I set out to find Bangkok’s bright young things, those with a clear and definitive talent in the kitchen and creative nature that’ll thrust them into the culinary sphere, one day. 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; 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 trails. The competition in Bangkok is fierce, and with the launch of the Michelin Guide Bangkok last year and restaurants from the capital climbing higher each year on The World's 50 Best Restaurants list, it's become a battleground for reward and recognition. 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 35 and under. Why? Firstly, I hadn’t expected to discover so much young talent; and secondly, by the age of 35, a chef should have a direction formed – maybe not the final path, just the first of many – with ample local and international experiences under their belt and well on their way to finding a personal style.
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 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 technique, he’s certainly on the right path, and still, under 30 years-old, his future looks very bright indeed.
Rydo Anton (29), Head Chef at Gaggan
Born in Jakarta, Rydo Anton 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 number one on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for four years in a row.
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 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 Rydo. We’ll have to wait until 2020 until he branches out solo.
Thitid “Ton” Tassanakajohn (33), Head Chef at LeDu
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Thitid Tassanakajohn (known as “Chef Ton”), cut his teeth at world-class US restaurants including Eleven Madison Park, The Modern and Jean Georges. He has since gone about his career with an academic eye, travelling, researching and experiencing the very best in Thai ingredients and then applying US-French techniques he acquired through his studies. He opened LeDu in Bangkok in 2015 and was lauded as a rising star in the Bangkok fine dining scene, the name “Chef Ton” becoming synonymous with modern Thai cooking. A jump from No.37 to No.14 in this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant list, is proof indeed that the young chef is moving up in the world, leaving the competition behind.
With such a significant leap on Asia’s 50 Best 2018 list, whispers are already abound of a potential Top 10 placing next year. Having missed out on a Michelin star in 2017 (a clear oversight), causing shock waves through the Bangkok foodie community, Chef Ton is almost sure to be awarded a star in the 2018 guide. Add to this a burgeoning media career, appearing as a judge on Top Chef Thailand and travelling for international pop-ups – as well as the handsome face of modern Thai fine-dining – and Chef Ton’s career continues to go from strength-to-strength.
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 Australian 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, pairing Australian produce with 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 internal cuisines, continuously pushing boundaries. But he hasn’t finisehd yet, promising to reinvent Freebird in the coming months, moving away from modern Australian to create a more modern 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 for invites in the near future.
Nelson Amorim (27), Head Chef at Il Fumo
Born and raised in Northern Portugal, around the magnificent wine region of Douro Valley, Nelson Amorim, 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 celebrated 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, Nelson is introducing a new type of cuisine to Thailand; best described at Italian-meet-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, Nelson must surely be looking to go one better when the second Bangkok Michelin Guide is released in December this year.
Sujira “Aom” Pongmorn (31), Chef de Cuisine and Co-Owner at Saawaan
Born in Bangkok to a family of professional cooks, Sujira "Aom" Pongmorn grew up around food. After school, she enrolled at the School of The Oriental Hotel Apprenticeship Program at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and started her professional career in the hotel's two famous restaurants, Lord Jim's and Le Normandie. She continued her fine dining training in the kitchens of Sra Bua, Issaya Siamese Club and The House on Sathorn, before leaving to pursue her own business, opening Baan Phadthai with restaurateur Frederic Meyer in 2016, which was awarded a Bib Gourmand in the inaugural Michelin Guide Bangkok 2018.
FutureSaawaan opened in May and is Chef Aom’s latest project, serving a seasonal 10-course tasting menu with each dish representing a technique or concept commonly found in traditional Thai cooking, such as grilling, steaming, stir-frying and fermentation. Using local ingredients sourced from all over Thailand, Chef Aom creates innovative and refined dishes with respect for the produce and Thai culinary heritage. Since the restaurant opened, it has been one of the most discussed in the city. In her own words, “Saawaan is me, in front of chefs, in front of people. I have to show them what I am and what I can achieve. It is a huge step, and I have to continue my journey, starting here.”
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 new 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. Deserts 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.
Fatih Tutak (32), Head Chef at The Dining Room at The House on Sathorn
Fatih Tutak was born and raised in Istanbul where at a young age his culinary interest was inspired by his mother’s home cooking. After an apprenticeship with Paul Pairet and working in some of the top establishments in Istanbul’s luxury hotel and restaurants, Fatih had the opportunity to move abroad, with stop-overs in Qingdao, Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Denmark and Hong Kong. Some of his experiences included the world-renowned Noma with Rene Redzepi and three Michelin-star Nihonryori Ryugin in Tokyo with Seiji Yamamoto. Arriving in Bangkok he quickly established himself as a creative force, running The House on Sathorn, part of the W Hotel Bangkok; his creative menus playing intelligently and humorously with dish descriptions, such as the staple, "Sultan's Message Can't Deliver".
Chef Fatih’s food is some of the most exciting in the capital right now, with ingredients sourced nationally and internationally and creative dishes rooted in Turkish memories and nostalgia, while educating Bangkok in Turkish cuisine. Awarded a Michelin Plate in the 2017 Bangkok Guide and having appeared for the past two years on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Chef Fatih continues to push the boundaries while establishing himself as a driving force in both international Turkish cuisine and the fine dining scene in Bangkok. Last year, the team from Mugaritz accepted an invitation to appear at The House on Sathorn, cooking alongside Chef Fatih and with a recent pop-up in Shanghai and another planned in Melbourne next month, as well as something special in the pipeline with Dani Garcia, Chef Fatih is going international while also inviting the culinary world to Bangkok.
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 in Bangkok 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.
FutureQuince 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.
Garima Arora (31), Head Chef and Owner at Gaa
In 2008, Garima Arora quit her job as a pharma journalist and left Mumbai to study at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. A student of Jai Hind College, Garima has since gone on to work with the biggest names in the business such as René Redzepi, Gordon Ramsay and Gaggan Anand. She set up her restaurant, Gaa, in Bangkok in March 2017 offering a 10 or 14-course Tasting Menu from an eclectic mix of styles and techniques, notably influenced by her time under Redzepi at Noma, and produced using 100% local ingredients.
When it opened in March last year, Gaa made headlines as a natural sibling to Gaggan. It was run by his former sous-chef and sat directly opposite Gaggan. Since then, Arora has emerged from the master’s shadow to walk her own path, one dedicated to indigenous Southeast Asian ingredients that she employs to create dishes that are creative and often rooted in her Indian upbringing. Within only a few months of opening, Gaa was awarded a Michelin Plate and for this exciting chef, still honing her skills and developing on her repertoire, things go from strength-to-strength. Many in Bangkok, expect her to be rightly awarded a star come December as well as a potential entry on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list next year.
Arnie Marcella (35), Head Chef at Bunker
Born in the Philippines, Arnie Marcella grew up in New York City and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. He worked in a variety of high-profile kitchens including the three Michelin-starred Jean-Georges and two Michelin-starred Marea, Corton and Alto restaurants. A move to Italy introduced him to the Slow Food Movement, something he is passionate about before a tour of Asia and a holiday in Thailand saw him relocate to Bangkok (under the suggestion of friend Tim Butler from Eat Me) and eventually open Bunker. Chef Arnie’s food is a reflection of his heritage and many influences, combining Filipino-Thai-American produce to create a truly unique offering.
Awarded a Michelin Plate in the 2017 Bangkok Guide, Chef Arnie continues to evolve and elevate his food, recently relaunching the Bunker menu with a leaning more towards Filipino and Thai influences, particularity organic and sustainably-sourced Thai ingredients. During time off, Chef Arnie travels the country, seeking out new components and learning about the wide variety of Thai produce. Plates such as Ma-La Pork Spare Ribs and Than Khun Organic Fried Chicken reflect Chef Arnie’s influences and recent pop-ups with Chef Tim Butler, Chef Ivan Brehm (Bacchanalia, Singapore), Chef Jose Luis Gonzalez (Gallery Vask, Manila) and Jamsheed winemaker Gary Mills, have brought a new audience to Bunker, with more pop-up scheduled for the future. “I see myself in Bangkok until the wheels fall off,” remarks Chef Arnie.
Phatchara “Pom” Pirapak (27/28), 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 of if any Bangkok restaurant has reached out, but local foodies wait in anticipation to learn Chef Paper’s next move and given that the young chef has already achieved so much in her short career, this next move could be something fascinating, indeed. Watch this space.