“For me, nuts and dried fruits add another layer of texture to dishes. Layers of texture in dishes are loved in Thai cuisine, and in Thai food, we need crunchy, so nuts deliver on this aspect perfectly.”
Chumpol Jangprai is a widely recognized Michelin-starred chef and a true ambassador of Thai cuisine. He is the co-founder and executive chef of the two Michelin star restaurant R-HANN in Bangkok, Thailand. He has gone on to become a celebrity chef in Thailand, making various TV appearances and even opening an online culinary academy, TCA (Thai Cuisine Academy).
When did you know that you wanted to be a chef? And what steps did you first take on your culinary journey?
I first knew that I wanted to be a chef when I was 19 years old, but I started cooking when I was 18. By the time, I had turned 19, I made the decision that I wanted to be a professional chef. My first experience in the kitchen was helping my grandmother cook when I was 6 years old. At 15 years old, I began university and I would cook in the morning and then the afternoons, I would go to school. During my third year in the university, I moved to Copenhagen to work as a cook in a Scandinavian hotel and this is where I had my first true job in the food industry.
Thai cuisine is growing around the world and more and more people are becoming familiar with it, but how would you describe Thai food? What makes it special to you?
For me, one of the best descriptions of Thai food is that it is a delicious food medicine in the sense that it is a healthy cuisine and it is a medicinal cuisine. Secondly, I would describe Thai cuisine as a symphony of taste, because when done correctly, each dish should be full of so many different flavors. There are 5 senses and 8 different tastes in which a Thai dish can touch on, and it is all about combining the flavors and giving the customer a wide range of experiences. For example, in my Massaman Curry, I use 32 ingredients and this together is a symphony of flavors and tastes.
You have had numerous appearances on television, and you’ve become a celebrity. What plans do you have next? New restaurants? More TV appearances? What can we expect from Chef Chumpol Jangprai?
I think there are two main things to expect. First, I am opening my culinary school called Thai Cuisine Academy which enables me to share my experience and knowledge with the newer generation and with those people who have a passion for cooking. Located in Bangkok, this school helps me transfer my skills to new people and I’m excited to offer the school in-person and online. Secondly, I would like to expand and grow my restaurant R.H.A.N.N which is currently a 2-Star Michelin restaurant. My goal is to develop and create new ideas and hopefully earn the third Michelin Star. Then of course, I would like to take it to some of the biggest cities around the world to show that we can do fine dining with traditional Thai food alongside with innovation. Additionally, I am working on a TV show here in Thailand, but also, I am helping local communities invest in restaurants and helping them to set up their own eateries and fine dining establishments.
You are a 2-Star Michelin Chef, and considered one of the top chefs worldwide. What does this recognition mean for you? Has it changed your relationship with cooking and has your cooking style evolved since you started getting widespread recognition for your food?
Actually, for me, the Michelin Stars are like Hollywood awards that actors and actresses receive because, for a chef, it is one of the top acknowledgments in the industry. I really appreciate the value that the Michelin Guide brings to my restaurant and to know that the best chefs around the world are being recognized with it. However, the Michelin Stars cannot and do not change my relationship with Thai cuisine and my cooking style. If anything, they help me to keep energy and stay motivated for developing new ideas and being better.
You value using the best quality products, so for you, how do you ensure that you have the freshest and highest quality ingredients?
I have a lot of contact with local farms and villages all around Thailand, and I change my menu three times each year to align with the three different seasons that we have here in Thailand: summer, rainy, and winter. I do my best to match my menu with the season to ensure the freshest ingredients are being used, and now we are also buying directly from the farmers and producers because this increases the quality of our ingredients. Also, I love going to the market as much as possible to see which products are available.
What role do nuts and dried fruits play in your cooking and also general in Thai cuisine?
So, nuts and dried fruits are common in Thai cuisine, and often times you’ll see them being used in appetizers, salads, and of course in curries. I am working on a chicken cashew dish, as it is becoming more and more popular around the world. Using chicken and cashews together has been gaining popularity especially over the past 30 years. The cashew nut is used a lot in any massaman curry, and we also use peanuts quite a bit as well. More and more we are using dried fruits now, as Thai cuisine is considered healthy, they make great additions. We use dried fruit a lot in deserts as a way to add sweetness.
What flavors do you appreciate from nuts and dried fruits?
For me, nuts and dried fruits add another layer of texture to dishes. Layers of texture in dishes are loved in Thai cuisine, and in Thai food, we need crunchy, so nuts deliver on this aspect perfectly. Also, the dried fruits can give an aroma to dishes, which enhances the experience of eating, but there is also natural sweetness coming from the dried fruits. In conclusion, nuts and dried fruits add to the symphony of tastes!
QUICK FIRE ROUND
- What is the best part of being a chef? Providing customers with the best quality food.
- What is your personal favorite dish with nuts or dried fruits? My massaman curry! You can use any kind of nut!
- What is the next big gastronomical trend in the world? Functional and medical food.
- What nuts and dried fruits do you always have in your kitchen? Cashews, peanuts, and raisins for sure!
Check out Chef Jangprai’s Stir Fried Chicken with Cashew Nut recipe!