Meet the mastermind chef behind enchanted dining at the Palace of Fireflies
Interview by Wattanaporn Sodasoi
Nick Natthapol Pavapaiboon, the executive chef of Wang Hinghoi, aka the Palace of Fireflies, has elevated Thai food into an art form. He says, “The concept of my cuisine is to create different forms and dimensions of Thai dishes, but retain the distinguished flavours, keeping it sophisticated.”
Nick and his partner came up with the idea of gathering the balance of nature between the chaos of the city and rich environment, while the firefly is a symbol of ecological abundance. Previously, he had studied engineering in America, but he soon discovered that it was cooking that made him happy. “I found a love for cooking from my mother. Since I was a kid, my mother always cooked with organic ingredients and shared with her students. That’s her happiness. It gave me the inspiration to cook and share.”
Nick attended culinary school and dedicated himself to mastering new skills. He found endless possibilities to work with ingredients and flavours, and pursued a culinary career, successfully opening several restaurants in America as well as the opportunity to serve his food at the NFL Super Bowl in Texas, last year.
When the time came, his passion was to make Thai people have a better understanding and appreciate the value of Thai cuisine. “Thai cooking is considered a subtle art,” he says. After that, he decided to return to his homeland.
Nick integrates all cooking techniques, with skills learned from several chefs in England, France and other countries. He applied those creative and professional techniques to Thai culture.
“I’ll never stop learning and wish to pass my knowledge to my team,” he says. He doesn’t want to stop surprising his guests and sees his food like a kind of magic. “I used to be arrogant and very confident about my food, but I’ve learned that being humble and kind is very important, especially when working within a team.”
Nick wants to make Wang Hinghoi the perfect spot for a one-of-a-kind dining experience, and it took three years of preparation, study and research before he was fully confident with the output.
The restaurant operates under four elements: Earth, Water, Wind and Fire. Four months with a quarterly changing menu, however, it’s only temporary with a planned lifespan of only 18 months. Still, guests can experience all forms, tastes, smell and sounds, while dining. The most exciting area is the firefly room where guests can enjoy a view of more than 300 live fireflies. Every few days, a specialist will come to take care of the fireflies and check the room temperature.
“Creating a successful restaurant is not a one-person show. I trained everyone from A-Z. I work very hard on it. Our key philosophy is “One team, one word” which means everyone has one goal, one target, one direction,” he says.
Also, he wants Thai people to have a better lifestyle, starting from eating a good breakfast. Meanwhile, he wants to get involved in helping less fortunate people.
“At Wang Hinghoi, my team and I create each menu together by using organic and homegrown products, including Royal Project produce. Our core activity is to support sustainability, and 99 per cent of our ingredients are from local suppliers.”
He likes to challenge himself by learning new things. He doesn’t want to limit himself to only cooking staple savoury dishes, but he wants to be good at desserts and pastries as well.
After long hours at work, he likes to eat street food and explore new things from local restaurants. Tracking down the best products from each farm, and when he finds the product he wants, offers to buy in the long term to support local people.
So, what does it all mean to Nick and what’ in store for the future? “For me, fine dining is about a great balance of a refined meal, quality, portion, reasonable price, theme, atmosphere and great service,” he says. “Wang Hinghoi is my biggest achievement to date. People start to know what we are doing and the real concept here, so I see this as a wonderful adventure” he says confidently.