A popular local chef creating Michelin-worthy Royal Thai cuisine for a contemporary crowd.
The recently awarded Michelin-star to R.HAAN is just one accolade in a long history of culinary achievements for Chef Chumpol Jangprai. A true ambassador of Thai cuisine, heis well-known in the Bangkok dining scene and a familiar face on television having starred in Golden Hand Chef and Iron Chef Thailand. A Michelin-star though is nothing to be sniffed at, and this might well be the crowning glory in a long and distinguished career for Chef Chumpol. “I’m not finished yet,” he tells me, “the future is bright,and there’s still much to be achieved. This award though is not for me, it’s for the entire team. But now the real work begins.”
Having risen through the ranks of the much-lauded Blue Elephant Group, Chef Chumpol was only 19 years old when he left Thailand and moved to Copenhagen to front the restaurant’s overseas outpost. Not long after, he left Denmark for Belgium, and became Executive Chef of the Blue Elephant in Brussels. In 2000, he moved further up the ranks, taking on the position of Corporate Chef for the entire Blue Elephant Worldwide Group.
Returning to Thailand in 2002, he opened the prestigious Blue Elephant Cooking School in Phuket with Chef Nooror Somany Steppe, alongside his role as Executive Chef. At the same time, he also took on the position of Culinary Director for the Anantara Group, controlling quality and standards of the gastronomic offering across all of the restaurants within the Thai hotel group.
Establishing himself as a chef rooted inthe Thai culinary traditions, but free and willingly to travel and promote national recipes, it wasn’t long before international festivals and food congresses were inviting Chef Chumpol to speak and present; including presentations at Identità Milano and Asian Masters in Singapore. He was made a member of the Thai government’s national skill standard in Thai cuisine committee, and a member of the World Association of Chef’s Society—an organisation of over 20 million chefs from over 80 countries.
Having opened R.HAAN in May last year—the name means “food” in Thai—with the intention of showcasing true and authentic Royal Thai recipes to the public, Chef Chumpol set about researching historical recipes in order to create a series of seasonal, multicourse samrub (a set of shared dishes), each made up of 18 different items. “We want people to sample a variety of dishes with different tastes made from carefully selected seasonal ingredients,” he said. “Pairing different items in one samrub is local wisdom. I realise the need for a skilled chef who will present Thai food to the world, so now I run MSC Thai Cooking School, teaching cooking skills to meet international standards.”
The menus at R.HAAN are expressive of the seasons, dancing across regions and incorporating all that is unique about Thai cuisine; taking inspiration not only from the tried-and-tested staples, but injecting new life into forgotten recipes and under-used ingredients.“Different flavours don’t only compliment each other, they cater to family members of different ages too. I want to bring joy and happiness to diners,” he says.
Recently, the restaurant left behind its Rainy Season menu and moved into Winter with expressive courses covering the full flavour-wheel of Thai cuisine; zipping across the palate from salty to bitter to sour to sweet to woah! That’s hot! A liberal hand is anything but light on spicing, with Chef Chumpol and his team replicating historical recipes as best they can, right down to the final detail; with seasoning key.
The likes of tom yum goong have a more theatrical presentation with many other recipes having also been modernised for the wow factor. Mostly though, it’s a very traditional Thai way of cooking and eating, with plates and bowls arriving at once, a scattering of dishes across the table, ready to be attacked.
“The fertility of the land in Thailand has always had a strong bond to the people. The Thai proverb: ‘There is fish in the water and rice in the fields’, has its origins in the royal description of the Kingdom of Thailand. This old saying thus speaks to the abundance of fish and rice as well as the cultivation and harvest of all kinds of produce; herbs and spices that has given birth to the concept and cuisine of R.HAAN.”
It’s the attention to detail that’s of the utmost importance, as he explains, “The plates are specially made—all traditional tableware once used in the Royal Palace during the Rattanakosin era—and every single ingredient is curated to suit the specific menu it appearson. I strive to give the diner a full and enhanced dining experience.”
Interview by David J. Constable