Recently we’ve been training our taste buds—and eyes—on the talents behind Bangkok’s ever-evolving food scene, all in preparation for the forthcoming Thailand Tatler Best Restaurants 2017 guidebook. With the amount of charming chefs we’ve spotted slaving away in the kitchen, we thought we should do the world a good turn and highlight a few, namely the ones melting hearts as well as thrilling taste buds.
Rest assured, this isn’t just another list of hot chefs; we’ve narrowed it down to the eligible ones—those with profiles that say ‘Married, but it’s complicated’ were disqualified. And because we do realise that the word hot is a subjective label, this roundup is not entirely about good looks. No, what makes these chefs dishy in our eyes is their gift, their unflappable composure when in the kitchen, and that glint in their eye when they talk about their passion for cooking.
Surakit Khemkaew, Executive chef, Cielo Sky Bar and Restaurant
Chef Surakit Khemkaew was only following a friend’s lead when he signed up for the Dusit Thani College’s culinary programme. Little did he know that he would soon fall head over heels with cooking. Throughout his university years, the high achiever received over 40 awards and six trophies from local and regional competitions. His most recent accomplishment was becoming one of the top three finalists under the Best Professional Success category of 2016’s Worldwide Hospitality Awards held in France. Apart from being a regular at food events and on television shows, the 26-year-old is currently heading Cielo Sky Bar and Restaurant, where he showcases his modern food-styling flair onto his Thai-fusion dishes.
What do you love most about being a chef?
It’s an incredibly challenging career that constantly demands self-improvement. There’s also a lot of imagination and science involved in the fine dining segment.
What is one of the proudest moments of your career?
My dream was to become an executive chef—one like my idol and mentor, chef Prachan Vong-Uthaiphan. Last year I was able to accomplish that goal, which is actually three years sooner than he did. All-time favourite restaurants: I’m a huge fan of Japanese food and Fillets at Langsuan is one of my go-to restaurants for that. Pollen in Singapore, which serves modern Mediterranean cuisine, is also one of my favourites.
When you’re not in the kitchen, where could we most likely find you?
Every morning, I’ll be at the gym working out. On my days off, I mostly spend them trying out new restaurants.
Chandler Schultz, Chef de cuisine, Baagadin
Chef Chandler Schultz’s deep-seated connection with food and cooking came about at a very young age. At 16 years old, he started training at a traditional, family-run Japanese restaurant in Pennsylvania as the owner’s apprentice. After culinary school, the young gent worked in several kitchens, with stints in Mediterranean, French and modern American cuisines. It wasn’t until 2015 that he got in touch with chef Thitid Tassankajohn of Le Du fame via a mutual friend. “Baagadin was in its conceptual stage at the time, and a month after that first email I was in Bangkok,” says the 26-year-old. To date, Schultz has also added modern Thai to his repertoire.
When was the first time that you really tried Thai food?
A couple of hours after I got off the plane here. I had eaten what people in the US think Thai food is—and it tastes good, but it’s not Thai. So it was only after I started diving into the food here, doing homework and eating a lot of street food, that I really knew what the cuisine was.
What do you love most about being a chef?
It’s the cool flow of creativity behind it. There are very few art forms now that you can both mentally and physically create something and still directly give it to someone. But besides that, I just really like the environment and the pressure, everything about being in the kitchen. I can’t really imagine myself anywhere else.
What’s a common misconception about being a chef?
That we all cook at home. Bangkok makes it way too easy to eat out, there’s so much street food available at literally every time of the day. My favourite things are probably moo ping and sai ua with some sticky rice, which is why I’ve gained some weight here. The one I like going to is on Sukhumvit Soi 38, which is one of the few stalls that stayed there after everything was evicted.
Do you watch any cooking shows?
Lately I’ve been binging on Chef ’s Table and the new Chef ’s Table France. And more of the stuff I like is books. I think everyone should read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain—I read that when I was 13 years old and it sort of solidified my decision to become a chef.
Steven Kim, Culinary director, W Bangkok
Born in South Korea but raised in Canada, chef Steven Kim’s interest for the culinary world gradually grew from watching what he calls “boring” cooking shows on Food Network. “Then one day, it clicked me that cooking can also be cool. Food also played a huge role in my culture and family—it was all about sharing good moments together,” the 35-year-old tells us. He then pursued his bachelor’s degree at Dubrulle International Culinary and Hotel Institute of Canada, where he felt even more certain that it was the career path for him. After graduating, Kim worked at various leading hotels in Seoul, Dubai, Macau and Phuket before joining W Bangkok in 2015.
Do you cook Korean food?
I love Korean cuisine, but I tend not to cook it. At home I eat it all the time, which is probably why I take it for granted. And I don’t want to just be stuck in my culture and heritage; I want to express myself through something that has been developed by my own self.
How would you describe the perfect dinner date?
It really depends on who your date is, for me it’s who you’re with, that changes the whole experience.
What do you usually cook at home?
There’s no favourite dish because when I do cook for myself it’s more as a fun challenge. I would go to the grocery store and buy a whole bunch of things that look interesting to me, and I create a completely new dish with those.
Is there anything else that you’re interested in apart from cooking?
Anything that involves design—from furniture to very simple things like colour. I used to draw when I was younger and was really into art. But I think the reason why I’ve also fallen for cooking is because I get to create something new every time by playing with shades, textures and flavours.
Suthikiat Khongkhatitham, Culinary executive, Sri Panwa Phuket
As a boy, chef Suthikiat Khongkhatitham was fascinated by all things Japanese—but at that time the extent of that fascination didn’t extend beyond computer games and anime. It wasn’t until he got older that he found its culture intriguing and developed a strong passion for its cuisine. The very first Japanese restaurant he trained at was Shiro in Seattle, which is owned by chef Shiro Kashiba, the man who introduced sushi to the city. The 31-year-old later worked at Morimoto in Napa Valley before returning to Thailand, joining Yashin by Tenyuu and now he’s driving the menu at Sri Panwa’s Baba Iki.
What do you love most about your career?
You learn something new every day, especially when you get a chance to work with local ingredients from around the world. It’s also incredibly fulfilling seeing happy diners. They can really tell whether or not you give it your all and it shows when they genuinely enjoy the food you serve.
Do you have a chef you idolise?
If I can pick just one, it would be Masaharu Morimoto, who was the latest chef I worked with. He was in Thailand and visited the restaurant I was working at, and I had the chance to serve him. The day before he left, he wrote me a note that said, “One day, one step.” I asked him what that meant. His reply was, “You go forward each day—even if it’s just a small step at a time, but you are becoming a better chef.”
All-time favourite restaurants:
In San Francisco, my favourite is a two-Michelin-starred restaurant called Atelier Crenn. The head chef is the first female in the United States to be heading a two-Michelin- starred restaurant. When in Japan, I love going to Sushi Sho in Tokyo. As for Thailand, whenever I crave exceptional Thai food my go-to is usually Nahm.
When you’re not in the kitchen, where can we most likely find you?
Most likely at the beach or up in the mountains. I’m a very outgoing person, which is one of the reasons why I chose to work at Sri Panwa.
Zach Watkins, Chef de cuisine, Toro Bangkok
Chef Zach Watkins’ passion for cooking led him to culinary school [California Culinary Academy]. After spells in San Francisco and Dallas, his hometown, he spent the next seven years in Boston working with the James Beard award-winning chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette at their restaurants, including Clio, Coppa and Toro. In town since Spanish tapas restaurant and bar Toro opened its Bangkok branch at 72 Courtyard in June 2016, the 29-year-old chef describes the move as a lifetime opportunity he could not pass up. “When someone tells you that you can go work at a restaurant in a foreign country, live there and experience the culture, you don’t want to look back later down the road and wonder what would’ve happened if you hadn’t come here.”
What has been one of the most memorable experiences in your career?
I was a part of a weeklong event in Portugal called Tribute to Claudia. It featured a dozen or so guest chefs from all over the world, and it was really cool to see all these very talented chefs and their teams come into one kitchen. Other than that, to come here has been the most challenging experience in my career.
Do you cook for yourself?
I actually cook for myself quite a bit. You learn a lot by cooking for yourself at home, and I personally think it’s really important to hold on to that and not just make it a job because that is when you remember how much you love and enjoy it.
What’s your favourite cuisine?
I was born and raised in Texas, so I have a lot of love for Mexican food and what they call Tex-Mex.
Apart from cooking, is there anything else you’re interested in?
I’m very passionate about music. Even though I don’t play any instruments, music and cooking for me have always coincided. It can be associated with memories in the same way that food does. So if I could have done anything else besides cooking, I would have done something with music.