At the helm of Chim By Siam Wisdom — a charming restaurant set in a century-old traditional Thai house built around an ancient tree in metropolitan Bangkok — is chef Thaninthorn “Noom” Chantrawan, most recognised in the city for his stint on Iron Chef Thailand.
Trained in European and modern molecular cuisines, Chantrawan spent 14 years working in some of London’s hottest restaurants, including Zuma, Roka, Patterson’s, Momo and Sketch, before returning to Thailand where he was spotted by the TV producers of Iron Chef Thailand and his modern European culinary training pitted against other competing chefs. He became a well-loved and widely recognised figure in Thailand.
In 2016, he took over Chim By Siam Wisdom. But instead of taking it in the modern European direction, he dove deep into the annals of Thai culinary history and brought Royal Thai cuisine back to life. “When I first took over this restaurant, I was thinking of what form of Thai cuisine could best represent the history of this ancient building and I decided I wanted to do something that could bring future, present and past together,” he says.
In Chantrawan’s repertoire are classic dishes that include centuries-old recipes prepared using modern techniques gained from his overseas experiences. For example, his signature dish is Tom Yum Plachon Bo-Larn, a variation of tom yum soup from the early 19th century that features snakehead fish in a chunky spicy red broth redolent with herbs, shallots and the chef’s blend of nam phrik phao, a smoky home-made chilli jam.
In 2017, Chim By Siam Wisdom was recognised with a Michelin star in the inaugural edition of the MICHELIN Guide Bangkok 2018, and again the following year in the MICHELIN Guide Bangkok 2019.
Here, Chantrawan tells us about his relationship with the MICHELIN Guide.
It was when I was working in a small Thai restaurant in London. It was located in South Kensington opposite Bibendum Restaurant in the Michelin House building. That was when I first found out that Michelin wasn’t just about tyres. My then-girlfriend was a pastry chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant and she asked me: “Don’t you want to be a professional chef?” I was like: “What are you talking about, I am a chef”. Then she invited me to her restaurant and there I saw a very, very professional kitchen where everything was done with so much precision and focus. And so, I started to have ambition.
I remember I was out for an event and it had not gone well because it was poorly organised. The next day, I had a discussion with the team to talk about what went wrong. I was getting very heated and my voice was getting louder and louder when my phone rang and it was the MICHELIN Guide. I’ve always been proud to work for chefs who went up on stage to receive the stars, but when it was finally my turn, I cannot describe the feeling.
How did you celebrate?
The whole team was already at the gala working because I was a guest chef and we celebrated that night with drinks. The next day, we came back to the restaurant to clean up and discovered we had eight pages of reservations. The following day, it was 16 pages long. It was overwhelming.
I always dreamt about getting a Michelin star and becoming famous. I actually became famous first before I got a star because of Iron Chef Thailand. I would be recognised on the streets in Thailand. But getting the Michelin star was like a world qualification.
What advice do you have for young chefs?
To give advice is easy, but to walk the journey is hard. It takes sacrifice, determination and discipline. Till now, I am so busy that I don’t have much time for myself or my family. The best advice I can give is to be yourself. Ignore the flashing lights and trends; have your own cooking and your own style.