Finding Le Du in the winner’s circle of Asia’s 50 Best this year surprised even its chef. Here’s what to know about chef Ton Tassanakajohn, and Asia’s Best Restaurant 2023, Le Du.
THERE’S NOTHING LIKE A SURPRISE to get tongues wagging and on the 10th anniversary of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, the event delivered. Prior to the big night – the first major in-person ceremony in the region for the influential industry bash – there was talk that this would be Thailand’s year, again.
Sorn, which focuses on unapologetically fiery southern Thai seafood and heirloom ingredients and ranked No. 2 last year, was a hot contender to snag the top spot in 2023, as was multiple previous winner Gaggan Anand with the reincarnation of his eponymous restaurant in Bangkok. Instead, they respectively came in at Nos. 9 and 5.
Pundits even thought that a British chef cooking contemporary French cuisine in the Japanese capital of Tokyo could bag the coveted prize. That’s Daniel Calvert’s Sezanne… and it came in second. (Read our opening review here.)
Instead, it was chef Thitid ‘Ton’ Tassanakajohn of Le Du, a modern Thai restaurant in Bangkok, who was crowned the culinary king of Asia.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, chef Ton also claimed the No. 3 spot on the list with another restaurant, Nusara, a tiny, perennially booked-out spot dedicated to his grandmother that he opened during the pandemic and immediately started raking in accolades. Both restaurants were in the top 10 in 2022, but still, this year Ton has achieved something unprecedented, and in accepting the winner’s award on stage, he said in a quavering voice, “I didn’t expect to win, so didn’t prepare a speech at all.”
In an interview following the event, Ton—alum of the Culinary Institute of America, and Jean-Georges in New York—said that when he started Le Du 10 years ago, “people thought I was crazy: no one will pay for expensive Thai food and I will go out of business.” He observes that the reverse has happened, and more and more people are willing to splurge on high-end local cuisine not only across Thailand, but also across Asia.
This development is inspiring a new generation of chefs to make their name cooking their native food rather than French or European cuisine, which was previously the norm, and is increasingly reflected in the 50 Best rankings.
Learn more about chef Ton and read our review of Le Du here.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bangkok and Singapore accounted for the highest number of restaurants on the list, with nine each, a reflection of their being among the first to open to travel and tourism in the post-pandemic era. Meanwhile, once dominant Hong Kong slipped down the ladder, with none in the top 10 and only five in the top 50, while only three restaurants from mainland China and one from Taiwan made the list.
So you can channel chef Ton at home, we exclusively have his recipe for pad Thai here.
William Drew, director of content for 50 Best, said: “the rankings reflect the reality of the dining scene and that different countries reopened at different times and that inevitably reflects the list, which is an annual snapshot of gastronomy.”
Attention is already turning to next year, with expectations of a shakeup now that diners and voters can travel freely again.
Meanwhile, we suggest you try to book a table at Ton’s latest restaurant, Samut, in Phuket, while (if) you can. This fine diner is all about southern Thai ingredients and local and sustainable seafood, and is sure to be on gastronauts’ radars soon.
The full list of restaurants and individual award winners for Asia’s 50 Best 2023 can be viewed at www.theworlds50best.com/asia
Images Sources: 50 Best (William Reed).