It was one breezy Sunday evening, too surreal for Bangkok’s weather standards, but what was indeed incredible was that we got a great chance to sit down and talk with David Thompson.
Yes, David Thompson, the Australian chef with mad expertise in Thai cuisine, the founder of a Michelin-starred Nahm, the cookery writer behind Thai Food and Thai Street Food. Yes, that’s the one.
It’s been a couple of decades. What keeps you this motivated, passionate about Thai cuisine?
“I am very lucky. Throughout most of my career, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done. I still have the timeless pleasure of cooking, well not always in cooking but doing a dish and when it’s intrigued to cook. I still have the same delight and joy that I had when I first started cooking as I still do now.”
“It allowed me to do things that I probably would never do. If I don’t like something, I don’t do it as well as I should. But Thai food, for some reasons, I’ve loved it. So it’s been a passion that I’ve followed and consumed with delight, with pleasure. It gives me some benefits. It gives me some headaches. It gives me some problems. But it’s been very fruitful.”
Tell us about your thoughts on funeral cookbooks.
“My partner, Tanongsak, introduced me to funeral cookbooks. It was a treasure trove. Not being Thai, I really had no understanding of the depths in the Thai hors d’oeuvre tradition. When I discovered those books, it gave me insight into that regal pasts. It’s been fascinating. It allowed me to understand Thai food in a way that I could never have.”
“The Thais believe the further back you go, the more pure the knowledge is. Once that’s not always the case, and it’s not the case with food, particularly western food. I think, at least to my understanding, the Thai food in distant pasts is more interesting, more fascinating if you have insight into what Thai food is now.”
So the post-Nahm era comes Aksorn. Care to elaborate?
“Because this place [Central: The Original Store] was taken over by the Central family in 1949, opened in 1950, and it was a bookshop, I thought I should place this whole operation on my collection of cookbooks in the 1950s to 1970s.”
“I’ve never used that era in my research. What I found is that Thailand was in transition from Siam to modern Bangkok. Everything was beginning to change, and you can see it in the food with the end of old Siam.”
“When I was planning this operation, I’ve never intended this to be for tourists. I’ve always intended it to be for locals. What we try to do is to reinforce the style from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. It’s a small little restaurant with a set menu that I hope would please.”