In Bangkok, Private Kitchens Serve Up Intimate Moments That Transcend Food

By The New York Times + Rosewood Hotels & Resorts  •  May 7, 2019


A small group of chefs is achieving gastronomic feats in the most unexpected of places in the Thai capital — private homes. Here’s an invitation to three of them.

In the food mecca of Bangkok, there’s no shortage of tasty morsels. Street food vendors grill skewers of meat and fry up plates of pad Thai while Michelin-starred restaurants create immaculately plated dishes. In a boisterous city where there’s always somewhere new to try, eating out can be a stressful game of one-upmanship, and it’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of culinary options.

Amid this busy landscape, it’s a luxury to escape the tyranny of choice and entrust yourself, and your taste buds, to a safe pair of hands in a relaxing, private setting. In recent years, a few chefs — some with skills honed in the world’s most respected kitchens — have decided to leave the restaurant scene to host meals for small groups in their living spaces. Dress up or down as you please, although you may be asked to remove your shoes, as is customary in Thai homes. After an evening of delicious food and good company, expect to leave not just with your appetite satisfied, but also with a full heart and a cherished memory.

 

Meet the Chefs

“The idea is for people to come in and enjoy an experience they’ve not had before in the heart of Bangkok,” says Davina Pickering, a British chef who has worked in some of London’s most exclusive kitchens, such as the private St. James’s Club and the Michelin-starred Rhodes in the Square. In November 2017, Pickering decided to launch Bangkok Supper Club from her living room, where up to 16 guests are served a six-course meal. “We’ve replaced the restaurant with the home concept with a luxury vibe,” she says.

“It’s more than just what we’re tasting, but also what we’re feeling,” says Tam Chudaree Debhakam, a 26-year-old whose youth belies a wealth of experience. The Thai-born chef honed her culinary chops at the three-Michelin-starred, haute-French restaurant Jean-Georges and the farm-to-table establishment Blue Hill in New York. After returning to Bangkok, Debhakam won the first season of the Thai version of “Top Chef” and founded the Pop Up Project, which creates immersive meals for private clients that draw from the team’s travels around Thailand and celebrate indigenous recipes and ingredients. “I like to see people finding luxury in nature and eating food that is bringing them closer to nature,” she says.

Nang Gin Kui is the name of the private kitchen overlooking the Chao Phraya river that is run by husband and wife Florian Gypser and Goy Siwaporn. “Nang is ‘sitting,’ gin is ‘eating,’ and kui is ‘talking,’” explains Siwaporn, who learned to cook from her father. The couple’s dining table sees plenty of all three activities, and their guests have ranged from tourists to decorated chefs to Hollywood filmmakers. Nang Gin Kui is in some ways a happy accident, as neither Gypser nor Siwaporn had any formal culinary training. “We never wanted to open a restaurant, but our friends, their friends and friends of friends of friends recommended that we do this,” says Gypser.

In Bangkok, Private Kitchens Serve Up Intimate Moments That Transcend Food

"The idea is for people to come in and enjoy an experience they’ve not had before in the heart of Bangkok."

Davina Pickering

In Bangkok, Private Kitchens Serve Up Intimate Moments That Transcend Food

"Everything we’re using is local, which is affected by the seasons and what the farmers are growing."

Tam Chudaree Debhakam

In Bangkok, Private Kitchens Serve Up Intimate Moments That Transcend Food

"I cook everything, even my curry paste, from scratch."

Goy Siwaporn

Fresh Ingredients

Whether it’s a rack of lamb roasted to perfection by Pickering, Siwaporn’s hearty Thai curry or an exquisitely balanced salad of Thai greens from Debhakam’s garden, to enjoy a meal cooked in a chef’s private kitchen is to glean insights into their personality, back story and values. This makes each meal a truly unique and personal encounter. “There’s no kind of wall or barrier,” says Pickering. “You can taste the love in my food.”

Utmost care starts with sourcing the right ingredients from trusted suppliers. Pickering works with Bangkok-based partners like Watery Farm and Urban Pantry, which provide the leaves and nut pastes that make their way into salads and desserts, while Siwaporn gets her ingredients from regular suppliers at the Bangkok Flower Market.

Similarly, Debhakam makes it a point to meet with producers and farmers from rural Thailand and incorporates indigenous herbs like elephant ears and khao thong. “Everything we’re using is local, which is affected by the seasons and what the farmers are growing,” she says. “If it’s raining, the menu looks very different, because we’ve got something completely different to work with.”

Rosewood Bangkok’s culinary director, Fabian Altabert, shares this conviction. “We have a Partners in Provenance program and want to create a sense of place,” he says, refering to the company’s commitment to sustainability and to champion local small producers by sourcing from them as much as possible. In the case of Bangkok, this means reaping the benefits from a wide range of Thai herbs. “We want to add as many local flavors as we can,” continues Altabert. To ensure the quality of the produce, Altabert personally visits the farms within a 100-kilometer radius.

 

Tasting the Plates

The chefs transforming raw ingredients into polished plates is a sight to behold. Pickering orchestrates a well-oiled kitchen: from chopping up salad greens to roasting root vegetables, nothing is out of step. Save for the calming classical music playing in the background, it’s mostly a quiet affair, a reflection of how in sync she and her two assistants are. Her food is refined but also rustic, and dishes like green pea truffle soup, roast lamb tenderloin and dark chocolate mousse reflect her British training.

In contrast, Debhakam is swift and laser focused as she zips from one end of her kitchen to the other and then out into the backyard to grill shrimp or clip herbs in her garden. Even at her speed, she keeps a tight lid on everything and discards little. Shrimp shells and heads are transformed into a sauce. “Wasting ingredients is like wasting flavor,” she says. Her time at Jean-Georges and Blue Hill is evident in the rich, savory flavors of the slightly smoked grilled prawn, which is perfectly balanced by a garden salad of Thai leaves, including chunks of elephant ear compressed in a sweet coconut syrup.

Siwaporn is calm and laid back in the kitchen. After all, she cooks with an instinct finessed over the decades. “I learn everything by doing,” she says in her small but well-equipped kitchen. “I cook everything, even my curry paste, from scratch.” A feast at Nang Gin Kui can run up to 15 courses — featuring dishes ranging from curries and stews to Thai salads and wraps. “We like to add the influence of Thai royal cuisine,” she says.

A Culinary Experience to Remember

As delightful as the food tastes, the chefs also create dinner experiences that are homelike and memorable. Debhakam documents the sounds, smells and sights from her travels and recreates them in a dinner setting. “We record the sounds of the water flowing from the mountain or us stepping on leaves in the forest and turn them into music or a film,” she says of how she goes about creating a setting to fit the dishes she serves. “Putting it all together is like telling a story that makes sense for the guest.”

Much of the appeal boils down to something far simpler — a personal touch and interaction with the chef behind the meals. Pickering, Gypser and Siwaporn have all formed long-lasting friendships with their guests. “It’s nice to go to someone’s home and enjoy a gourmet menu with very beautiful wines and cocktails,” says Pickering, adding that she loves getting to know the people she cooks for. At Nang Gin Kui, “guests feel like they’ve come to a friend’s home,” says Siwaporn. “We’re sitting on the floor and people have to leave their shoes outside. It’s a private space,” adds Gypser. “It’s an approach that works, and industry experts have told us emphatically not to change, which gave us the confidence.”

No detail is overlooked at Rosewood Bangkok in its endeavor to make guests feel at home. An expression of Rosewood’s “A Sense of Place” philosophy, the building’s silhouette evokes the wai, a common Thai greeting of pressed palms and a slight bow. The welcoming gesture is a symbol of Thai hospitality. “As much as possible, I want my chefs to meet the guests,” says Altabert. Dark oak panels line the softly lit bar and restaurant walls — echoes of the interiors of a grand manor house. In the library-inspired cocktail bar, guests can buy and play vinyl records on the turntables provided. “I want my guests to go home with a special and unique experience,” he adds.

Ultimately, when you remove the frills of fine dining, the luxury experience is all about feeling comfortable and connected. “It’s important that guests don’t feel like they’re just a number,” says Altabert. “I want my guests to treat my restaurants like their home.”

Discover A Sense of Bangkok

Bangkok’s pulsating capital is fast-becoming one of the world’s leading destinations for all things creative, cultural and culinary. Find more Rosewood Conversations stories on this fascinating city here.

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