Features 4 minutes 09 November 2018

Q&A with Chef Arisara 'Paper' Chongphanitkul of Saawaan, Bangkok

Saawaan's pastry chef, Alisara 'Paper' Chongphanotkul, creates Thai delights that are simply heaven for the sweet-toothed.

dessert

In recognition of the best culinary talents of Bangkok, Phuket and Phang-Nga, guests are invited to celebrate the 2019 Edition of the MICHELIN Guide Thailand.

Preparing what some say as the most important course of the night – as it’s the last dish that guests taste before they leave – we catch up with Chef Paper from Saawaan in Bangkok to ask her about the Phuket pineapple dessert.

Q. Please introduce yourself and Saawaan restaurant.
Chef Paper
: I’m Arisara Chongphanitkul or Paper. I learned how to make desserts in France. After I came back to Thailand, I made desserts with a Thai twist and I’m now working at Saawaan as a pastry chef.

Saawaan is a Thai fine dining restaurant. We use imported and local products from all over Thailand. We use the techniques and the common concept of traditional Thai food. Our menu mimics traditional Thai meals like salads, soups or fermented dishes.

Chef Arisara 'Paper' Chongphanitkul of Saawaan, Bangkok.
Chef Arisara 'Paper' Chongphanitkul of Saawaan, Bangkok.

Q. Tell us about your cooking philosophy and training.
Chef Paper: I use the techniques I learned from France and combined them with a Thai twist to make my own desserts.

Q. Where did you get your passion for pastry?
Chef Paper: Actually I started making desserts with a very easy blueberry cheese pie which I gave to a friend on her birthday, and luckily she liked it. That’s why I started to enjoy making pastry. After that, I started making desserts and I never thought that I would come this far after that single cheese pie.

Actually I was a French student in France for 10 months. I came back to Thailand to finish off high school. I wanted to go back to France again because it is very well known for desserts and many great chefs are there. After that, I attended a pastry school named Gastronomicom in southern France and did an internship at the Hotel Beau Rivage near Lyon. I also did an internship at Sadaharu Aoki, Hugo & Victor in Paris and then Laurent Gerbaud in Brussels.

After I finished school in France, I knew that this wasn’t just a hobby. I wanted to do it for the rest of my life.

Chef Paper is always extremely meticulous.
Chef Paper is always extremely meticulous.

Q: Linking the theme of the sea with pastry is not an easy task. How does the sea inspire you?
Chef Paper
: When considering the theme “From Sea to Stars” - the first thing that comes to my mind is starfish. That’s why for this dessert, I use local seaside ingredients and form them into a starfish. Each time I go the sea, I feel relaxed and it helps my inspiration to settle in.

The pineapple needs to be cooked with a special care.
The pineapple needs to be cooked with a special care.

Q: Your dessert is an original combination of flavours. Tell us about the ingredients you’re using for the gala.
Chef Paper
: The main ingredients I use is the pineapple. We use the one from Phuket as it’s very famous for its sweetness, crispiness and it also has a very distinctive smell. Then we have the cashew nuts because the best of cashew nuts come from the southern part of Thailand which also includes Phuket. We also have young ginger. We use the one from an organic market that we receive at Saawaan each week. I use young ginger because it gives warm flavours but not too strong. Also for vanilla, I use the one from Tahiti because it gives floral and fruity flavours so the dessert will have a well-rounded taste.

Chef Paper preparing the cashew nuts.
Chef Paper preparing the cashew nuts.

Q: How do you source your ingredients?
Chef Paper
: Working at Saawaan gives me a lot of opportunities to explore local ingredients. Here, we use ingredients from the local producers, so I get the chance to taste and discover new ingredients and after that I think how I can make desserts with them. When I go to another province, I like to go to the local market and see what they have and how they work with that ingredient. That’s how I learn.

How to make cashew nuts even better.
How to make cashew nuts even better.

Q: What’s so special about pastry in Thailand? How would you compare it to other countries in the world like France?
Chef Paper
: As you can see, in Thailand we have a very wide range of desserts. We have French, Japanese, Portuguese, and Italian, but the trend now are Thai dessert cafes. This is a good sign for Thai people because they are giving more attention to Thai desserts and bringing it to the next level.

For me, Thai and French desserts are totally different in terms of ingredients. Thai desserts use a lot of coconut, palm sugar, and rice flour. For the texture, French desserts have more texture. In one bite you can get soft, crunchy, chewiness but for Thai desserts, with one bite you only get one texture.

Star in the making.
Star in the making.

Q: What are some of the trends you see happening in Bangkok?
Chef Paper
: Ten years ago people used to make cheesecake or banoffee pie, but now they’re proud to use local products and they work more with the small suppliers. For this reason, they get more quality and more taste for their desserts.

Q: What does the Michelin Guide mean to you?
Chef Paper
: Personally the MICHELIN guide is like a gift for the restaurant. It’s a symbol to show to the others how hard this restaurant works to obtain that recognition. I really respect any restaurant that gets a Michelin star.

Q: Did the Michelin Guide’s arrival in Thailand impact the world of pastry in Thailand?
Chef Paper
: To be honest, no. For me, Michelin is more about restaurants, food and service, not about desserts. But the dessert is the last dish of the meal so it needs to impress the customers. They have to leave the restaurant with a good impression. Now that I get the opportunity to make desserts for this gala, I hope that people will give more attention to desserts.

Chef Paper spraying the glittering golden food coloring.
Chef Paper spraying the glittering golden food coloring.

Q: You cook, you write books, you are an entrepreneur - what’s the most satisfying part of your job?
Chef Paper
: I love everything about desserts, not only in the making of it but also writing cookbooks and opening a desserts restaurant. I get bored easily, that’s why I like to do new things that keep me on the alert and challeng me. The most satisfying part is to accomplish every task I set myself up for with good results.

Q: Do you have any pastry chef you look up to?
Chef Paper
: I have many chefs that I admire. There’s Chef Will Goldfarb - I really like how he works with taste, how he uses the ingredients. There’s Chef Amaury Guichon who’s very young, talented and creative. I like his style and artistry. The last person is Chef Sripoom Laowakul who was my coach when I was at a competition in Rimini, Italy. He is very good when it comes to organisation and work ethics. When I look at these people, I look back at myself and try to progress in that way.

Et voilà!
Et voilà!

Q: What are the next steps of your career and what’s your ultimate goal?
Chef Paper
: At the moment, I really enjoy what I’m doing because I have a chance to do a lot of things. For me, good opportunities always come when I least expect it. That’s why I just live everyday as best as I can as long as I can make desserts in my own way and serve them to my customers.

Q: What advice do you have for the young pastry chefs in Thailand eager to succeed here or abroad?
Chef Paper
: You have to be patient, work hard, have a strong foundation, listen to good advice and be humble. I think it’s harder than cooking.

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