Chef Thep Monthep at Bangkok restaurant Taan uncovers amazing possibilities using only local ingredients
TAAN AT the Bangkok design hotel Siam@Siam is among the increasing number of restaurants in Thailand pursuing the admirable trend of procuring ingredients from sustainable local sources rather than importing what they need.
When your fly in farm produce and other goods, of course, it arrives all sooty from your carbon footprint.
And the local stuff usually tastes better, anyway. Thailand’s four regions grow and raise products that have their own distinctive qualities and, in the hands of a good chef, the authentic flavour comes through.
Taan restaurant takes sustainably-sourced local ingredients for twisted Thai dishes.
The name Taan comes from the more formal Thai term for eating. Replacing posh French restaurant La Vue on the hotel’s 25th floor, it feels a little formal at first. But before you enter the 42-seat dining area, have a glance at the portraits on the wall by the bar near the entrance. Those are all the food suppliers who help stock the kitchen.
On the menu, too, the ingredients of each dish are accredited to their origins, complete with the distance from Bangkok in kilometres.
The free-range pork comes from Nan, the wagyu beef from Suphan Buri, the organic chicken and eggs from Nakhon Pathom, the edible flowers from Chiang Mai and most of the seafood from the Fisherfolk project in the South, a collective of small-scale fishermen.
Executive chef Monthep “Thep” Kamolsilp was visiting the village of Hin Lad Nai in Chiang Rai when he got the notion to open Taan.
“I was watching people from the Pga K’nyau hilltribe using the old farming technique of ‘slash-and-char’ to re-nourish the land,” he says. “They set the fire but smother it within a certain time, and the lower temperature and oxygen level produce charcoal instead of ash, enhancing the soil’s productivity.
“This was the power of nature and it gave me even more respect for the local wisdom that people in all regions possess to improve their products.”
Thep came up with a lively name for his dining concept – “hyper local innovative Thai cuisine”. What it means is that small-scale Thai producers grow and raise everything he uses in the kitchen. He wants the genuine flavours intact, but applies complicated techniques and adds twists in the presentation.
Chef Monthep “Thep” Kamolsilp
“My travels all around Thailand have inspired the dishes, but I adapt and reinterpret them for the more complex palates of urban diners.”
Thep, who’s worked at Normandie at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and the Eugenia Bangkok and at La Terrasse at Domaine de Divonne in France, adores gai gor lae, for example – southern-style charcoal-grilled and marinated chicken.
But he uses wagyu beef shanks instead of chicken and presents the plate with charred pineapple and pickled, spicy galangal. And he swaps the sugar that sweetens the original with dried longan, a natural sweetener.
All dishes are available both a-la-carte and in set courses (sam rub in Thai). The nine-course sam rub for both lunch and dinner costs Bt1,700-plus. A nine-course tasting menu at dinnertime is Bt2,100-plus.
The sam rub are designed to be shared, in the Thai manner. Each set includes two starters, a dip, soup, four main courses and a dessert. Mine came
with the amuse-bouche of the day – a bite-sized crispy crepe filled with seasoned minced chicken.
Charred prawns tossed with chilli and tamarind dressing
The first starter was pla goong kam kram yang, charred brackish-water prawns tossed with fresh chillies and home-made chilli oil, tamarind dressing and herbs. It’s served with the crisp-fried head of a prawn that’s had the fatty tissue scooped out and replaced with beef-bone marrow.
Isaan-style chicken sausage
For the second starter, sai grok isaan gai baan is a grilled Isaan-style fermented sausage containing breast of organic chicken. This comes with pounded chillies and a puffy-fried smoked catfish.
Chilli dip with puffy-fried smoked fish
The twist to the nam prik long rue dip is in the variety of morsels assembled on the platter. Stir-fried chilli is combined with sea catfish. Shrimp paste is topped with flakes of salted egg yolk. A chunk of deep-fried grouper rests on puffy-fried smoked fish. Alongside are seasonal sour plants like garcinia and bilimbi leaves.
Dried fish broth with pork ribs
Tom khlong nam kati leng is a broth of dried fish cooked with braised, organic pork back-ribs and crisp-fried pork belly. It’s seasoned with pounded chillies and tamarind leaves. The coconut milk is frothed up to enhance the creaminess and tone down the fire.
Fried grouper fish with clotted coconut milk
The main courses begin with pla gao tod kamin, which is fillets of grouper marinated overnight with turmeric and coated with rice before frying. The crunchy result is served with rice crackers and clotted coconut milk seasoned with pounded turkey berries, lemongrass, coriander root, chilli and garlic.
Southern-style gor lae with wagyu beef
Next up is the transformed gor lae. Nuea nong lai gor lae has those wagyu beef shanks that have been marinated with salt, turmeric and garlic overnight. Then they’re roasted at low temperature for two days until beautifully tender. As mentioned, this arrives with charred pineapple and pickled, spicy galangal.
Stir-fried pork with holy basil and torchginger
The classic dish of pad gapao – stir-fried meat with leaves of holy basil and chilli – is similarly transformed with stunning results. Thep is unfazed by purists who demand that pad gapao contain only holy basil and nothing else (no long bean, onion, corn or carrot). His version has long bean, shredded torch-ginger, lemongrass and white popinac seeds right in there with the holy basil.
“We should be concerned about using too much soy sauce and oyster sauce for the seasoning, not about too many vegetables,” says the chef. “I prefer to season this dish with southern budu fish sauce mixed with sugarcane – it’s light and delicious.”
Chicken massaman curry
Massaman gai baan features organic chicken braised for six hours and then further cooked with massaman curry. You also get pickled lotus root, garlic clove, papaya and turnip to overcome any sense of oiliness.
Thai tea ice cream, goat milk simmered with millet, and sweetened egg yolk threads
Thai tea ice cream made with fresh cow’s milk makes a nice end to the meal, as do goat milk simmered with millet and foi thong (poached egg-yolk threads) topped with wild honey.
The cocktails are also made with local ingredients. Re-Re-Khao-San (B330), named after the popular Thai children’s game, is rum infused with roasted rice and coconut water, topped with sticky rice syrup.
Um-Daeng (Bt220) adds to classic Thai iced tea pomegranate juice and ginger syrup plus lime and pounded ginger together.
SOLE SOURCE FOR FLAVOUR
Taan is on the 25th floor of the Siam@Siam Design Hotel Bangkok (BTS: National Stadium).
It’s open daily, though lunch is served only on weekdays.
Book a table at (065) 328 7374 or www.TaanBangkok.com.