Chef Steve Doucakis: Bridges the gap between cultures and cuisines as well as embracing typical comfort fare with his from-scratch philosophy
Given beautiful, diverse cuisines from all over the world, it’s a little tough for foodies – like us – to make up our minds on a day where hunger would go for anything from Lebanese to American and Thai.
But what if we were to tell you now that you could have all the types of food you crave for in one setting? Meet Steve Doucakis, a head chef of Little Donkey BKK. He has a repertoire of comfort-filled fusion dishes that will be the antidote to your multi-cuisine craving.
His knack for blending together cuisines, especially Asian and Western, to reimagine slash reinterpret everyone’s comfort food is great but what’s greater is the fact that he fuels it with from-scratch philosophy that totally up you’re regular comfort food with some panache.
Read on for all his insights about his cooking and creative process in our interview with him below.
Can you tell us about your style of cooking? What cuisine or cooking technique you’re specialized in?
I wouldn’t say that I specialize in any specific cuisine, I like exploring all types of food cultures and ingredients; I love learning new things and am constantly striving to know more.
Coming from a background in New York and cooking across Taiwan and Southeast Asia, I definitely have geared a lot of my approach to bridging the gap between those different cultures. I’ve been really fortunate to be immersed into the Thai food scene, which has shaped my cooking a lot over the past few years.
You used to work and train in haute-cuisine restaurants, for example, Isa Restaurant, Jean-Georges Restaurant in NYC and Bunker Sathorn, what do you think is the contrast and similarity in what you do now at Little Donkey?
From a kitchen standpoint, I think there are a lot of similarities between Little Donkey and some of those fine dining restaurants. We’re making nearly everything from scratch, putting a lot of time and care into sauce preparations, and working with farmers and fishermen to get in the best possible products. We’ve brought that Michelin-star mentality into the kitchen, but on a more practical and relatable level for the guests. The quality is in the food we serve, and I believe it speaks for itself; we don’t need to be preachy about a lot of that fine dining stuff.
As a sister restaurant of Little Donkey in Boston, what do you think is the difference between the food here and the food there?
Almost all of the menu is completely different between Bangkok and Boston, either due to ingredient availability, or local tastes. Besides the food that’s on the plate, I feel that we are one and the same. Cooking food that is honest, fun, and truly delicious is the signature of Little Donkey. Whether it be the King Crab Nachos in Boston, or our version of Massaman Curry in Bangkok, the ethos is the same: cook food that people crave and don’t take ourselves too seriously.
The menu you created at Little Donkey now is mainly focusing on multi-cuisine and fusion food. What makes you different from other of Bangkok’s restaurants that are focusing on the same concepts?
I think we’re pulling inspiration from ideas and dishes that are very identifiable, and adding a bit of flair to them, not necessarily trying to make something to blow your mind just for the sake of “creativity.” We’re using ingredients and preparations on our menu because we’re in pursuit of a superior product, not because we want to show off.
Many people are against fusion food – or any food that’s far from traditions, what do you think of it personally?
Well I’m sure it’s obvious that I support it, but not blindly. If it’s done right, and again, for the right reasons, it can be great. I think it gets a bad rap because too many chefs are trying to throw random exotic ingredients on things and call it fusion. From an execution standpoint it’s a tight line to walk, but from a philosophical approach I find it liberating and practical.
Considering that if you go back far enough in history, the concept of an “authentic” cuisine doesn’t truly exist. What was Italian food before the Spanish brought tomatoes from Peru to Europe in the sixteenth century? Food cultures and cuisines are always changing, I believe that fluidity is what promotes progress and food that may be considered “authentic” in the not so distant future.
You are devotedly following the from-scratch philosophy, what inspired you to do so?
It all starts from a results-oriented approach. When I was working at Jean-Georges in New York, we were making everything from scratch. Food of that calibre requires everything to be made in house by an army of people. Although we’re not serving tasting menus and tweezer everything at Little Donkey, we still make nearly everything ourselves. It gives us more control over our food. The little details in the beginning matter a lot in the end. Customization and ensuring our ingredients are coming from ethical and responsible sources are the biggest motivation.
The hard part is having to strip everything down and start over with how everything is prepared. Second-guessing the basic idea slowly creeps in and next thing you know, it’s not even related to the original idea, but that’s always the beauty of the creative.
Making food from scratch requires an in-depth knowledge of each dish, for example, you make your own Thai Nam Prik Noom, mala spice blend and ricotta cheese, what is your learning process in creating a dish from the ground up?
It usually starts off with examples or what I regard as “the best” of something for me personally. If I prefer a certain style of spice blend because it has specific qualities, I’ll try to emulate that first. Opening up a few cookbooks and researching its history is the next step, so I can find out the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of how it came to be that way. Learning the rules and history of something will give the respect necessary to a dish, which is where the creative liberties can come in a bit later. After that is just a lot of trial and error. Making mistakes in the process is a given, but that’s where the learning comes in. Although easier said than done, I try not to be too hard on myself about the whole thing.
What would be the ideal cuisine of your own in which you’re creating?
I think the food we’re doing at Little Donkey in Bangkok is exactly the type of food I want to be cooking. It’s the type of food that makes people happy. I love cooking for friends and family, and at Little Donkey I feel that it’s the same. Half of the menu is food that I’ve made some version of at home at some point, so essentially the guests here are getting that same experience. On my day off, this is the type of food that I would want to be eating too.
Thank you Steve.