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[Herald Interview] Thai chef brings savory flavors of her home to Seoul

By Lee Si-jin

Published : April 4, 2024 - 17:27

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Chef Tipaporn Phianthong poses for photos at Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul's Granum Dining Lounge in Jung-gu, central Seoul, Tuesday. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald) Chef Tipaporn Phianthong poses for photos at Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul's Granum Dining Lounge in Jung-gu, central Seoul, Tuesday. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

Tipaporn Phianthong, the head chef of Saffron -- the modern Thai cuisine restaurant at Banyan Tree Phuket -- has ventured beyond her home turf Thailand to bring the gastronomic excellence of Thai cuisine to Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul and its guests.

The 31-year-old Thai chef arrived in Seoul last week with excitement to connect with Korean diners via Thai dishes.

“Many people might be familiar with Thai cuisine’s spicy flavor. But, what makes our food tasty is the aroma of Thai herbs,” Phianthong said in an interview with The Korea Herald at Banyan Tree Seoul in Jung-gu, central Seoul, Tuesday.

The chef was invited to Seoul to offer a new Thai-themed buffet in person at Granum Dining Lounge, the all-day dining restaurant of Banyan Tree Seoul, from Friday to June 30. The buffet promotion will offer more than 20 authentic Thai dishes along with Italian dishes with an Asian twist.

“Guests can enjoy Thailand’s perennial favorites, like tom yum goong (spicy and sour soup), som tam (green papaya salad), and a relatively lesser-known yam som o (grapefruit salad) here at Granum Dining Lounge,” the chef said.

Granum Dining Lounge's Thai dishes (Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul) Granum Dining Lounge's Thai dishes (Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul)

The chef did not hide her confidence that the authentic Thai dishes will offer local diners a chance to embark on a stunning culinary journey through Thailand.

“The buffet will be held for three months, each with a theme of Thailand’s three popular travel spots -- Phuket, Chiang Mai and Bangkok. We are also planning to offer regional specialties, which can only be enjoyed in their respective cities,” Phianthong added, beaming.

“Phuket's cuisine can be described as a mixture of Chinese Hokkien style with Thai. And I will bring out the caramelized pork belly to the table. It will be a great chance to explore Thailand’s food culture without flying all the way to Thailand.”

Phianthong, who was aware of Thai food’s popularity in Korea, felt that Korean diners enjoy foods that are rich in flavor.

According to the chef, more than 12 ingredients are used to bring out the flavor of Thai-style salad dressing. One needs to have 10 to 12 additional ingredients to make a mouthwatering Thai salad.

She shared that Thai dishes require time-consuming preparation of ingredients, which made her reluctant to become a Thai chef at first.

“Growing up in a family of chefs, with my grandparents and mother who are Thai chefs, I knew a lot of work is needed with ingredients alone. And that work requires details, so I started by studying Western cuisine,” the chef explained.

Phianthong worked in multiple restaurants and accumulated experience by cooking different kinds of food for guests at villas in Thailand. After honing her skills as a Thai chef, she participated in the reality food competition show “Top Chef Thailand” (2023).

“I am really proud to present Phuket cuisine anywhere I go. It will enrich the guests’ gastronomic experience. I hope Korean diners enjoy it as well,” Phianthong told The Korea Herald.

Meanwhile, the chef shared her excitement for Thailand’s newly emerging fine dining culture.

“I think people are hoping to push Thai cuisine to the next stage by blending the overseas food culture,” she said.

“There are many restaurants (in Thailand) creating fine dining-style menus with a little bit of Thai taste. It is common to see guests enjoying their meal in a single dish in Thailand. But, the fine dining restaurants give you 18-course meals," she said.

While the chef is scheduled to stay in Korea for a month to deliver the Thai-themed buffet, she seeks to make her own gastronomic journey in Busan.

“I am very interested in exploring ingredients. Even the same type of fish is slightly different because of its living environment. It is a great joy to explore the unique ingredients that are difficult to find in Thailand,” she said.