Khun Piti Bhirom Bhakdi, scion of Singha Beer’s Boon Rawd Brewery and founder of R-HAAN, wants to bring authentic Thai cuisine to the world.
Khun Piti ‘Todd’ Bhirom Bhakdi, 4th generation scion of Singha Beer’s Boon Rawd Brewery, has been working in the family business for more than 15 years. His wide-ranging portfolio includes helming the company’s food business arm, Food Factors. In his spare time, he pursues dichotomous passions—motor racing and cooking. “My friends often think I would be too exhausted to cook after I return from a motor racing trip. On the contrary, that’s what I like to do best. It’s a peaceful time that helps me unwind when I cook something that I want to eat or for my friends and family to enjoy.”
His love for cooking ignited at a young age, when the aromas of Thai dishes prepared with fresh, local ingredients enticed him into the kitchen. He started learning how to cook by his grandmother’s side and it has been a passion ever since. Even when dining out, he looks out for the authentic taste of Thai cuisine. Alas, his years spent living and travelling abroad showed him that it was hard to find dining experiences offering original Thai flavours. Even in Bangkok, one might not get to enjoy intricately handcrafted Thai food of the sort passed down for generations. It has been his passion, even mission ever since, to preserve the authentic taste of Thai cuisine, and showcase it to the world.
With that insight, he decided to start a fine dining restaurant that would showcase proper Thai cuisine to the world. It would use only Thai ingredients, call on the wisdom of ancient recipes, and all the skill and detailed preparation involved in what is known as Royal Thai cuisine. This restaurant would be called R-HAAN, and be helmed by chef Chumpol Jangprai of Iron Chef fame. That the restaurant earned a Michelin star last year is a bonus. Just as the family business rose from humble beginnings, Khun Piti plans to build the R-HAAN brand step by step, championing authentic Thai cuisine every part of the way.
What was your vision for R-HAAN when you first started it a year ago?
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time cooking with my grandma who’s very traditional and believes in having Thai food the proper way. I grew up eating Thai food; it’s in my blood. When I was studying in Boston, I tried Thai food that was often not really Thai. Since then, I had a vision or mission to preserve the tradition of serving authentic Thai dishes. That’s when I had the idea to start R-HAAN, and discussed the project with chef Chumpol Jangprai.
How are the menus at R-HAAN like and what are some regional ingredients to expect?
In each of R-HAAN’s tasting menus for the summer, winter and rainy season, we use local ingredients that are the best in season to prepare authentic Thai food the way it is supposed to be prepared—without short cuts. Diners can experience authentic Thai cuisine in each of the 18 to 19 dishes on each tasting menu. Using 100 per cent well-preserved local ingredients sourced across Thailand and the original techniques of cooking Thai food are principles that we’re not going to compromise on. One example of regional ingredients we use is coconut from Phangan. It is one of the best coconuts in Thailand for cooking as it yields a dense, firm texture. Another is the top-quality beef from Sakon Nakhon province in Isan.
What are your thoughts on the restaurant’s Michelin star accolade?
We try to improve day by day. We cook exclusively for 45-50 people daily, doing our utmost to make a good impression and meet our customers’ satisfaction. And it’s rare to find Thai food served the way we do it, in a set menu, served course by course. For Thai people, it’s not common to spend one to two hours dining. When the restaurant first opened, we had 80 percent foreigners. A year and a half later, it’s now half and half, even at lunchtime. We see that we are changing the way people view and eat Thai food.
The Michelin star is a bonus. But we’re not going to stop there. We’re going to get more stars and apply for other awards too as they reflect the way we are meeting a lot of the standards that people expect. But most important of all, when you dine at R-HAAN, we’re promising that you will get to taste what Thai people eat every day. It’s the Thai way of living that we’re preserving. A meal with us is more than just food. It’s telling the story of Thai people through food.
Any plans to open branches of R-HAAN elsewhere?
We have been approached by several partners but we still want to improve on the original shop. We are not thinking of this as a showcase restaurant from which to do a franchise. We feel that to give the customer the best, we need to focus on this one and develop it before we can think of expanding to other countries.
What dishes do you make when you get the chance?
I do different cuisines such as Chinese, Japanese or Thai. One of the dishes that my guests seem to like most is Nam Ngiaw, a hot and sour noodle dish commonly eaten in Northern Thailand. It’s takes at least three to four hours to cook one pot of noodles because the ingredients need to be boiled until they are soft, and you need to go through many steps to make the dish perfect. But those who have had it say that it reminds them of the version of the dish they had as a kid.
How are your family meals like?
I try to cook once a week for the whole family. My parents prefer to have regular Thai food. My dad has a very good palate. Every dish that I make, I let him have a taste first. Any comment he makes, I try to change it before cooking for other people. I think eating together is a good activity for the family to do together. When you have a good time making food for people that love it, and spend time with them enjoying it, what else do you need?