Taiwanese born chef Angus An has always been surrounded by food from a young age. From being inspired by his parents to his grandmother. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, he leaped into pursuing cooking as a career, and applied to New York’s prestigious French Culinary Institute.
From there, he completed an externship at Jean-George’s Vongerichten’s restaurant JoJo, and graduated top of his class. He then went onto working three years under Chef Normand Laprise at restaurant Toque who he till today looks up to him as a great mentor. In 2004, his culinary adventures find him working in the UK under Chef David Thompson where he spent the next 18 months learning the intense aroma, flavours, textures and the many aspects of Thai Cuisine
Angus opened up his award winning restaurant, Maenam in 2009, and the rest was history. Now, with 6 restaurants under his belt, who knows what he would be surprising us with his 7th!
– QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH ANGUS AN
1- How do you define your style of cooking and philosophy behind your restaurants, Maenam, Longtail kitchen, Fat Mao noodles, Firebird Shack and Sen Pad Thai?
I think the most straightforward way to describe the prevailing style behind all of our restaurants is that we are Thai in spirit and flavour combined with local and seasonal (West Coast of Canada) ingredients, and some modern cooking techniques applied.
2- What will/should your diners expect when dining at your restaurants?
Something new, something old. Guests will try definitive Thai dishes that they may have seen throughout North America but executed with my own imagination and technique. They will also experience more traditional dishes they may not have experienced before and are unique to our restaurants. We try to provide variety.
3- When and how did you know you wanted to be a chef? Who and what inspired you to cook?
I have loved cooking since an early age. I was 20 in University studying Fine Arts, hoping to pursue a career in Architecture when I decided I wanted to turn what has always been a passion and job into a culinary career.
4- You released your first cookbook “Maenam – a fresh approach to Thai cooking” late last year. What was the inspiration behind writing this book?
It began as an attempt to write a modern Thai cookbook. Eventually, as timing dictated, it became a celebration of 10+ years of Maenam and how we have evolved since we opened. It is a book that showcases the food we create, using Thai tradition with local and seasonal ingredients found in the West Coast of Canada.
5- What has been the most unique Thai ingredient/s you have come across since dwelling into this cuisine.
There are many, but if there was one I had to pinpoint it will have to be Pla Rah. I think an ingredient is special when one can use the phrase “complex funk” to describe it. That is a perfect term for its the depth of flavour, the uniqueness, the polarizing smell and taste.
6- Having just spent some time in Thailand, what have been the most eye opening experiences/enlightening moments during your trip?
I spend time there every year so I feel at home in Thailand now. Looking back to my very first trip, the most tantalizing thing for me was the street food. The quantity, the quality and the ability of these cooks to make these delicious dishes with minimal setup blew me away.
7- Thai food generally is eaten as a shared meal with rice where there is usually a relish, soup, salad, stir fry and curry. Can you advise us how one should go by to ensure they are having a balanced meal?
The key word is balance. Try to have a combination of proteins and vegetables. Generally I also strive for balance of flavour—simply put, I would not order 5 of the most spiciest dishes on the menu at the same time. A spicy jungle curry paired with a cleansing soup can give your palate a well deserving break.
8- With 6 restaurants under your belt, can you share with us the secret to the success of your businesses?
Adaptability and flexibility. It’s key to learn what your customers want. Too many chefs are egocentric and only want to cook what they want to cook, but your clientele might not be ready for such an adventure. A successful restaurant is when the chef and guests have a good balance and understanding of what they both want from one another.
9- Have you got any advice to chefs that are dwelling into the world of Thai food?
Go for it! It is as refined as any cuisine out there and a world of flavours awaits.
10- Have you got a mentor or figure that you particularly admire/respect throughout your career as a chef?
I have two key chefs that I look to as mentors in my career. Normand Laprise of Toqué in Montreal, who taught me about a naturalistic way of cooking. His food is so minimal and pure, always representing his terroir and the ingredients he uses. Second mentor would be David Thompson, he changed my notion of Thai food (see below). He showed me the intensity, complexity and balance of Thai food.
11- I find people perceive Thai food and most Southeast Asian cuisine as a “cheap” cuisine due to the reputation of small takeaway restaurants offering affordable prices and other factors. It can also be a challenge to educate diners about what Thai food is/how it should taste as diners might not know the effort and time that goes into making pastes and dressings from scratch. They might not also be familiar with the flavour profiles of each individual dish as well. What has been the most challenging in running restaurants in Vancouver and what would you say is the most misunderstood aspect of Thai food from a chef and diners’ point of view.
When I was a young chef I admit that was also my perception of Thai food. It was mostly because I had not been exposed to good Thai food. Until I met Chef David Thompson—his Thai flavours blew me away and then I realized how naïve I was. I would recommend that people have an open mind, try new things and travel more if you can. Diners in Vancouver are becoming more knowledgeable, and willing to experience new flavours. Initially when we opened, we had to cook dishes they recognized as Thai food, but executed with my own techniques and creativity. Slowly over the last 12 years we have been able to gain the trust of our guests and introduce dishes that might be challenging but most of them are openly willing to try. I think a chef/restauranteur has to be patient and build that trust.
12- Top 5 favourite produce to work with.
I don’t have a top 5, love all produce and love to let each season inspire me with its bounty..
13- Top 5 ingredients to have in your pantry.
I must preface this by saying, I rarely cook Thai food at home. My pantry reflects that:
Good quality olive oil (lots of them), sea salt, black peppercorns (whole), fish sauce and soy sauce.
14- Where are your favourite restaurants to go to in Vancouver?
Kissa Tanto, Cioppino’s, Masayoshi
15- There is a much greater coverage and understanding of Thai food compared to many years ago. With Michelin arriving in Thailand and more Thai restaurants featured on Asia’s 50 best list. What are your thoughts of the Thai culinary scene in the upcoming years to come?
Thai food had been shining well before the recent spot light, but I do think it will continue to gain worldwide recognition as one of the finest cuisines.
16- 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 suppliers?
We have nurtured strong relationships with our suppliers. From the fishermen, to our friends who raise hogs, to the tremendous guy who brings us hand-picked heirloom tomatoes harvested that very morning in the summer.
17- What do you do to wind down on your days off?
Read, and relax. I like to design and build things for around the house too.
18- Can you share us a recipe for one of your dishes?
Scallop ceviche with seafood nahm jim.
Scallop Ceviche with Seafood Nahm Jim
Seafood Nahm Jim
- 1/4 Cup Sliced Galangal
- 5 Green Thai bird’s Eye Chillies
- 2 Red Thai Bird’s Eye Chillies
- 8 cloves Garlic
- 1/4 cup chopped Coriander Root
- 2 Red Chilli Peppers, deseeded
- 1/3 cup Granulated Sugar
- 2/3 cup Squeezed Lime Juice
- 1/2 cup Fish Sauce
- Zest and juice of 1 Makrut Lime (Kaffir)
- Pinch of Kosher Salt
- Place the hardest ingredients in the mortar first, such as galangal slices, Thai bird’s eye chillies, garlic, coriander root, and fruit zest. Always add a pinch of kosher salt to the mortar – it acts an an abrasive and helps break down the fibers. Pound the ingredients with the pestle; the technique isn’t just up-and-down pounding or grinding but a combination of both motions. You want to strike one side of the mortar with pestle and grind it back to the other side. Using your wrist and the momentum of the pestle only. If you’re doing this correctly, it should take you only a minute of two to break down the hardest ingredients. Most importantly, never overcrowd the mortar.
- Sliced the deseeded chilli pepper flesh so that it’s easier to break down. Add it to the mortar and continue to pound. Be very careful not to look directly into the mortar while you are pounding as bits of chilli may splash up into your eye. Cover the top of the pestle with one hand if needed to prevent the ingredients from splashing out, as the mixture becomes quite wet. Make sure that the chilli pepper skins are pounded into small pieces; after this point, they wont break down any further.
- Add the sugar to the mortar. The sugar will absorb the moisture; instead of pounding, grind it into the mixture with the pestle to further develop a fine paste. The finer your paste, the smoother your dressing will be.
- Stir in the liquids: lime juice, fish sauce and makrut lime. Mix with the pestle until the liquids are well incorporated, and let dressing sit for 5 minutes before tasting it; such strong flavours often need time to get to know each other. Adjust to taste if needed. Most of the salad dressings that include fresh lime should be served immediately; however, if you have a little extra left over, you can keep it in the fridge for a couple of days without losing too much freshness. Bear in mind that freshly squeezed lime juice oxidizes very quickly and can’t be kept for long periods of time.
- 4 cups Canola Oil
- 1 cup thinly sliced shallots, about 1/16 inch
- In a medium-size pot, preheat the oil to about 165C/330F. Fry the shallots for about 5 minutes, stirring them occasionally. Toward the end of the cooking time, turn them over a few times with your spider and remove them from the oil when they’re light golden brown.
- Use two forks to spread them out evenly to cook on a wire rack with paper towel. This ensures the shallots cool off an crisp up more quickly.
- Reserve the fragrant oil for finishing and stir frying.
- Store fried aromatics in a lidded container in the pantry for up to 2 weeks.
- 4-8 Live Bay Scallops
- 2 Tablespoons finely sliced Lemongrass, to garnish
- 2 Tablespoons finely sliced fresh Long Leaf Coriander, to garnish
- 1 Tablespoon finely julienned Makrut lime leaves (Kaffir), to ganish
- Few Sprigs Coriander, to garnish
- 2-4 Tablespoons cured Salmon Roe or sustainable Caviar, to ganish (optional)
- 2 Tablespoons Fried Shallots, to Garnish
- Edible Flowers, to garnish (optional)
- Clean the scallop shells with a brush to remove all sand and dirt. The shells will be used as presentation and serving pieces.
- Using a flexible palette knife, pry open the two shells slightly, wide enough to stick in your thumb. The tension from the shells might feel uncomfortable, but it will be brief. Insert the palette knife and scrape the inside of the top flat shell until you separate the flesh from the shell. Open the flat top completely and flex the palette knife while scraping the bottom bowl-shaped shell. Once the flesh is completely dislodged from the shell, set it aside in a bowl on ice. Scrape the inside of the shells clean and wash them thoroughly; reserve for serving.
- To trim the scallop meat, remove the outer mantle and the liver (black piece), keeping the flesh (muscle) and the roe (orange piece). For this recipe, only the muscle is needed; however, the roe is a tasty piece to incorporate into the ceviche should you feel adventurous.
- Slice each scallop into four wedges. Place the scallop wedges back onto the shells and dress each with about ½ tablespoon nahm jim.
- Garnish with lemongrass, long-leaf coriander, Makrut lime leaves, and coriander sprigs. I also like to serve it with cured salmon roe and an edible flower. Sprinkle the fried shallots on last for texture. Serve immediately.
©Angus An/Maenam Restaurant
– FURTHER INFORMATION –
CHEF : Angus An
1938 W 4th AVE
Vancouver, BC V6J1M5 Canada
Fat Mao Noodles
217 E Georgia St
Vancouver, BC V6A1Z6 Canada
Sen Pad Thai
Unit 7 1666 Johnston St
Vancouver, BC V6H3R5 Canada
Unit 116 810 Quayside Drive
New Westminster, BC V3M6B9 Canada
Freebird Chicken Shack
188 E Pender St
Vancouver, BC V6A1T3 Canada
1691 Johnston St
Vancouver, BC V6H3R5 Canada
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