Fashion designer turned restaurateur, Khun Khanitha Akaranitikul is the Managing Director and Chairperson of Baan Khanitha Group, and her current quartet of restaurants offer Thai fine dining on both the land and the water
Tell us about your early years.
I was born in Ratchaburi province, about 100 km from Bangkok. I moved to Bangkok to go to high school, and later I went abroad for a short period of time, attending a small college in UK.
Before getting into the restaurant business you had a successful career in the fashion world. How did that initial career begin?
Well, I had to make a living so I went for a short time to a fashion design school in Bangkok. I then opened up a small boutique and later expanded to eight boutiques, including one in New York and one in Germany. But then the economy went bad and so I decided to switch from fashion to the restaurant business. At that time I was a single mother with three kids to look after. In 1993 I opened the first Baan Khanitha on Sukhumvit Soi 23. And it’s still there.
What gave you the idea to switch from fashion to food?
When I was in the fashion business I had to entertain many of my customers, and in those days you could hardly find a nice restaurant. So I thought, if I want to start another career, I’d go into the restaurant business.
How many Baan Khanitha restaurants are there in Bangkok?
There are four. The one on Sukhumvit 23 was the first, and the one on Sathorn, at the corner of Suan Phlu, was the second. It used to be on Soi Ruamrudee but the permit expired and so we moved. The third is on Sukhumvit Soi 53, and the fourth is at Asiatique. All are differently designed but they all follow the same recipes.
Do you use traditional family recipes?
Some of them, yes. I used to eat my mother’s cooking so I use those recipes, but I adapt and change them a bit. I add my own style.
The Asiatique restaurant is located right on the river. What drew you to this location?
My hometown is on the riverside, and I grew up by the river. And the house I live in today is by the Chao Phraya, so I can safely say I like the river. I see it passing by my house every day. I intended to have a restaurant on the river at some point, and we opened the Asiatique branch about five years ago.
How did the idea come about for the Baan Khanitha dinner river cruise, and how did you find the boat?
I like the river and I like to be in boats, so I thought a dinner boat cruise would be a nice addition. We began doing the dinner cruises back in February. The boat is custom-made. I have one interior designer—who designed the Asiatique location—and I said “I’m going to need a boat, can you design it?” and he did. I told him what I wanted, including a full kitchen on board, and he made it. He’d never designed a boat before, but he made his first sketch and I liked it right away.
What makes your Chao Phraya River dinner cruise unique?
The unique thing is that we cook the meals right there on-board. The food is still warm, and fresh, when you get it.
Are you in favour of development along the Chao Phraya, or do you think it should be slowed down somewhat?
As long as they don’t destroy the environment and they don’t disturb the people I think it’s fine. And it’s going to make the river into a new landmark for Bangkok.
What are some of your favourite riverside spots in Bangkok?
I love it all. I can enjoy it every time I am in the boat. I never feel bored.
What does the future hold?
We’ll be launching a second river cruise boat, so that’s coming along. It will be a similar designed boat and available for charter, same as the first boat. And maybe we will open a restaurant in the new Icon Siam… if it’s not too expensive (laughs).
Interview by Bruce Scott