The air was heady with freshly roasted curry spices contained in blue swimmer crab. I had walked into David Thompson’s up close and personal cooking classes at the James Street Cooking School in uptown Brisbane, in Fortitude Valley yesterday.
David has been visiting the country to support his third cook book release Thai Street Food (pictured) Penguin Lantern (AUD 109.99); although his original and wonderful restaurant Darley Thai in Sydney’s Newtown later moved to Kings Cross, setting the scene for his depth of knowledge on Thai culture and cooking habits.
David says, “The Thais are the most compulsive eaters – we call this grazing – that you could imagine. They are always eating, and as street food is so accessible, their eating habits follow the rhythm of the day – are not always just in the morning, at noon and at night – as the way this book is segmented. Their eating is a compulsion.”
I quickly learnt that David had now let go the reins of his fab Michelin-starred Nahm London restaurant to Matthew Albert at the Halkin Hotel in Belgravia. He has always spent 5-6 months of each year in Thailand, researching more food styles and updating knowledge whilst incumbent head at Nahm.
It would be eventual that he open his own gig in Bangkok, and this may well occur in a few months. David was understandably noncommittal on the detail as contracts had not yet been settled.
I pressed him on his wine list aspirations. “Without doubt I will employ a sommelier to give the restaurant the kind of edginess that flatters the detail which I take with my food preparation.” But when asked on his opinion of Thai wine he was most dismissive of the quality not being there, giving me the impression it would be some time before a Thai origin bottle will make it to his table.
That will happen! Several Thai nationals have now studied winemaking in Australia and elsewhere; and with better site selection for vineyards some good drops will emerge. David has the perception that such high temperatures and high humidity are not good connections with grape growing.
That early Thai wines have been made from table grape varieties which crop twice a year gives connotations of thin flavourless wine. Vines which sit around in pools of water and incessant rain clearly cannot produce highly flavoured wine expected in a fine dining establishment.
When Thai vineyards are planted specifically for wine varieties (and there are some already under way) in areas with rain shadows we can expect a top Thai drop.
Thai Street Food as a book is truly beautiful in pictorial (and is weighty) with full double pages of food scenes – in the markets, on the street and in canals.
He has captured the pulse of the cooking, then produced 400 recipes of his own design after interviewing many street cooks. This has taken him away from the typical region cuisines which are quite style-specific to a mélange from other races – Indian and Chinese which have made indelible food style influences in the last 400 years.
Street food has not been part of Thai lifestyle for too long. Only since the 1960s did we see sales vans spill out into the street. It has been associated with the rural migration to the cities and increased affluence where eating out affordably is ideal for a time-poor worker.
Don’t forget Thompson is a fundamental chef – so his recipes present with all the basics so don’t count on buying a tube of green curry paste or your version and his version of any dish will be totally different.
That was his theme at his Brisbane cooking class – and I cannot wait to blend the curry powder for seafood.
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