People 2 minutes 07 December 2018

A Canvas of Stars: Q&A With Canvas’ Chef Riley Sanders

From Texas to Thailand, young chef Riley Sanders’ taste for adventure and passion for food ends with a Michelin Star recognition.

For Riley Sanders it was Thailand’s local ingredients and markets that convinced him to stay. Fast becoming a magnet for inventive chefs from across the world, there’s never been a more exciting time for Thailand’s culinary scene. Sanders – who worked with 3-Michelin star chef Laurent Gras – now runs a Michelin-star restaurant himself. At just 29 years of age, he knows better than anyone else that the true challenge isn’t in retaining the hard-earned star at Canvas, but to work twice as hard to keep up with his older, more experienced counterparts. Let the games begin!

Q: What brought you from Texas all the way to Bangkok?
Chef Riley: Well I was leaving a previous job where I was working as a private chef and decided I wanted to do some travelling. I came to Bangkok six years ago because I wanted to learn more about food around the world.

I was a chef on a private yacht which wasn’t really my scene back then, so I went all around Asia but ended up in Bangkok because I fell in love with the produce. The ingredients here are just amazing and I really wanted to do something with them. Eventually I was able to find investors and that’s when I opened Canvas in Bangkok. 

Q: What lies at the heart of your cooking?
Chef Riley:
Seasonality is very important. We go to the market all the time so we keep seeing ingredients that we really want to use. The mystery of these ingredients really allows one to be creative. Of course, I learned about each of the ingredients through trial and error as I was not a local.

Canvas is very much an ingredients-driven restaurant. The menu changes seasonally and we usually work on a new dish every week. If I see that strawberries are in season, then we’ll start working on a dish with strawberries.

Q: What percentage of local ingredients are you using versus imported ingredients?
Chef Riley:
We use about 90% local ingredients at Canvas. There are some things that we have to source from overseas, but we try to source as much locally as we can.

Q: What’s the most unique local ingredient you’ve worked with?
Chef Riley:
Ant eggs – we blanche them and dry them so they puff up and become crispy. We also use the scraps and make a paste out of that.

Ant eggs with fish and cucumber (left) and map of Thailand that proudly displays where all the ingredients at Canvas comes from.
Ant eggs with fish and cucumber (left) and map of Thailand that proudly displays where all the ingredients at Canvas comes from.

Q: How challenging has it been to be a 30-year-old in the industry?
Chef Riley: It has been very challenging indeed. First of all, it’s difficult not to speak Thai and adjusting to a new culture has also been difficult.

I also learned that while it’s normal for western chefs to shout and curse at their kitchen staff all the time, you simply can’t treat cooks that way here in Asia. Learning about the ingredients has also been very challenging for me.

Q: How will you keep your menu fresh and exciting moving forward?
Chef Riley:
We’re going to see details improve. We will be putting more on the menu and more techniques into the dishes. At this point, I have a better idea of which produce will be in season. Sometimes I just pick something up from the market and put it on the menu.

Chef Riley Sanders (left) working closely with his team at the open kitchen at Canvas, Bangkok.
Chef Riley Sanders (left) working closely with his team at the open kitchen at Canvas, Bangkok.

Q: What’s your favourite market?
Chef Riley: I go to Or Tor Kor Market everyday. It’s expensive but it has the best quality produce.
The organic section there is very nice and we have a guy who supplies food to us daily. We go to Klongtoey Market for the wild stuff but the quality can vary a lot. The Isaan (northeastern Thai) section there is the most interesting for me and that’s where we get our ant eggs from.

A vegetable vendor at Bangkok's Klongtoey Market.
A vegetable vendor at Bangkok's Klongtoey Market.

Here's What Our Inspectors Said About Canvas (1 Michelin star)
With a beautiful over-sized canvas on the wall, this restaurant is where art meets food and every dish looks like a masterpiece. Driven by premium local produce and a variety of techniques, Chef Riley has created an inspirational seasonal menu. A tasting menu of 6 or 9 courses takes diners on a real culinary journey; the live action in the kitchen can be enjoyed from the counter seats. Tables and a bar upstairs offer privacy and intimacy.


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