The article in the International Herald Tribune on September 23 about David Thompson, an Australian chef opening up a Nahm Thai restaurant in Bangkok and announcing that he is here to save Thai cooking from "decaying", is more than any Krapaow-eating Thai can stand. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/25/world/asia/25chef.html?_r=1&hp
Let's break this down a little more. Thai cuisine has become internationally known for good reasons. It has complex flavours that take a lifetime to know, but can be enjoyed by the least educated of palates. In the past 20 years, Thai restaurants have been sprouting up in most western cities like mushrooms in forests. The majority of their customers are people in the restaurants' local areas whose taste buds are definitely defined (and limited) by western tastes. Moreover, availability and/or lack of fresh or necessary ingredients dictate the adaption of Thai cuisine to local produce. In a word, it is Thai-style cuisine, not Thai cuisine that Westerners are used to eating and, of course, judging. Once these restaurants become famous in their native lands, oblivious to most Thais, they feel the necessity to come to Bangkok to open a branch. Blue Elephant is a previous example.
It is mostly to improve the image of their restaurants to their own customers who, having visited the restaurants overseas and loving Thai food, are enticed to visit the motherland of this wonderful cuisine. Think how they would feel if they come to Thailand and no one here has ever heard of this much Michelin-touted restaurant. They would wonder if they have been going to a real Thai restaurant at all. My point is that Thai restaurants that make the Michelin list do not make it on tastes that Thais would even consider acceptable.
They make it on ambience, service and tastes that suit western tasted buds. As a Thai who has lived half my life in Western countries, travelled extensively and often tasted Thai food outside Thailand, I have never found an "offshore" Thai restaurant that I would rate better than what we commonly and easily find here on almost every corner. In fact, if I do not ask the cook there to make it as authentic as he can, I wind up not enjoying it and usually end up going to a KFC. At least, I know it is authentic.
So what does any of this have to do with Nahm's chief cook? Just this: Thai cuisine does not need self promoting farang cooks to be making a controversial statement just to promote himself or his restaurants. We welcome any chefs, Thai, farang or whomever, who can make a real culinary contribution. We are happy that there are Western cooks who want to learn and promote Thai cuisine to the world. But don't think that the Michelin stars that they received gives them the right to come to Thailand, the Motherland of Thai cuisine, to teach Thai chefs with a lifetime of cooking experience how to make Thai dishes. Or to tell Thais what they have been eating is not authentic. Thai cuisine, like any other complex cuisines around the world, is continually evolving with new ingredients and new cooking methods that real Thais know and are happy to enjoy and support with their pockets. 99.9 per cent of them could not care less about Michelin's rating of a Thai restaurant in London and will probably never set foot in Nahm's restaurant either in Bangkok or London. They would prefer to go to a neighbourhood restaurant that they know is better and certainly authentic. I would be willing to bet that Nahm Restaurant will attract very few Thai customers. And not because of price.
ML Saksiri Kridakorn