The chef who is singlehandedly redefining Thai Food

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Chef Andy Yang from Table 38 and Pad Thai Fai Ta Lu has all the skills and ingredients to usher in the future of Thai cuisine

Fine dining is experiencing a renaissance and local gourmands are benefiting from an ever more competitive field of chefs and restaurants vying for attention from the Michelin guide. simultaneously, the urban landscape is ripe with a plethora of Thai offerings that will satisfy any craving from haute cuisine to street-food staples. Homegrown talent, chef Andy Yang, is a prime example of the level of expertise that Bangkok is attracting and a poignant symbol of the city’s evolving attitudes towards Thai cuisine.

Yang began cooking as a teenager in 1997 before moving to New York City. It was there that he gained international acclaim as he became the first Thai in the US to win a Michelin star for his Greenwich Village-based restaurant, Rhong Tiam, in 2010. Much more than simply cooking food and re-envisioning it, he is fundamentally tearing it down to its bare essentials and molecular fundamentals in order to revolutionise and transform the relationship we have with what we consume.

Today he holds a stake in a global empire that encompasses more than 40 eateries worldwide with 100 per cent ownership in nine of those restaurants. Based in Bangkok full-time for the past few years, he divides his time between Pad Thai Fai Ta Lu (a casual eatery with two locations), Table 38 (a one Michelin star fine dining establishment), and his new venture that will exclusively focus on Yang’s unique version of Khao Soi (an iconic chicken noodle curry) when it is scheduled to open in April.

“I admit that I am a man obsessed. In order to do what I do, passion is not enough. This goes beyond passion and has become my addiction," Andy stated with an impish smile, “Honestly I don’t sleep. I am constantly thinking about ways to improve, what to do next or what ingredients or techniques to try. Even thoughts about what bowls to use when plating will keep me up at night."

Every dish that Chef Andy interprets is elevated to dizzying heights and cultivated with a commitment to being locally sourced, sustainably harvested and produced with zero waste. A prime example is his single-dish-focused menu from Pad Thai Fai Ta Lu. Everything is homemade from the painstakingly handcrafted rice noodles and the luxurious semi-firm tofu to the crispy pork skin crackling garnish, and a delectable array of evocative Thai dipping sauces. This Pad Thai is devoid of the sweet sugary sauce that is a hallmark of typical versions, and it is instead kissed by the smoke and flames of a woodfire wok, using an ancient cooking technique that was once popular but has fallen out of favour. The noodles are topped with a choice of sweet and succulent giant prawns, juicy Berkshire black pig collar, deep-fried hunks of Moo Krob (crispy pork) or their signature confited and grilled free-range chicken.

It’s important to note that Chef Andy is doing much more than simply cooking food and re-envisioning it. He is fundamentally tearing it down to its bare essentials and molecular fundamentals in order to revolutionize and transform the relationship we have with what we consume.

One of the best ways to experience this first hand is to visit Table 38, which is his flagship restaurant that doubles as his highly-prized test kitchen. He uses both ancient and modern cooking techniques such as “sound" and “speed" (ask him about his centrifuge) to create his masterpieces; often with the intention of minimizing the use of heat to preserve the natural micronutrients in the produce.

Boasting just one table with seating for only 12 patrons, Table 38 is an intimate opportunity to pull back the veil between diner and chef and experience a quasi “Master Class" over 10-12 courses while Chef Andy shares personal stories about the cuisine. He invites you to engage personally with him and ask questions in an unprecedented manner. They offer five ever-evolving menus based on Andy’s memories and travels with the focus firmly placed on the five senses of “Flavour, Texture, Temperature, Colour, and Aroma."

One must not underestimate the unique ability Andy has to utilize “food sequencing" to manipulate time when preparing dishes. The result is versions of familiar cuisine that are simply revolutionary. “I think it’s really exciting to use today’s knowledge to experience yesterday’s flavours," he shared, “If you can control sound, you can control speed. When you control the speed, you can control time, and once you can control time, then you can play God with food."

This is evidenced by his version of Massaman Curry, which is served with a stunning lamb chop that looks almost raw in appearance with seemingly unrendered fat. However, it is actually cooked to a perfect medium-rare so that it delicately melts in your mouth. Served with an intense and aromatic Massaman reduction and a bold and vibrant tomato that I was told takes four and a half hours to prepare, and you will agree that it deftly defies expectations.

Another dish that expertly showcases the chef’s artistry and proficiency is his rich and creamy Shrimp course that is visually reminiscent of a modern art painting. The delicate, semi-raw shellfish is buried like a hidden treasure beneath a savoury blanket of almost bisque-like custard that is sure to leave you a bit weak in the knees. Without spoiling all the surprises from his avant-garde menu, you can readily expect to enjoy such delicacies as his succulent Jackson Pollock-inspired Duck Gaeng Phet and playful Watermelon & Anchovy version of Miang Kham.

It goes without saying that there has never been a better time to be obsessed with the dynamic and ever-evolving Bangkok food scene, and Chefs like Andy Yang make dining an unadulterated pleasure. His unique vision is beloved as much by locals as it is by international jet setters, and his unconventional interpretations of Thai cuisine can only be defined as a harbinger of the future.

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Published 30th April 2020