For hopeless romantics, a familiar smell can evoke fond memories of their early childhood. For Chefs Supaksorn “Ice” Jongsiri of Sorn and Chumpol Jangprai of R-Haan in Bangkok, Thailand, it is the taste of their favourite Thai meals that have stuck with them most: How rice was cooked in a claypot over a charcoal flame; how fresh ingredients were collected from their backyard just minutes before being stir-fried in a wok by their grandmother – these became core memories that played an integral part in the creation of their respective restaurants, R-Haan and Sorn, now the world’s only Thai restaurants with two MICHELIN Stars.
They share their thoughts and feelings about the achievement and where they see Thai cuisine heading in the future.
What a feat you’ve achieved. How does it feel to be the world’s only Thai restaurant with two MICHELIN Stars?
Jongsiri: Are you serious? I never knew that. Is that true? Well, finally, the day has come for Thai cuisine. It goes to prove that Thai cuisine is second to none. Honestly, I’m deeply honoured and am grateful for everyone behind everything leading up to this moment. I shed tears of joy when I found out about the win because I never expected to get two stars. As I was crying, I also thought about mangosteen farmers in the south who struggle to sell their produce every day. These people had to throw away their harvest because they weren’t able to sell them, even at 3 baht (10 cents) per kilo. At Sorn, we use mangosteen in many different ways in hopes of pushing the fruit’s popularity to the fore.
Chumpol: It’s the proudest moment for me. For the first time ever, Thai cuisine is globally-recognised with two stars. It’s an indescribable feeling. We have great respect for Thai produce grown in all regions of Thailand. I’ve been supporting local Thai produce for over a decade now. Today, it’s time for them to shine and for the world to discover their true potential. The statement “Thai cuisine is the cuisine of the world” is no longer just a statement, but it’s a fact. The opportunities are boundless for Thai cuisine and chefs like us because there are no borders when it comes to cooking. This opportunity is actually the best reward for Thai cuisine and for the Thai people.
What did you do differently from last year after gaining One MICHELIN Star for your respective restaurants to getting two this year?
Chumpol: The fact that we got one MICHELIN Star last year only made us realise that we had to work even harder. What’s for certain, it made the sweat and tears all worthwhile. We kept on maintaining our standards, we kept our prices unchanged, but we also paid more attention to detail. What’s most important for me is that guests must feel like our restaurant was a worthwhile experience for them.
Jongsiri: We have to do whatever we can to make sure visitors are not disappointed. Actually, I don’t think we’re aware of the changes because we’re so busy making sure that everything is perfect so we can become better at what we do without realising it.
Food starts with love. It’s like a mother breastfeeding her baby. The food at Sorn started with the love of food from both my grandmothers. We prepare the meals from morning to evening, just like how my grandmothers used to do for us. That’s the kind of love that we want every dish at Sorn to embody and for our guests to enjoy.
Sorn is notoriously difficult for those wanting to make reservations. Why?
Jongsiri: We only have 40 seats a day. We’re only open for one sitting a day because we want our customers to feel comfortable at the restaurant, and as Chef Chumpol said earlier, we don’t increase our prices, so we’re not doing this for the money. We want guests to feel like they can take their time – that’s why it’s so difficult to reserve a table.
Where do you enjoy eating in Bangkok, Phuket or Chiang Mai?
Jongsiri: Khao Soi Mae Manee (Bib Gourmand) made it into the MICHELIN Guide this year, right? I’d say that’s my favourite in Chiang Mai.
How do you see Thai cuisine developing in the future?
Jongsiri: Well, as the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand said at the MICHELIN Star Revelation’s press conference, we can certainly hope to see a Thai restaurant with three MICHELIN Stars in the future. It can be done. We’ve come all this way now, why stop at two stars?
Chumpol: I totally agree with Chef Ice but just a few things to add. The purpose of food isn’t restricted to only filling you up any longer. Thai food, especially, is considered as the most delicious medicinal cuisine in the world. We’re working on more innovative ways with which to develop Thai cuisine so that it’s more healthy. That’s something I’m excited about.
Right: Sorn's khao yam made with southern vegetables and herbs, turmeric crispy rice, fermented fish innards dressing
Photos source: R-Haan's and Sorn's Facebook page.
What do you think is the next food trend in Thailand?
Jongsiri: I don’t know much about food trends, but all I know is that I’ll keep on trying my best to safeguard the culinary heritage and skills that have been passed on to us for generations, such as the method of making curry paste from scratch. Our ancestors have been doing it for hundreds of years, so who am I to question their techniques? It’s a treasure that I’ll have with me forever and it’s my guidance for the future.
Chumpol: Sustainability is definitely the next big thing. The idea of “Food for life” is now even more important than ever before and being just organic isn’t enough. Thai cuisine is the embodiment of sustainability but more can be done to maximise its full potential.
Jongsiri: Actually, to add to that, the nose-to-tail concept has always existed in Thai food before the term was coined. So, at both our restaurants, we hardly have any food waste. If there were any, the staff would get to enjoy it.
What does 2020 have in store for you?
Chumpol: I planned a long time ago to attend the Shanghai Expo. I believe that there’s room for improvement when it comes to Thai food in China and we can achieve the same level of quality we get in Thailand because Thailand and China share similar cultures and raw materials. I plan to open a branch of R-Haan in Shanghai.
Jongsiri: After the New Year, I plan to go down south to thank the farmers for growing all these wonderful produce for chefs like me to cook with. I want to tell them that the fruit of their labour is now recognised on a global scale.