On a recent trip to India, Chef Thitid Tassanakajohn, often known as Chef Ton, found inspiration in various things — from the country’s aromatic spices to even the magnificent Taj Mahal. At The Leela Ambience Gurugram, this talented owner of Michelin-starred restaurant Le Du Bangkok, brought these inspirations to the table and served it cozied in delicious Thai flavours. In a conversation with Travel+Leisure India & South Asia, the chef spills the beans on his favourite Indian cuisine and his experience in India.
Chef Ton’s Michelin-starred restaurant Le Du, which means ‘seasons’, is ranked number four on the coveted Asia’s 50 best restaurants list. At this Bangkok-based restaurant, the chef dishes out Thai cuisine with modern elements. And recently, he ventured beyond the Thai borders to bring his food to Indian audiences, too.
On January 28, The Leela Ambience Gurugram and Culinary Culture co-hosted a special edition of Culinary Conversations with Chef Ton who brought an array of modern Thai cuisine to the table. Think dishes such as the classic mango and sticky rice, paired with a modern touch of smoked coconut; or even an India-inspired spiced lamb dish with potato and massaman curry. For this avid traveller, inspiration can be found anywhere, including India which served as a muse at his latest pop-up.
Excerpts from the interview with Chef Ton:
T+L India: How did India inspire you in your culinary journey?
Chef Ton: I find a lot of similarity in Thai and Indian cuisine, including the spices. Coming to India and experiencing the root of Thai cuisine inspired me. While the spices used in Indian food are different from Thailand, the spices used here are very balanced. The level of spice in Thai cuisine is usually lower. I think if you can find that balance, it can be incorporated in some Thai dishes, too.
T+L India: What’s the one dish in India that you tried and has now become your favourite?
Chef Ton: Dal! I tried dal at Indian Accent and Bukhara, and both are legendary. While I also eat dal at Indian restaurants in Thailand, but it never tasted like this. Plus with naan—it’s even more special.
T+L India: You’ve travelled to few cities in India. Tell us about your experience.
Chef Ton: I have been to Mumbai and the city, for me, was like Bangkok. It’s very hectic. Everything is happening all the time and the energy is very good. It’s on the seaside, so it’s a different kind of feeling. In Delhi, everything is more organised, calmer, and has a different charm. I also visited Agra and saw the Taj Mahal. I’m very impressed! I understand why it was one of the seven wonders of the world. You won’t understand the hype until you see it by yourself. It was the one thing I wanted to see before I died.
T+L India: Which is the one cuisine that you would love to learn more about?
Chef Ton: I think there’s many. I have already been trained in French and European cuisine. I want to know more about Indian and Japanese cuisine because it’s very complex. They have a very long history that dates back to 100s to 1,000s of years. Seeing the development of the cuisine is very interesting.
And these two cuisines have inspired so many cuisines in the world. For me, Indian food is not easy to cook. Even we [Thai] use the same spice but the portions and ratios are so different. Japanese cuisine, on the other hand, is something very simple but yet very complex. It’s all so interesting for me to learn.
T+L India: Le Du is a Michelin Star restaurant and also ranks number four in Asia’s 50 Best restaurants. Does this add pressure on you?
Chef Ton: I think I enjoy the journey, the award and the recognition are a plus. I like to try and push Thai cuisine forward. I try to incorporate local ingredients and ensure that the farmers have a better life. I try to encourage the young generation chefs in Thailand to grow, especially to make their own cuisine and Thai food better.
T+L India: How does travel inspire you?
Chef Ton: When I come across new dishes or try new combinations, see how people eat, I get inspired. Coming to India, for instance, and experiencing the food and combinations here was inspiring. If you stay only in one country, then you’re restricted to one style. But when you go to different places and see how they use different ingredients, it’s inspiring. Like, “A melon or potatoes as a dessert? This is interesting! We can do that.”
T+L India: Is there any place in India that you would love to visit?
Chef Ton: I want to go to Goa. I heard everyone say Goa is very happening!
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