tv Leaders with Lacqua Bloomberg June 11, 2016 4:30am-5:01am EDT
haslinda: welcome to "high flyers." a show that gives you a 360 degree view of asia's elite. today we'll meet an australian chef who devoted his life to the cuisine of thailand. he fell in love with the city but not the food. today he has become one of the most prominent chefs in the world. let's meet david thompson.
>> first opened its doors in london. it won a michelin star. it was the first thai restaurant ever to receive such an honor. he brought the fusion of back to bangkok. winning the title of asia's best restaurant in 2014 and he says here is much more to come. it's time for this high flyyer to join us and tell us about his ulinary journey. haslinda: welcome to high flyers. what a pleasure to have you. you said before that your mom was the worst cook in the world. david: it dropped a generation
r two. or i must have been adopted. i have no idea. haslinda: where did this passion for cooking come from? david: it started when i was 22. i described it almost like a genetic time bomb. it came from nowhere. i had no interest in food and no awareness of food really. all of a sudden at 22 i became obsessed with food. i don't know what caused it. i became obsessed. therefore then, not really. then bang. i became obsessed. ravenous. i was obviously my mother's child. i started to learn. i used all the tools that i had. not just my tongue. not just my hands but also my mind. i tried to understand as much as i could. at that stage it was french and uropean.
>> you were trained in french cuisine. david: the chefs i've got the -- no future. i suspect they probably were right when it comes to french food. i persisted. to me it was a passion. it went from there. i cooked european food about six or seven years to some degree. i don't know whether i have become as well known or have had such success had i stayed with western food. what did change was i went to thailand by mistake. it was a happy mistake really. haslinda: it was a canceled trip to tahiti. david: i felt at ease. i just loved it. i loved the chaos that was so different from the certainty that sydney provided me. i just enjoyed the languid approach to life that was so
welcoming, so delicious. haslinda: you fell in love with the city but not so much the food. david: i just thought it was an interesting type of novel cuisine. not great depth or anything like that. i moved back to thailand in 1988. i still thought the food was interesting but nothing compared to western food which had all the hallmarks of western cuisine. the recipes stretched back hundreds of years. fantastic ingredients and ornate techniques. then i met this old woman. she cooked with skill. i still remember the first dish that she cooked. she was the grandmother of a riend of ours.
she cooked an orange curry. can see it today. it was certain head fish. it's the most delicious freshwater fish you can ind. it was deep fried. she put it in an orange curry. she had dry wood chilies. i can see it and when i tasted the dish, the elegance where each intended flavor was tasted in proper sequence and there was true balance. it just made me think this is so different from the street food that i had tasted. haslinda: she was trained either royal palace. david: she was trained in an old palace. there are many palaces in bangkok. they were seen as finishing
schools. women would go and spend a year or two or three before they were married to be trained in the finer points into the finesse of siamese culture. it stretched act that far. one of the important aspects was food. she had this remarkable heritage that she cooked. and it showed. haslinda: your first restaurant in sydney, within six months you won your michelin star. how did that happen? david: i don't look for the accolades. gratifying though they are. it would be disingenuous to say they are not gratifying. i am independent of those hings. you have to be. i've got to deal with the matter of hand which might be something n a wok or bubbling away in a
curry pot or a service issue. that is the indication of success, not the accolades. haslinda: you have a shop in london. because of regulations. it's difficult to get ingredients you needed. david: the wherewithal to cook is to have ingredients. it have recipes but without great ingredients it doesn't matter. in 2007, there were some issues across the board. trying to get ingredients. there was an embargo on food coming out of thailand for one year. that devastated us. we lost up to 70% of those ingredients. it became irksome. we were scary around london trying to find ingredients to tack together a menu. we were enjoying the bounty of
he market. we created some of the succulent and wonderful and fresh every day. we were like rats scavenging the streets trying to find something to put together. it was difficult. it was not fun. we were not able to provide the best food to the customers. we couldn't provide the best ingredients for the cook to cook ith. the wherewithal was there, but -- so it became pointless. >> coming up -- david: they love those.
hasllinda: in 2015 your restaurant in bangkok was voted the best restaurant in asia. you were surprised. you said it was luck of the drop. david: i think many of the judges must of been drunk. [laughter] haslinda: you said that other restaurants deserved it more. david: absolutely. i'm highly critical about what we do. it's not necessarily the results at times. i don't necessarily say hat. as an owner, the only way you can improve this to see the errors and try to improve hem. i was taken aback when we were umber one. we didn't win it this year. the judges were better this year.
when we won i thought to myself there are so many good restaurants around the not in the top 10 or even in the whole ranking of the award. it was very much the luck of the draw. haslinda: a white man cooking thai food, how did they take to the idea of a foreigner claiming to cook authentic thai? david: i know. the ties were incredulous at the beginning. i was no better than other werners cooking thai food. after 24 years, i think i got some experience. i still remember it was one of the nicest things that happened. there was a woman, a thai woman who was the wife of a government minister, she left the restaurant after lunch and she left unhappily. she had a scowl on her face.
i was quite concerned. i walked up and said what's wrong? she said i came to complain i can't. hasllinda: that must have been the biggest compliment. david: it was. they found it quite unbelievable. i can understand that. it has taken not so much the restaurant in london or the one in sydney, it's taken about five years for us to start to become ccepted. haslinda: you are big on being authentic. david: i've come to the understanding that authenticity means so many different things to different people. perhaps because i am an outsider and a foreigner, i needed to have some firm understanding of hat thai food is or was.
in order for maine me to be able o express it with some degreor fidelity, i did a lot of research to give some veracity to an otherwise foreign and. haslinda: you have written many books. one was 688 pages long. a culmination of four years' ork. david: more than that. just the other day when i was in sydney, i don't believe her anymore. i had a cook's of understanding of writing a book and i thought the deadline was the starting point. haslinda: you said you want to stay loyal to thai cuisine. david: faithful. haslinda: the people of thailand undersell thai food. david: they are generous and kind people.
they don't wish to offend. they won't present something they think might be ontroversial or difficult or npalatableto their guests. they misrepresent their food. there's more to thai food than a good curry. or an eggplant salad. delicious those those foods are, and they are when having been done well, it should be enjoyed. they have that type of food at home. this is the baffling thing. whether it's shrimp with chilies or fish or salad or a stirfry bit of greens, they love those tastes.
they enjoy it. they are not quite convinced that westerners are up to it. hasllinda: give us a sense over the deference we're talking about here. take green curry. curry remain green faithful to the thai czyz ian? - cuisine? david: we use our own coconut cream. we are about -- we used to get fresh coconuts. we also make our own curry paste as well. you've got to crucial components that are handmade to our own specifications and not made by a merchant who just wants to get a roduct on the shelf. the curry paste is made fresh it's not on the shelf for two or three years. that's part of that process. the ingredients are fresh.
fresh curry paste, fresh coconut. it's the same recipe in many uisines. the problem in thailand and outside thailand is it's hard to find coconuts. it's hard to get fresh curry paste. you can go to the market and find what's available, but you could do that if you're in birmingham or melbourne or alabama in the states or in berlin. it's much harder to find those ingredients. they will resort to using canned stuff. it is vs.ly different from fresh stock. so too are fresh coconut cream and curry pastes, that's what people have to resort to. >> coming up-- david: everyone cheated.
haslinda: i want to talk about the shuffle. that's one day in a year when 37 chefs from all over the world swap kitchens. you ended up in paris. david: i love paris. when i lived in london we loved to go to paris. i was delighted with it. i cannot imagine any today -- two diametrically opposed restaurant styles.
with my relaxed way that we do things in bangkok. it's very easy going. his restaurant was erfection. they operate in a very distinct way and a very french way and old-fashioned way. it was more than a shuffle. they were very accommodating and very welcoming without question. it took a while for them to begin to relaxed and see that we were getting things done. there was uncertainty and nervousness. they were shocked with the chilies as well. i think it was reasonably successful. but i thought was most waiting for me was to make the kitchen smile and laugh, which had not happened in that kitchen for quite a while.
i do remember showing how to do a stirfry. you've got to get some lames. it has to be intense. it's going to almost burn. you've got to almost reached too far. they were doing it and they were laughing at the same time. date think that's a surface. in french cooking, if anything flames, it's considered ruined and they throw it out. it was a bit of a shuffle for them too. haslinda: like the other chefs nvolved cheated. david: you defame me. one of the funny things about my industry is we tend to break rules. the shuffle was elusive.
no one quite knew what they were had to do. there were two explicit rules that they talked about. you cannot take anybody else with you. you are on your own. you can't take any ingredients with you. >> lo and behold -- >> i took one assistant with me and 65 kilograms worth of the ingredients. he took 85 ingredients and two assistants with him. almost everybody cheated. i found that very heartening. in my industry, we at least know ow to break a good rule. hasllinda: you are passionate about cooking but you are also willing to step away. you considered stepping away from being a chef. david: absolutely. i've been cooking for so long. what the hell am i doing? i've had them on several
occasionses. haslinda: you are a collector of 18th century french and english furniture? david: there are a few fantasies that i have had. i still have those interests. i still have the same innocent thrill and pleasure when i cook. that's what i had at the beginning of my career. it's a timeless thing and i'm very lucky to have it. i would consider myself a failure if i had to cook like a line cook at my age. now having several restaurants but i still go into the kitchen and cook. now it's established. the type of food i have been doing for most of my career. the food is something i've never done before. too popular. some of the standard street food is delicious and i used to enjoy
eating it. but used to think i don't think i would like to taint myself by cooking something so popular. now it's exactly that. i enjoy doing stirfried noodles. i had never done that before. it's a great charm and it's engaging. i am learning how to manage noodles properly. haslinda: having achieved what you have the last 20 years, it's about leaving a legacy behind. david: i'm lucky to work with many thais. there is the likelihood of choosing something greater than me. one thing i used to do is there is a wonderful heritage and tradition in thai cooking, it's a custom where people of good birth when they die during the cremation, they recant their lives and interests.
often you have this trove of recipes. there might be one or two or 20 or 30. i have several books of these old recipes and old thai cookbooks. i want to collect mine as well as friends and have a vast library. i want to put them online so young cooks can enjoy the heritage that they have instead of having them sitting on the shelf unused and not active. i think it's so important for them to know what their food was so the cooking doesn't have to be anchored in the tradition as my approaches. they can be what they are aware of what they had in then change it. they have a great culinary carte blanche.
bangkok is an interesting restaurant town. it's quite unusual and quite modern and using many modern techniques. their old grandmothers would not understand. including this old grandmother too. people have access to information and it helps ensure a greater veracity to the experimentation and execution. i'm a great believer in looking at the past to ensure the present and future has depth and meaning. haslinda: well said thank you so much for being on high flyers. it's been such a pleasure. david: thank you very much. ♪ >> prepare to be blown away.