In a competitive city booming with a plethora of chefs and restaurants, here are eight rising stars, all still under 30 years of age
I set out to find Bangkok’s bright young things, those chefs with a clear and definitive talent in the kitchen and a creative nature that would one day thrust them into the global culinary sphere. What I discovered, in fact, was a host of young chefs already there; talent dotted around the city and in many cases, already running their own restaurants and businesses.
In most of the cases, these chefs were still under the age of 30, and had achieved so much already; graduating from prestigious culinary institutions, travelling the world for experience in some of the most demanding environments, working and learning under culinary greats, and setting out solo in order to blaze their own trail. Young chef after young chef emerged, in a city already booming with chefs and restaurants. Competition in this city is fierce and only the brave survive. Still, none of the chefs I met seemed deterred, but instead, appeared fired-up and driven; open to the challenge.
To narrow my focus, I chose the debatably arbitrary threshold of age 30 and under. Why? Firstly, I hadn’t expected to discover so much young talent but I had to draw a line somewhere; and secondly, by the age of 30, a chef should have a direction formed—maybe not the final path, just the first of many.
In the following pages are the chefs who, still under 30 years of age, are doing more than merely showing promise, they are kicking down doors, demonstrating leadership, showing creativity and cooking without fear.
Pongcharn “Top” Russell (27)
Executive Chef at Freebird
Pongcharn (known as “Chef Top”) grew up in Phuket but made the brave decision to move to London aged just 15, where he was part of the opening team at Gauthier Soho under Alexis Gauthier. He developed at a rapid pace, working in multiple Michelin-starred restaurants with highly acclaimed names such as Jun Tanaka, Jason Atherton, Claude Bosi and the legendary French chef, Pierre Gagnaire. Returning to Thailand, he settled in Bangkok and soon became Executive Chef of Freebird, a modern restaurant in a quiet tree-lined Soi. Chef Top is one of the city’s most exciting young talents, winning BK magazine’s 2018 award for Best Young Chef, and overseeing the entire Freebird menu, using predominantly locally grown food from Thailand.
Still only 27 years-old, Chef Top is progressing quickly, establishing himself as a driving force in Bangkok and creating a new type of cuisine that perfectly combines the best of Australia and Thailand, something new and progressive in the modern Bangkok dining scene. Highly-influenced by global ingredients, Chef Top continues to build on an already expansive knowledge of international cuisines, continuously pushing boundaries. But he hasn’t finished yet, promising to reinvent Freebird and move away from modern Australian to create a more contemporary Bistro-style format. He has invited several international chefs to Freebird for pop-ups, collaborating with the likes of Chef Ollie Hyde (Maggie Joan’s, Singapore) and Chef Ayo Adeyemi (Tippling Club, Singapore); a cross-collaboration trend that looks set to continue with more chefs scheduled to visit throughout the year.
Riley Sanders (29)
Executive Chef at Canvas
As the creative visionary behind Canvas, Texas-born Riley Sanders has already established himself as one of the leading young talents in the Bangkok fine-dining scene. Training in the States with numerous local restaurants, including James Beard Award winners Tyson Cole and Paul Qui of Uchi; Uchiko in Austin; and Laurent Gras, formerly of the three Michelin-starred L20 in Chicago, Riley left for Asia and to experience life-on-the-road. He fell in love with Southeast Asia and eventually settled in Bangkok in 2013 (after discovering Khlong Toey Market). By 2016, he had created Canvas, a charming restaurant located on Sukhumvit Soi 55, with a focus on fresh, regional produce, prepared and plated with a contemporary flourish.
Riley recently relaunched the menu at Canvas, with new and bold creations rooted in the very best of Thai produce. Plates such as Blue Swimmer Crab with Sticky Rice and Thai Wagyu Tenderloin are a celebration of Thai classics, reinterpreted for the modern diner. With the Bangkok Michelin Guide having launched in December 2017, many are tipping Riley for a star when the second edition is published later this year (anything less would be an injustice). With his evident passion and distinctive technique, Chef Riley is certainly on the right path and his future looks very bright indeed.
Arisara “Paper” Chongphanitkul (26)
Pastry Chef at Saawaan
Arisara Chongphanitkul, better known as Chef Paper, is a rising star on the Thai and international culinary scene. After graduating from the Gastronomicom culinary school in France—followed by stints in the kitchens of Sadaharu Aoki and Hugues Pouget in Paris—she interned at the Beau-Rivage Hotel in Switzerland, working alongside pastry greats Sadaharu Aoki, Hugues Pouget and Laurent Gerbaud. Chef Paper then returned to Bangkok in 2011 to work with Chef Ian Kittichai at Issaya Siamese Club (No.39 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list 2018) as Issaya Group’s Pastry Chef. She appeared at Gastronaut Asia’s Women in Gastronomy (WIG) event at The Sukhothai Bangkok in March.
As part of the female duo behind Bangkok’s new Saawaan restaurant, Chef Paper is given free reign to create her unique pasty creations, indulging fully in her passion. Still only 26 years-old, few are given the opportunity Chef Paper has to develop and impress. Desserts and sweets such as pandan, coconut and pumpkin pudding show raw creativity, while Thai-inspired petit fours demonstrate knowledge and respect for Thai culinary traditions.
Rydo Anton (29)
Head Chef at Gaggan
Born in Jakarta, Rydo grew up in Kuala Lumpur but soon left home for Switzerland, working in top restaurants before two more relocations took him to France and then Qatar. Eventually, Bangkok came calling, and he began work with the celebrated chef, Gaggan Anand. Five years later, Rydo was appointed Head Chef and along with Gaggan, has helped the restaurant gain two Michelin-stars as well as the unrivalled reign of No.1 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for four consecutive years.
With the shock news that Gaggan will close his restaurant in 2020 and relocate to Japan, many were left wondering what would happen to the Bangkok space. Then, news followed that the restaurant would be handed over to Chef Rydo, giving him space and flexibility to demonstrate his creativity and establish his own menu. With so much experience already and having only just turned 29 years-old, proving himself year-after-year at the highest level, the future looks exciting for Chef Rydo. We’ll have to wait until 2020 until he branches out solo.
Nelson Amorim (27)
Head Chef at Il Fumo
Born and raised in Northern Portugal, around the magnificent wine region of Douro Valley, Nelson, still only 27 years-old, has already achieved a great deal. He first honed his skills at the Michelin-rated DOC Restaurante working under Rui Paula, before deciding to travel, first to the Madeira islands, then Angola, before settling down in Asia. In Hong Kong, he opened Casa Lisboa as Head Chef before leaving to work under the Umberto Bombana at 8½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA in Macau. Then, with the offer of free reign over the kitchen at Il Fumo (Italian for “smoke”), Nelson moved to Bangkok where he now presents his unique brand of new-wave Portuguese gastronomy.
With his creative menus rooted in childhood nostalgia and the influences experienced during his many travels, Chef Nelson is introducing a new type of cuisine to Thailand; best described at Italian-meets-Portuguese, with added twists. His reputation continues to increase with more and more press coverage and with the honour of receiving a Michelin Plate in 2017, he must surely be looking to go one better when the second Bangkok Michelin Guide is released in December.
Deepanker “DK” Khosla (28)
Owner & Head Chef at Haoma
Growing up in Allahabad, a small town north of New Delhi, Deepanker, better known “DK”, walked a fine line between mischief and academia. He had dreams of becoming a fighter pilot while his mother had ambitions for him to work in hospitality. He eventually enrolled at the Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration (WGSHA) and channelled his energy into cooking. Soon he was running a restaurant in Mumbai, with a stint in Dubai, before receiving a call from Charcoal in Bangkok. After a year and a half, he left Charcoal to create his own business, NutriChef, specialising in delivering “wholesome, clean food to help lose weight, save time, and feel amazing!” He continues to run NutriChef alongside his restaurant, Haoma, which opened in November 2017.
With an ever-growing reputation, Haoma is undoubtedly keeping Chef DK busy. The premise of the restaurant is built around farm-to-table produce, implementing a philosophy of urban dining and a concept of zero kilometres; creating the restaurant’s own mini-ecosystem. Chef DK has therefore become a farmer, botanist and chef all rolled into one. He also owns and operates Karma Kismet restaurant in India and has a huge project in the pipeline for Kuala Lumpur called Lift, expected to be fully operational by early-2019.
Charlie Jones (29)
Head Chef at Quince
Charlie Jones has what is best described as an “international background”. Born in Chiang Mai to a Thai mother and a South African father, Charlie moved to London to further his cooking experience, working at Elliot’s in Borough Market and creating menus based solely on the produce found in the market that day. Returning to Bangkok, he was part of the opening team at Rocket before travelling to Singapore to work at Esquina then Maggie Joan’s. Upon returning to Bangkok, he became Head Chef of Quince, carrying on the legacy of homey Mediterranean-inspired fare with the use of mostly regional Thai produce. He grew-up with Chef Top (Freebird), and the two chefs remain close friends.
Quince earned a deserved Michelin Plate in the 2017 Bangkok Guide for its “comforting dishes” and “raw materials imported from an organic farm.” Now, with Chef Charlie at the helm and his international experience with worldly produce (as well as Thai), expect a stronger, more organic-focused menu with the added benefit of an allotment-style garden attached to the restaurant. With the already impressive honour of a Michelin Plate, surely Chef Charlie is gunning for a Bib Gourmand (or even a Star) when the second edition of the Bangkok Michelin Guide is published in December.
Phatchara “Pom” Pirapak (27)
former Head Chef at Saneh Jaan
Notoriously shy, and still shy of 30, Phatchara is better known as Chef Pom. She might only be 27 years-old, but her refined Thai cuisine drawn from age-old recipes were enough to win the hearts of Michelin’s food inspectors and earn Saneh Jaan restaurant a coveted star last year. Earlier this year, she was part of the Fine Dining Lovers Guest Chef series, cooking at Banyan Tree Phuket’s signature restaurant, Saffron, as well as featuring at Gastronaut Asia’s Women in Gastronomy (WIG) event at The Sukhothai Bangkok in March.
Within the past few weeks, it was announced that Chef Pom had left Saneh Jaan to pursue new projects. It’s still undetermined as to what her plans are next and if any Bangkok restaurants have reached out, but local foodies wait in anticipation to learn Chef Pom’s next move and given that she has already achieved so much in her short career, this next move could be something fascinating. Watch this space.
By David J. Constable