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DAVID THOMPSON


changed his cooking. “Opening Nahm in Bangkok was quite traumatic as a cook,” he recalls. “All the recipes I had previously been able to use and follow quite faithfully with some degree of success simply did not work as they had done in the different cities.”


P


erplexed, Thompson wondered why: “The ingredients were the same. The cook was almost the same. But there is not one single dish that was right. Basic things from stocks to dressings, to the more complicated dishes such as salads, relishes and curries, nothing could work. In the past, the ingredients we had used were grown outside Thailand. They were not as good as some of the ingredients we could get when we opened our restaurant in Bangkok.” This baffling time became an opportunity for culinary spring cleaning. Thompson had to test assumptions he had earlier, and throw away those that did not work. “But the other thing that began to occur was the whole method with which I cooked also began to change.” Thompson says, noticing an evolution in his cooking style. He has gone from “nervously dictating how things should be, as in Australia, to constantly demanding how things should occur, as in London, to being far more collegiate and consensual when it came to developing recipes, which is how recipes now work in Thai food”.


At Nahm Bangkok, Thompson learned that bringing old recipes to life allowed for variations and interpretation. One recipe Thompson found was jungle curry, an old-fashioned rustic curry with a jungle bird, dried chilies, lemongrass, galangal and the regular shallots, garlic and shrimp paste. With the help of his Thai executive chef at Nahm and other Thai cooks, bit by bit, they moved the jungle curry from the 1920s to the 2010s: “We changed the curry paste, added more shrimp paste. We added more lemongrass to recover the oily quality of the chicken, which we used because the jungle bird is no longer common in Bangkok. Then we started to use a little bit of beef, which seemed to be an even better fit. And that necessitated a change in the curry paste.


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“What I'll offer in Singapore is the street food I enjoy eating in Bangkok. It's a hybridised cuisine”


“Cooking Thai food is like playing a chess match, where you make one move, then another and another in order to find your goal – culinary checkmate.” Thompson adds: “My understanding of authenticity is no longer about the dictates of an old recipe combined with some ingredients. It is also an authenticity – and an authenticity that follows those set patterns has an element of genuineness about it.” Meeting Thompson in Singapore, he confides: “Singapore has become a second home, or something like that, because I’m opening a restaurant here later this year.” Intrigued, I ask, “Are you opening Nahm?” “No, I’m not. Nahm is a difficult, demanding beast. It is an impossible beast to manage,” he replies. After cooking Thai food abroad, he now realizes that Nahm is best suited to Bangkok. “What I will offer in Singapore is the street food I enjoy eating in Bangkok. It’s a hybridised cuisine. It has a lot of Chinese influences so you don’t have to cook either extremes of heat or of sourness, or of sweetness. It’s a simpler type of cooking as well. Street food by its very nature is far more tolerant I suppose.” When pressed for an opening date, Thompson answers: “We are still doing a few things, so possibly the third or fourth quarter of this year. I believe any self-respecting restaurateur will always run late with their opening.” Without the formal trappings of a traditional restaurant, Thompson’s new venture will be more accessible. “It offers a far more relaxed approach, so there will be a bar,” he says. “There will be an open kitchen, which I have


always disliked, but on the streets of Bangkok you see the cooks in front of you.” To solve the labour restrictions and shortage of staff in Singapore, the cooks will be serving the food as well.


I asked what ingredients are always in his fridge. Thompson says: “I have chocolate, because I’m addicted to chocolate. But I always have palm sugar, fish sauce, garlic and chili.” There’s no doubt Thai cuisine runs in his veins.


Don’t even get him started on durian. For Thompson, the 66 different varieties of this fruit mean 66 different manifestations of heaven.


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