Three U.S.-based Thai chefs defining modern Thai food


Americans are in for a tasty treat. Three Thai chefs based in the United States have been named among the nine who are defining the modern era of Thai cuisine around the world, according to Thailand’s BK Magazine, considered an authority on the Kingdom’s urban and youth culture.

“Think Bangkok is the center of everything? That might well be the case, but there’s a diaspora of talented Thai chefs cooking up a storm in some of the world’s most exciting kitchens and earning praise for it, from London to Sydney, Copenhagen to San Francisco,’’ the magazine wrote in its current issue.

The three chefs are Pim Techamuanvivit of Kin Khao restaurant in San Francisco, Kris Yenbamroong of Night+Market restaurant in Los Angeles, and Leela Punyaratabandhu a cookbook author and blogger who splits her time between Chicago and Bangkok. The celebrated chefs are innovating and creating new tastes and approaches that smash stereotypes of Thai food as “ greasy egg-noodle pad Thai, sugary-sweet green curry and gloopy chicken-cashew dishes,” the magazine said.

Thai food has been called the fastest-growing ethnic food in the United States marked by a surge in the number of Thai restaurants across America during the last two decades. As with many cuisines that make the great migration to the U.S., Thai cuisine’s purveyors have adapted and altered some of its elements to suit what they believe Americans will enjoy. Generally, that means sweeter and less spicy versions of classic Thai dishes.

That approach has begun to change in recent years, however, as American diners seek out ever-more adventurous options and a coterie of Thai chefs have become more daring, creative and willing to risk challenging local tastes.

“It’s a golden age for Thai food,” Thai-born restaurateur James Syhabout told the New York Times two years ago. “Now diversity is more celebrated. And we are more brave, more proud of showcasing our ethnicity.”

BK wrote that Pim Techamuanvivit “made headlines last year when she was appointed the new head of Nahm after David Thompson stepped down. Originally a food writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times and Food & Wine Magazine, Pim opened Kin Khao in 2014 and won her first (Michelin) star in 2016. Her Chez Pim food blog was called the world’s sixth top food blog by London’s Times newspaper. Born and raised in Bangkok, she travels back and forth from the States.”

Just 33 years old, Kris Yenbamroong “is currently one of the hottest chefs stateside. He launched Night+Market seven years ago without any official culinary training. Now with three Night+Market restaurants to his name, Kris is known for his fun, informal approach to traditional cooking. Back in September 2012, he was named Chef of the Year by Los Angeles Magazine,’’ BK wrote.

Leela Punyaratabandhu writes an award-winning cooking blog named She Simmers as well as having authored the cookbook Bangkok: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Thailand. Her blog “was named the best Regional Cuisine blog in 2012 by Saveur Magazine. She sets out to recreate Thai dishes, and you can spot her work in various outlets like CNN Travel, The Wall Street Journal. In 2018, her book Bangkok won the prestigious Art of Eating Prize, which is awarded to just one food book of the year,’’ BK wrote.