Bangkok’s home-grown, Waldorf-trained, world-famous chef

Bangkok’s home-grown, Waldorf-trained, world-famous chef

Beginning his career washing pots and pans in London, chef Ian Chalermkittichai has cooked and managed his way to the top of his profession
Ian Chalermkittichai
Got something to say? Then speak up! CNNGo is looking to reward 6 smart, lucky readers with free TraVision MileageManager memberships. Rise to the challenge, show your wit, share your tips, leave your thoughts - it’s easy, read our stories, speak your mind and our editors will pick the best readers' comments posted before 23:59:59 29/07/2010. Full details can be found here

Despite the arrival of famous chefs like Australia’s David Thompson, whose Nahm restaurant will be opening in Bangkok next month, there are few foreign names that rival the celebrity of home grown talent Ian Chalermkittichai

Chef Ian represents the best of Thai cooking at home and abroad, though his creations are far detached from the traditional ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ of old-school Thai cuisine. After a transnational initiation into gastronomy, Ian has infused Thai home cooking with what he calls the “flair, refinement and perfection” of the French master chefs. 

But Ian is no one-trick pony. His menus draw on a melange of recipes and styles. 

“Before I opened Murmuri in Barcelona I originally wanted to do only Thai food, but my investor didn’t like the idea. I nearly backed out, but other chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten were branching out, so I figured I should do the same,” says Ian.

Chopping around the world

Ian is now arguably the hottest Thai chef in town. He manages restaurants around the world, stirring up a reputation in New York, Barcelona and recently Mumbai. Restaurateurs around the world are queuing up for a slice of the Kittichai brand or to hire the former TV chef to manage their business.

This is quite a feat for a man who comes from such humble beginnings. As a 14-year-old, Ian would drive his mother across Bangkok to the notorious Klong Toey market at 2:30 a.m. every morning, sneaking his way through the city to avoid bribe-hungry policemen. On school days Ian slept in the car but on weekends he’d join his mother on a sweep through the wet market, picking out ingredients for the 10 different curries she made for the would-be-chef to sell around the neighborhood when he got home from school each day. 

Although Ian wasn’t passionate about cooking at the time, his mother showed him how to pick the best fresh vegetables, fish and meat. These lessons have served him well. 

Ian left Thailand at 16 with the intention of learning English and going to business school. He returned to Bangkok 11 years later having worked at exclusive restaurants in London and Sydney, but it took some time before he settled into his gastronomic career.

Dish monkey to TV chef

“When the Waldorf London asked me if I wanted to train as a chef, it was the free schooling, not the food or the kitchen that made me say yes,” Ian recalls, noting that he started out working as a dishwasher.

“It was only after six months at a Thai restaurant in Sydney that I decided to turn professional, but I had no idea how. So I went into bookstores to read chef biographies in the cookbooks, but I never bought one.”

Back home in Bangkok, Ian spent five years working up the ladder at the Four Seasons Hotel, becoming the first and only Thai national to make it as an executive chef in a five-star hotel. After 11 years there, Ian became a household name as a cooking-show host on Thai television. Then he opened his first restaurant, Kittichai, in New York. “New York was a nightmare at first,” says Ian. But his food was met with critical acclaim and this success lead him on to Barcelona and back to Bangkok where he opened Hyde & Seek.

Today, with the help of his wife Sarah, Ian’s restaurants and management consultancy Cuisine Concept continue to push the Kittichai name across Asia and around the world. Next up is India, and we’re pretty certain Ian won’t be ending his culinary tour there.

 

Tim France is journalist and analyst, specializing in emerging markets. In addition to travel and lifestyle writing, he has reported on business and humanitarian issues in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

 

Read more about Timothy France