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sia’s number one restaurant is Nahm. Interestingly, the man behind this Thai restaurant is David Thompson, an Australian chef. In Thailand, locals would refer to him as


a farang, the Thai term for a caucasian. But this farang chef has become synonymous with Thai cuisine. Thanks to his best selling books, Thai Food and Thai Street Food, he is regarded as an expert in Thai cuisine. Few people know Thai food as Thompson does. His London restaurant, Nahm, was the fi rst Thai restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. This year, his second Nahm, located at the Metropolitan Hotel in Bangkok, ranked Asia’s Best Restaurant and ranked 13 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Thompson’s knack for scouring century-old cookbooks and bringing to life recipes not seen for years gained him acclaim at Nahm Bangkok. Thompson confesses, “I’ve always been an avid reader of history, because I’m fascinated by it. It makes one aware of where one has come from. As an outsider in Thailand, it was important for me to be able to at least understand, the complex culture and the past in order to give some validity to the food.” This scholar of Thai cuisine found that best Thai food comes from the late 19th century. Thompson explains: “Every culture goes through the vicissitudes, the waves of great heights, and then goes fl at for a while. But that was one of the high points, one of the epochs of Thai culinary history.” Another appeal of this period is its accessibility to Thompson as a culinary researcher. He discovered the remarkable tradition of Thai people publishing books to be distributed at funeral or cremation ceremonies. These books included recipes. “This was when cookbooks were fi rst printed,” he said. “They were often just given to family members and intimates of the deceased.” Ask Thompson if he is cooking authentic Thai food and he spins into a complex answer defi ning authenticity. “Most people say authenticity is something that happens in the past, something that needs to be reproduced quite faithfully,” he says. “I’ve come to the conclusion that people have a different interpretation of what is authentic. It depends on when people are looking back – and where they are looking back to.” Thompson humbly admits: “I have no right to cook


Thai food. I arrived in Thailand a novice, uncertain and very unfamiliar.” For Thompson, his initial understanding


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“As an outsider in Thailand, it was important for me to understand the complex culture and the past in order to give some validity to the food”


of Thai food was limited. He recalls, “It was fi xed not only in the 19th century, and on Bangkok, but into a certain class – an affl uent class. It was a rich, urbane class that had servants who could cook for them. Because that was the epitome of the food as I understood it to be. I wrote a book called Thai Food, and I wrote it in order to articulate my understanding of what I believed fi ne Thai food was about, placed in that time, in that city, in that class. It was a very fi xed idea. And in some ways, it dismissed all other possible interpretations of what authentic was. It dismissed the food of the streets. It disregarded the cuisines of diverse regions. It ignored the possibility of satisfying cooking in a house that was not, perhaps, as affl uent as the houses I tried to get into.” Thompson identifi es this understanding of authenticity as fl awed, especially if you’re searching for a historical understanding of food. He says, “This defi nition fi xes an idea of what it should be, as opposed to what in fact good cooking and good culture is about. It is changing and developing to express the essence of a dish.” Thompson’s cooking has evolved


since his fi rst foray into Thai food at Darley Street Thai, the restaurant he opened in Sydney in 1992 after living in Thailand for several years. “I’ve cooked throughout the world. I’ve cooked in Sydney, in London, and now I’m cooking in Bangkok.” Thompson observes, “I have to say my cooking has changed quite dramatically. First of all, I used to be a novice, an uncertain


novice, a rather demanding novice. Because when you are uncertain, you often fi x on an idea no matter how unyielding, trying to achieve that idea. That’s how I ran my restaurant in Sydney. I look back now and regard it as a rather immature operation.


“Even if I had a decent reputation in Sydney, when I look at it now, it was quite limited,” Thompson continues. “My understanding of Thai food then was quite shallow. I had only spent three or four years getting to understand a cuisine that may take a whole lifetime to appreciate.” The success of Thompson’s restaurants, Darley Street Thai and Sailors Thai, prompted hotelier Christina Ong to take notice. She offered him the opportunity to open Nahm in 2001 in the Halkin Hotel in London. In the UK, Thompson had access to some ingredients that allowed him to recreate Thai recipes in some authentic way. But moving to Bangkok in 2010 dramatically


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