Chef Ian Kittichai, often described as Thailand’s first international celebrity chef, came from humble roots in Bangkok. When he landed a scholarship at a culinary school, his life changed. He worked his way up to the kitchen of Sydney’s legendary French fine-dining restaurant, Claude’s, and is now an author of Thai cookery books in both English and Thai and owner of his own global food and beverage firm, Cuisines Concept Co.

He’s now also a chef with the Eastern & Oriental Express, and will be joining the luxury train on its classic three-night journey from Bangkok to Singapore this month. Guests will dine on Ian’s Thai-inspired breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner menus using local ingredients.

We chat to him about his culinary background, the secret to his success, and his upcoming menus for the luxury train journey.

 

Ian Kittichai – Chef’s Portrait

 

Chef Ian, you started out pushing a street cart through your Bangkok neighbourhood as a boy – what did you and your mother cook? 

We would cook many different types of curries, some wok-fried dishes and, of course, we would always cook rice.

 

Did you always want to continue cooking and to become a chef?

No. I saw how hard my mother worked 365 days a year, rain or shine, and I did not want to cook as my career. When I finished high school at 16, I begged my mother to let me go to London to study a short course in English. She borrowed money and sent me. I got a job as a pot washer at night and serving coffee in the morning at the Waldorf Hotel before school.

I was eventually sponsored by the hotel to go to culinary school. For me, it meant I could go to school and my mother wouldn’t have to keep paying for me. I went on to finish my culinary school and apprenticeship in Sydney, where my mother and sisters had emigrated. It was when I was in Sydney that I found my passion and really dedicated myself fully to becoming a chef.

 

Medley of Seafood with Oyster Mushroom, Red Pepper, Curry Oil and Crispy Ginger

 

You’ve worked at Sydney’s celebrated Claude’s – what was the experience like? What did you learn?

It was a great experience. Not many chefs are required to do apprenticeships any more, but for me it was very important to my education and for my foundation as a chef. Claude’s was the top French fine dining restaurant in Australia – it had 3 Hats (Australia’s version of Michelin stars) in the 1990s. We only had a maximum of 52 guests for dinner, 5 days a week. Everything was made from scratch, every day. The menu consisted of 5 starters, 5 mains, and 5 desserts – which would change every day.

 

You’re described as Thailand’s first celebrity chef – what do you think is the secret to your success?

I have been very fortunate in my career. I would say there is no secret – work hard, always keep learning, be humble and, of course, luck.

 

How would you describe your cooking style?

I would say my style is rooted in traditional flavours and ingredients and using varied cooking techniques to create the best flavours and textures.

 

 

You’ll be cooking on the Eastern & Oriental Express in November – can you give us an idea of the menu you will be preparing?

My menus highlight Thai flavours and ingredients. One of my signature dishes from my restaurant Issaya Siamese Club, mussamun curry lamb shank, will be on the dinner menu.

 

You’ll also be taking guests on a market tour – this sounds fun. What will you be doing on the tour?

We’ll explore a typical Thai wet market and look at ingredients and the lifestyle of the market.

 

You’re passionate about organic and sustainable ingredients – is it easy to find these ingredients in Thailand? What is the produce like, and are suppliers easy to work with? 

Thailand has a growing number of organic and sustainable farms so it is getting easier and easier to find these ingredients. The produce is beautiful and in my experience the suppliers are easy to work with.

 

You have written cookbooks, you have restaurants in Thailand and around the world – what are you planning next?

I’m currently working on expanding the kitchen lab and event space for my consulting firm, Cuisine Concept. My dessert bars in New York City, Spot Dessert Bar, are also about to start expanding to other locations in the US and internationally.

 

Thank you, Chef Ian, and best of luck with all your future endeavours.

 

Like Ian Kittichai told us – there is no secret to success. But a profile on Cook Concern can help, for sure.
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