THE THAITAN RETURNS
HIS RESTAURANTS HAVE WON PLAUDITS AROUND THE WORLD; NOW DAVID THOMPSON BRINGS THE SPICE OF BANGKOK STREET FOOD BACK HOME.
“Iam having a chicken fat drama!” yells famed Australian chef David Thompson over the increasingly loud noise in the kitchen of his new Thai street-food restaurant in Perth. “Just hold the line for a second. I am just dashing around like some mad-crazed idiot. We just opened for lunch today and oh my God.”
The line abruptly goes dead and I am left thinking that WISH may fail to interview the Thai food expert, who has returned to Australia after 14 years to open Long Chim. But then, just like that, he is back. “What were we doing the interview about?” he asks gingerly, after shouting more orders to his chefs. “About the lovely new restaurant you have just opened,” I remind him. “It’s not lovely,” Thompson fires back, laughing, “it’s killing me!”
It is no surprise that Thompson’s restaurant has been a bit busy since it opened in late November. The opening of the basement eatery in the newly restored State Buildings in Perth’s CBD (see our hotel story on page 76) marks a victorious homecoming for the chef. He opened Nahm in London in 2001, which was the first Thai restaurant in Europe to receive a Michelin star; then a second Nahm in Bangkok, which in 2014 was named the best restaurant in Asia; and then ventured into street food, opening his first Long Chim eatery in Singapore.
“It was opportunity, really,” says Thompson, asked what drew him to Perth, along with the availability of the produce that means he could finally create authentic Thai street food in Australia. “The streets of Bangkok are the part of Thailand that I love the most,’’ he says. “I want to capture that character, the pace and the flavour of the city. Quite simply, Long Chim is my Bangkok in Perth.”
So how did a Sydney man trained in classical French cooking end up becoming a world authority on Thai food? (That’s no exaggeration: he was invited by the Thai government to teach chefs and his 700-page book Thai Food is considered the bible of the cuisine.) It was a last-minute holiday to Thailand in the 1980s to Bangkok, where he met his partner Tanongsak Yordwai, which set him on this course. Tanongsak introduced him to Sombat Janphetchara, a home cook whose mother was raised in one of the old palaces of Bangkok, and she spent months teaching him how to cook Thai food. Thompson was hooked and has been ever since.
Fortunately for Australia’s east coast, Thompson says he will this year open a Long Chim in Sydney (where he last opened a restaurant in the 1990s). So is he happy to be home? “I don’t know,” he says, “I have just been in this bloody kitchen. It could be anywhere!” Somehow WISH suspects he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but in his bloody kitchen.