was when I was in Sydney that I really dedicated myself fully to becoming a chef.
My mother and family were my inspiration.
4- Thai Food varies from regions to regions. The food from central Thailand, the North, the South and the Northeast are completely different and very unique on it’s own. Can you tell us more/explain about the food and how it changes from region to region.
There are 4 distinct culinary regions in Thailand – Central, South, North and Northeast. The dishes and uses of herbs, spices, chillies were traditionally affected by the different environments, access to fresh water or oceans, transportation, regional history and so on.
- Access to both fresh water and oceans
- Coconut milk
- Since it is in the centre and of the country and the seat of the capitals over the centuries, access to a variety of produce, proteins, spices, etc.
- Royal cuisine is from this region
- Experience/influences from migrations and trading.
- Access to the oceans so a lot of seafood
- Influence from migration and trading of Chinese and Indian
- Influence from Southern neighbours – Malay and Peranakan
- Influence of religion: Muslims from the Southern Sultanates
- Have a cold season and different growing seasons
- Do not use coconut milk
- Influences from old Lanna Kingdom and “Burmese” (Now Myanmar) cuisines
- Influences from Chinese as well as hill Tribes
- In history, a “moving” border with rival kingdoms and others so overlap with some of the spices and ingredients, etc with the neighbouring countries
- Fresh water fish, dry ingredients and fermenting
- Do not use coconut milk
5- Many people have misconceptions of Thai food outside of Thailand and most of it comes from the misinterpreted versions that are suited for the palates of that particular country. For instances, overly sweet dishes, spice levels and maybe adding a tad too much coconut milk/cream to curries etc. How would you convey and explain the true flavour of Thai food?
This is very difficult to explain on paper. It really has to do with the ingredients and proper use of them, and the freshness of the produce and ingredients that needs to be used. The best way for people to understand is to actually visit Thailand. For a parallel example, the best and most authentic French food I have eaten is in France. The amazing quality of the ingredients and proper cooking of them make all the difference.
6- Establishing a great relationship with your suppliers are crucial to ensuring quality ingredients and produce delivered to your door. How are the relationships between you and your supplier?
I have great relationships with my suppliers. For example we work with a fish monger from a province on the Gulf of Thailand who comes to deliver live fish to Issaya a few times a week.
7- Wine matching is an essential part of a dining experience; do you work closely with your sommelier to ensure the perfect pairing?
We do not offer any wine paring menus at any of my restaurants as this is not a part of what we offer. For example, at Issaya my business partner is a sommelier and we offer a wide range of wines, cocktails, teas, and other beverages for our diners to have a good selection.
8- How do you bring balance to dishes on the menu. Can you explain to us the creative process when making a dish from start to finish?
For me, the inspiration may come from a memory or a flavor. Sometimes it is the ingredient I am working with. From there I can visualize it and work on how to make the dish come together. I will test the components of the recipe I am creating until the recipe comes together. Sometimes I work with my assistant chefs for their opinions or comments, sometimes I test things out on family and friends. There are many ways to work.
9- You have two cookbooks published. Issaya Siamese Club cookbook and Issaya La Patissiere pastry cookbook. What were your inspiration and philosophy behind these cookbooks.
The restaurants were the inspiration behind the books – a way to bring the memory of the dining experience home with you or to recreate it at home.
10- Have you got a mentor or figure that you particularly admire/respect throughout your career as a chef?
11- Top 5 ingredients to have in your pantry.
For Thai cuisine: Thai Chili, kaffir lime leaves, coriander root, Thai garlic, Thai fish sauce
12- Top 5 favourite produce to work with.
For Thai cuisine: Nham Dok Mai mangoes, morning glory vegetable, tamarind, holy basil, Thai shallots
13- Have you got any advice to young chefs or any chefs that are dwelling into the the world of Thai food?
Spend time in Thailand. Learn about Thai ingredients. Learn about each region of Thailand. Listen and watch as some of the best opportunities to learn are from observation.
14- There is a much greater coverage and understanding of Thai food compared to many years ago. With Michelin coming to Thailand and more restaurants featured on the Asia’s 50 best list. What are your thoughts of the Thai culinary scene in the upcoming years to come?
I see it continuing to grow and expand. Thais have always been food obsessed and with the younger generations of chefs and diners growing up watching food-centric television, social media, the proliferation of award lists and events, etc. the culinary scene in places like Bangkok is growing.
15- Where are your favourite restaurants to go to in Bangkok? or anywhere in the world.
In Bangkok, Hoy Todd Chao Lay in Thonglor Road. In New York, Gramercy Tavern never disappoints. I also love the whole fish at Taverna Kyclades in Queens, New York. In Paris – Paul Bert is a favorite. In Barcelona I like to go to Tickets and Bodega 1900.
16- You have restaurants in Bangkok and New York. Also, not to mention your commitments as a consult, as a Masterchef Thailand judge and being one of the Iron Chefs. What are the future plans for Chef Ian Kittichai and Issaya?
My future plans are to continue with my existing restaurants and my f&b consulting company, Cuisine Concept Co., Ltd. Spot Dessert Bar in New York will be expanding beyond its 4 current outlets to soon. I have some other restaurant projects in the works as well.
17- Can you share us a recipe for one of your dishes?
Yum Hua Plee (Banana Blossom and Heart of Palm Salad)
Yam Hua Plee Kab Yod Maphrao
(Banana Blossom and heart of Palm salad with chilli jam dressing)
- 500ml Tamarind juice
- 40gm Palm sugar
- 15ml Soy sauce
- 50ml Coconut cream
- 100gm Chilli Jam
Bring Tamarind juice, coconut cream, palm sugar, chilli jam and soy sauce to a boil. Remove from heat and reserve.
- 110ml Fresh coconut cream
- 5gm Turmeric powder
- 5gm Cornstarch
In a saucepan, bring all ingredients to a boil until thickened, stirring constantly. Set aside.
Banana blossom salad
- 100gm Banana blossom, diced to 2cm pieces
- 1L Cold water (for preparing banana blossom)
- 30ml Lime juice
- 50gm Heart of plam, diced into 2 cm pieces
- 30gm Shallots, thinly sliced, deep fried
- 30gm Toasted coconut
- 5gm Dried chilli flakes
- 30gm Roasted peanuts, chopped
- 4 Kaffir lime leaves, veins removed and finely julienned
- 1 Butterfly pea flower, torn (optional)
- 5gm Chinese brocolli flowers (Optional)
- 2gm Red finger chilli peppers, de-seeded and julienned
How to clean and prepare banana blossoms
- Prepare a bath of cold water. Add 30ml lime juice to per 1 litre of water.
- Take banana blossom and peel away and discard outer red petals and small white strips of banana flower along with them.
- Cut off the tip and the end of the blossom. Split the blossom in half lengthwise, then cut in half again, resulting in a quartered blossom.
- Place the four pieces into the water bath to prevent the pieces from oxidising and turning black.
- Proceed to peek and clean each layer of the blossom, again making sure to discard the small white strips of banana flower inside.
- Dice the cleaned leaves into 2-cm squares, and return the pieces to the water bath as you continue to chop the rest of the leaves.
- Once finished, drain the excess water and continue to prepare the salad dish.
- Cut the heart of palm into 2 cm squares.
- In a saucepan, heat banana blossom and heart of palm with the dressing until warm. Remove from heat.
- Toss in fried shallots, toasted coconut, chilli flakes, roasted peanuts and half of kaffir lime and mix together.
- Transfer to serving plate. Drizzle some turmeric cream, and garnish with assorted flowers, red finger chilli peppers ad remaining kaffir lime leaves.
– FURTHER INFORMATION –
CHEF : Ian Kittichai
Issaya Siamese Club
4 Soi Sri Aksorn, Chua Ploeng Road, Sathorn, Bangkok.
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