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Weekend Special: Ian Kittichai's Koh Philosophy

  By   Nov 26th 2010 at 1:24PM Lifestyle RATED



Ask Ian Kittichai, chef at Mumbai's newest signature Thai restaurant Koh, if he likes the city and he gives a big smile. "I've had one person come to dine at Koh 64 times in the two and a half months that we've been open," says the soft spoken Thai chef.

"Deepika [Padukone] has also eaten here twice, and I keep telling my staff that she's come to see me," he adds laughing and tells me that another patron and his wife "no longer go to another famous Thai restaurant close by. It's a big compliment to me".

Mumbai, it seems, is being good to the chef The Bangkok Post has dubbed "The Golden Boy". And why not? Kittichai, who has restaurants in New York, Barcelona, Bangkok and now Mumbai, has spiced up eating out in the city with exciting garnishes. Here are excerpts from the interview:

On Coming Here

The opportunity to work in Mumbai presented itself to the Kittichai. The InterContinental at Marine Drive (where Koh is), was keen on changing it's lounge, Czar Bar and an architect suggested talking to Kittichai. "They contacted me and asked if I knew a Thai chef and I said, 'Yes. Kittichai.' I was thinking New York, Barcelona, Bangkok and when they offered me Mumbai, I thought it was only three hours away. In Bangkok, you have three-hour traffic jams where ever you want to go, so I thought Mumbai was close to Thailand. I was excited at the prospect of coming," says Kittichai.

On Good Food

Talking about his food philosophy, Kittichai says it's all about simplicity. "Good food is if you can get fresh ingredients, and the right ingredients to do something simple - that is the best way to make my food. We do a lot of simple preparation - but its not chop, chop, chop and cook - it's about cooking well."

He slow cooks his food, like the popular lamb shank curry, until the meat almost melts off and the flavour mixes in. It also allows the curry to absorb the sourness from the tamarind and a slight sweetness from palm sugar. "And you serve it with a cucumber dish so that the flavours balance each other. Cooking is also about finding the right balance," he says.

On Cooking in Mumbai

"I'm very lucky to be able to bring two chefs, who have trained under me, to Mumbai," says Kittichai. Likening the spicy food of Thailand's southern region to Indian food, Kittichai adds that cooking for the Indian palette is a fun. "I'm allowed to import ingredients from Thailand, which wasn't possible in New York. That's why the menu here has a bigger variety than the one there," he says. 

"At my restaurant in Barcelona, I had to make sure the food was completely bland, because people don't like spicy food. In fact between there and here, it's easier to cook for Mumbai," says Kittichai, who has, or rather can, tweak his food to appeal to his Mumbai customers. "Everything except my curries can be made 'Jain'," he adds, referring to Mumbai's vast non-root vegetable eating Gujarati Jain community.

On Engaging His Customers

Kittichai launched one of the first digital menus in the world at Koh. The slick iPad App, which is social network friendly, has intrigued his diners, he says.

Then there is the theatrics surrounding the food - curries are served in fire-proof paper bowls, so that they stay warm while you eat. "The funny thing is that the paper burns if there is no liquid in it. When I was experimenting with it, I thought, 'Wow, it's fire proof' and put the paper over a flame. It burnt," he laughs.

There is also the rice serves in lava stone pots. Since the stone is piping hot, the rice is cooked in front of you.

Yet while Kittichai is enjoying the current success of his restaurant, he has no plans to expand in India as yet. He's busy expanding in New York.

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