Thai Iron Chef Chumpol Jangprai cooks winning dishes in S'pore

Thai Iron Chef Chumpol Jangprai cooks winning dishes in S'pore

Who would expect a 6-year-old boy doing simple kitchen chores like washing, cutting and pounding ingredients for his grandma's eatery would one day become Thailand's Iron Chef.

At that tender age, Chumpol Jangprai was already a fast-learning kid with tutelage from grandma, his mum and aunts.

Four years later at 11, he was confident enough to prepare a dish single-handedly for diners. It was Spicy Prawn Salad (Pla Goong), a Thai classic that's still on the menu of their old family restaurant, Sa-nguan Sri, in Ploenchit, a few doors away from Okura Prestige Hotel and American embassy.

Today at 40, Chumpol still exudes a boyish charm and enthusiasm when he rattled on about his childhood feats in the kitchen and more refined aspects of culinary techniques.

He cooked at the restaurant till 18, entered university and then pursued a cooking career with no less than 18 hotels and the famed Blue Elephant group of restaurants where he was worldwide corporate head chef in 2002.

He was culinary director for the upscale Anantara group of hotels and resorts till the middle of last year.

More fame came after he was selected to participate in two seasons of the Thailand Iron Chef programmme on TV in 2012.

But beating rival chefs on the popular TV programme wasn't his motive when he whipped up tantalising creations in front of studio audience.

Over morning coffee at Patara Fine Thai Cuisine restaurant at Tanglin Mall where he is doing a promotion this week in Asian Masters 2013, he said: "Winning wasn't my aim at all. I wanted to challenge myself to do my best on the spot, to show to the audience the best techniques and ways to create a dish that would taste good with well selected ingredients."

To get an idea, book a table at Patara during the special promotion from November 18 to 24. You will also get a taste of what to expect at his new restaurant in Bangkok, called Siam Wisdoms, when it opens in January.

Siam Wisdoms - ancient, classical and innovative

The new restaurant in Sukhumvit will reflect his ideal concept: Guests can enjoy ancient, classical as well as innovative Thai food prepared with local ingredients and matched with a timeless appeal in ambience, decor and live music, from the traditional to contemporary-ethnic and jazz.

So expect to find touches as ancient as Sukhothai ceramics or as modern as molecular gastronomy.

It should please lovers of Thai cuisines, past and present as there will be three menus, each focusing on one aspect.

The menus will be updated every four months to reflect the changing seasons: summer, rainy monsoon and the cool season.

Chumpol's next target is to set up a culinary school in Bangkok offering a one-year professional course as well as half-day ones for the public.

"I hope to train about 200 chefs each year," said the tireless professional who is also a culinary director of a Thai seafood restaurant, Crab Paradise, in Jakarta.

Going local

Although Indonesian crabs are used at the Jakarta eatery, he still very much prefer Thai swimmer crabs when it comes to preparing Thai Crab Curry, a tourist favourite in Bangkok.

Live crabs should be used and shelled, so that diners can enjoy its sweet meat with the sauce, he said.

He is indeed proud of Thai produce and achievements in agriculture, including those of royal farm projects.

"We even have Kurobuta pork from Thailand today. At the new restaurant, we will use the best of local produce and products," he said assuredly.

But he is not one to sniff at a commercially produced fish sauce.

His professional explanation: "The smell might be strong but it can still be used in the right amount to bring out the flavour of certain dishes. Different types of fish sauce are used for different dishes."

But knowing his sophisticated culinary soul, it's not a surprise to learn that he has his 'own' fish sauce - made according to his recipe by a friend who owns a fish sauce factory.

It could be one of the best fish sauces around. But then, it is also a little dumb to ask him which is the best fish sauce.

Asian Masters 2013 at Patara Fine Thai Cuisine
- November 18 to 24, 2013, four-course set lunch at $58++; Five-course set dinner at $88++
- Six-course degustation wine dinner on November 21-22, $188++
- Three-course luncheon masterclass on November 24, $78++
- Patara Fine Thai Cuisine is located at #03-14, Tanglin Mall. Tel: 67370818

Siam Wisdoms (Opening January 2014)

66 Sawasdee (Sukumvit 3, Yok 4)
Sukumvit Road, Klongton Nua, Wattana

Sa-nguan Sri (aka Sanguansri)
59/1 Thanon Witthayu (Wireless Rd)  
Nearest BTS subway: Phloen Chit exit 5 (exit to Asian Venture building and Okura Prestige Hotel)
This old-school budget restaurant in a grey buiding is run by Chumpol's aunts today.
Prices are reasonable: 40-150 Baht for mains 
Opening hours: 10am-3pm, Mon-Sat (no reservation)
Tel:+66 2 252 7637
What to eat: Our top choice (photo above) is the crispy tuna salad with a perfect balance of sweet, salty and sour. Other diners' favourites: Khanom Jeen noodles with duck curry; Moo Phalo (Braised pork belly and duck eggs in sweetish soy sauce); Omelette filled with meat; Nam Prik Pla Tu (raw veggies and mackerel served with a prawny chilli dip); Kaeng Leurng (tart Southern yellow curry with fish and vegetables; Beef Salad, Hor Mok (Thai otah) and  Khao Chae (summertime chilled rice porridge with condiments).




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