Thai Chef Naruchit Taintrong In Dialogue
Image Credit: Chef Naruchit Taingtrong

Young at heart yet rooted in tradition, Chef Naruchit Taingtrong, fondly known as Chef Golf, has set foot in Bengaluru all the way from Chiang Mai in Thailand to unveil his culinary masterpiece at the esteemed Four Seasons' Far and East restaurant. From the zesty khao soi to the succulent deep-fried seabass with raw mango salad, every dish tells a story, weaving together the rich tapestry of Thai culinary heritage. 

In a conversation about the uniqueness of Thai cuisine, Chef Golf talks about his culinary journey, which is imbued with an unwavering passion, determination, and innate reverence for the art of Thai cooking.

Can you tell us about your culinary journey and how you became a specialised chef in Thai cuisine?

I started my culinary journey in Bangkok, where I was born and raised. I worked in different countries, including the UAE, where I had the opportunity to explore French cuisine and Mediterranean cooking styles. However, Thai cuisine has always been my core style. From banquets to gourmet dining, I continue to explore my true passion, which lies in Thai cooking and showcasing its authentic flavours. I am a traditionalist at heart who believes in modern presentation when it comes to my style of Thai cooking.

How do you ensure the authenticity of your Thai recipes?

I constantly explore traditional Thai recipes to maintain authenticity. I have had the opportunity and privilege to learn and make recipes that have been handed down for generations by the elderly in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and across Thailand. I believe in preserving traditional tastes and recipes while giving them a modern touch in presentation. My mother, who loves to cook, continues to be my favourite teacher through my culinary profession.

What makes northern Thai cuisine unique?

Northern Thai food is quite distinct from the southern parts of Thailand. Unlike the coastal regions, the northern parts are mountainous and experience colder weather. The food habits and ingredients in the north vary significantly. Northern Thai food goes beyond curries and incorporates a diverse range of ingredients, including fresh indigenous vegetables that are abundantly available in the region. It has strong Chinese and Myanmar influences, and the use of pork and beef is more prominent compared to seafood in the south.

Temperature, soil, and landscape are slightly different between the south and the north, which makes a big difference in the availability of produce like vegetables, fruits, and herbs. There is a lot of Chinese and Myanmar influence in Northern Thailand, unlike the Indonesian, Malay, and Indian culinary influences in Southern Thailand and Bangkok. Gaeng Hung Lay is a popular dish in Northern Thailand. It is a curry made from beef or pork that is often eaten with sticky rice.

How do you balance authenticity with modern presentation in your dishes?

While the recipes and taste remain authentic, I believe in a modern approach to presentation. The flavours and techniques are traditional, but I like to present them in a way that appeals to the modern diner. I strive to create a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation, ensuring that the taste and essence of Thai cuisine are preserved while offering a visually appealing dining experience.

What is your culinary philosophy?

My culinary philosophy is related to the art of perfume. I compare the initial aroma, the imagination it evokes, and the final taste, as there are multiple layers of flavours in each dish. When I was young, my mother, who loves to cook, would make delicious dishes and ask me for feedback. This taught me to understand the taste and flavour of food. She emphasised the importance of believing in what I taste and recognising that others may have different preferences. She taught me to listen, learn, and adapt on the go to cater to different palates to the best of my ability.

The balance of flavours is of utmost importance to me when I am cooking. Even if it is the simplest of soups, like a chicken tom yum soup that infuses lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves. The balance of sourness in the broth should complement the sweetness of the chicken and a hint of salt with the aroma of the herbs perfectly.

How do you incorporate local influences when showcasing Thai cuisine abroad?

Whenever I travel to a new place, it becomes a constant learning experience for me. I research the local food preferences and adapt the dishes from our original Thai recipes to suit the local palate. My experience in Mediterranean and Frech styles of cooking has helped me with a modern presentation too. For example, crispy fried seabass with raw mango salad and rice crackers served with peanut relish are authentic recipes from Chiang Mai that I've brought here to showcase at Four Seasons', Far And East in Bengaluru. The rice crackers, especially, are a homemade Thai recipe that I was sure would be a hit here. It's about finding a balance between preserving authenticity and embracing the diverse cuisines I encounter.

Also, I researched Indian food to gain an understanding of the Indian palate before travelling to Bengaluru. It took me some time, but I did manage to curate a special menu with traditional Thai recipes like khao soi and fresh vegetable spring rolls and adapt them to the Indian flavour balance and preferences while showcasing Thai authenticity. For instance, the spring rolls, which would include pork, seafood, or chicken, could be easily replaced with fresh vegetables without changing the flavours much to cater to vegetarians too.

It is a constant learning experience for me, wherever I go. Even in Bengaluru, I am learning a lot about the local food, and I am always thinking about how I can adapt our authentic Thai cuisine to these myriad cuisines that I experience on the go.

How do you prioritise health and freshness in your dishes?

Back home, we have a chef's garden, and we use the freshest produce to prepare our dishes. Vegetables and herbs are 100% farm-to-fork, and I love that idea of cooking. While I cannot carry the garden everywhere I travel, I try with all my might to use the best of what is available to make the healthiest and most nourishing plate of food for our guests.

I work with the freshest ingredients available while incorporating flavours, lending a good balance of flavours, acidity, and fat content to my dishes. My adapting skills kick in to help me be successful most of the time.

Have you been to India before and tried the food here? If so, what is your favourite dish?

This is my first visit to India. I am excited and looking forward to trying some local dishes if time permits. But I have tried Indian food, and I enjoy dishes like chicken tikka, dal makhni, and naan the most.

From the tantalising khao soi with its contemporary allure to the flavorful wok-tossed chicken, deep-fried seabass, tom sum soup, and delectable sticky rice pudding with mangoes, he has left no stone unturned in bringing the authentic tastes of Thailand to Indian food enthusiasts at the Far And East in Bengaluru.