Ben Greeno, Momofuku SeiŌbo
It seems like it would be difficult to impress Ben Greeno. After all, this is the chef who helped establish Noma (voted best restaurant in the world for the past three years) and who now wields the pans at Momofuku Seiōbo, the first David Chang restaurant outside New York City that was also awarded three chef’s hats in its first year of operation and, this year, made it onto S. Pellegrino’s coveted list of top restaurants around the world. But David Thompson’s nahm in Bangkok, recently voted one of the top three restaurants in Asia, has made an impression. “This is not shit,” says Greeno with a large dose of understatement, as he takes a bite of spicy pork, peanuts and crunchy rice on betel leaves, the first of 20 dishes that Thompson serves during the course of the meal. “This is definitely not shit.” The thing that excites Ben most in Thailand is the quality of the produce. “You can get most ingredients in Australia,” he says, as he tours one of Phuket’s vibrant markets in the early dawn light. “But the quality and freshness is nothing like this. This is literally just picked,” he adds. Ben’s dish of lobster makes use of Thai pumpkins and young galangal.
Anthony Telford, Public Dining Room
Despite this being his first visit to Thailand, Anthony was previously head chef at Bang Thai in Bangalow, on the north coast of NSW, and he relished the opportunity to visit the kitchens of a cuisine he’s long enjoyed. “I used to have an elderly Thai woman working in my kitchen and she would cook these incredible staff meals before service. Then she’d serve ‘Australian Thai’ food to our customers. I’d say to her, ‘No, give me the staff meals, the authentic Thai’. It’s fantastic to be here finally, and to experience the smells and flavours of the real Thailand. Here, I’ve cooked tom yum ghoong with local prawns. Back at Bang Thai, I always used to make this to order – I never had a pot of it just sitting there – and the key is to really squash the prawn heads to extract the oil.”
Mitch Orr, Buzo
The finely tuned kitchen of Buzo, a modern Italian restaurant in Sydney’s Paddington, may be a far cry from the chaotic markets of Phuket, but Mitch Orr revels in the rawness of it all. “I love it,” he says, seated with a cup of sweet tea at the tin table of the market’s coffee vendor, while a Buddhist monk invokes a blessing over a stallholder and motor scooters with voluminous sidecars squeeze through impossibly narrow openings. “I love that there are guys not wearing shirts cutting up fish and there are bits flying everywhere. That it’s not all antiseptic and regulated. They’ve been shopping and cooking like this for hundreds of years and I’d love to bring the food authorities over from Australia and show them this and say ‘loosen up’.” Mitch began his career in a western Sydney pub, then made his way into the city by way of Pilu at Freshwater and Duke Bistro in Darlinghurst, to name two, before becoming head chef at Buzo. This dish is an Italian spaghetti vongole – but made with local Thai ingredients such as dried egg noodles and rosella.
Patrick Friesen, Ms. G's
It’s a long way from a golf club in Winnipeg, Canada to the buzzing, Asian mash-up kitchen of Ms. G’s, but Patrick has successfully made the journey – via New York and a stint at Guillaume – where his nickname was ‘Maple’. He came to Australia on a whim and because he’d heard that there were figs “as big as a man’s fist” on offer. Those fist-sized figs may have proved elusive, but Thailand’s produce has his creative chef mind going full tilt. In addition to the crunchy fried chicken found at many street stalls, Patrick is a fan of the seafood markets. “I’m making grilled scampi, with a Balinese sauce called sambal matah. It’s kind of like a salsa made from eschalots, chilli, garlic, shrimp paste, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves,” he explains. “And we’re going to a shrimp paste place this morning to see how it’s made!”
Photography Brett Stevens