For the founders behind R-HAAN in Bangkok, Royal Thai cuisine is simply summed up by farm-to-table cuisine.
One is Khun Piti ‘Todd’ Bhirom Bhakdi, scion of Boon Rawd Brewery, the family-owned company behind Singha Beer. The other is chef Chumpol Jangprai, a veteran in the industry who starred in the Thai version of Iron Chef. Both men have one thing in common—the desire to bring authentic Thai food to the world. Enter R-HAAN, a fine-dining restaurant serving authentic Thai cuisine they started about a year ago.
Says Khun Piti, whose portfolios include helming Food Factors, the food business arm of Boon Rawd Brewery, “Cooking is a great hobby of mine. When I was a kid, I started cooking with my grandma who’s very traditional. We ate Thai food everyday; I can say it’s in my blood. When I studied in Boston, I had Thai food that was most often not Thai. Since then, I had a dream to serve proper Thai food with the best ingredients in the best atmosphere.”
From its location in Bangkok’s swanky Thanglor neighbourhood, Michelin-starred R-HAAN does just that, with multi-course samrub or sharing plate tasting menus that change with the summer, winter and rainy seasons. What stays the same is their 100 per cent use of Thai produce and ingredients. Says chef Chumpol, “With local ingredients, we try to use every wisdom of traditional Thai cooking techniques. Yet we’re ready to develop and modernise as well. The complexity in taste and flavour has to be like a symphony—not too low, not too high. When the meal come together, every element should have its place.”
Royal Thai Cuisine
R-HAAN’s well-composed cuisine has a name—royal Thai cuisine. While chef Chumpol’s long career with royal Thai cuisine restaurant Blue Elephant honed his expertise, his knowledge of authentic Thai dishes goes much further back than that. Since he was six years old, he was constantly hovering around the kitchen of his mum and grandmother’s restaurant, Sanguan Sri on Witthayu Road. He watched as they painstakingly prepared homely Thai dishes that were brought to the palace every day for the Queen and other members of royalty to enjoy. The fact that Khun Piti’s grandmother enjoyed Sanguan Sri’s cuisine brought the two men’s visions for R-HAAN even closer together.
But to the uninitiated, what exactly qualifies as royal Thai cuisine? First, attention to detail. Says chef Chumpol, “Royal Thai cuisine is genius cuisine. The taste can be mild, medium or strong, but the detailed preparation involved makes it royal cuisine. At R-HAAN, we use the detailed approach of royal cuisine and techniques of ancient cuisine passed down for generations to deliver the taste of local cuisine, which is more bold-flavoured.” Chef Chumpol adds that people often have the misperception that royal cuisine simply implies a beautiful setting and elegant plating. But it’s really not so much what’s outside that counts, but the inside. Royal Thai cuisine, is in fact, farm-to-table cuisine.
Chef Chumpol’s involvement in food tourism projects such as the Royal Agricultural Project in Chiang Mai gives him ample opportunity to scour the country for precious ingredients that are best in season, such as young coconut shell from Ban Ta Khian Tia, Chon Buri province; cardamom shoots from Chantaburi province; and fermented pineapple from Ubon Ratchathani province. All these he uses judiciously in each of his samrub tasting menus featuring at least 18 different items.
The Royal Thai Taste samrub (2912THB) and the Amazing Thai Taste samrub (2512 THB) summer menus, for instance, feature dishes starring several regionally-sourced premium ingredients, such as Sing Buri triple cooked sundried river fish mixed with sugar and deep fried shallot served with watermelon and three flavours caviar; Thai steamed free range chicken curry with young coconut shell and wild basil leave; and wagyu beef charcoal-grilled with ancient Thai copper pod curry ‘Kaeng Khe Lhek’. In the rainy season menus coming up in the second half of the year, chef Chumpol plans to use even more Thai herbs in the dishes, noting that they can help diners fight coughs and colds that are prevalent during the rainy season. He will focus even more intensely on health and wellness themes in future menus too, given the many health and medicinal properties that many Thai ingredients possess.
Chef Chumpol sums it up simply, “if you understand nature, you understand Thai cuisine.” Respecting the seasons and all that nature’s bounty has to offer is the only rule that the kitchen applies to every detail on the plate.