Talking to Chef Aom of Saawaan about Thai culinary history.

Written by Christopher Menning | December 2, 2019

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Saawaan restaurant run by the female duo, Chef Aom, and Chef Paper is a culinary journey through Thailands history.

The Michelin starred restaurant has grown in fame in the Silom area of the city for being a true inspiration into what Thai fine dining should be.

A small venue with an open kitchen sets the tone for an intimate meal. With much of their food coming from small farmers and from old Thai recipes, we wanted to chat to Chef Aom and hear about where her inspiration comes from.

Chef Aom of saawaan restaurant bangkok

“For the dips inspiration, a long time ago I was looking for rice and I saw a group of farmers eating something together. It smelt amazing, like grilled lobster or prawn. I wanted to follow it and discover.”

The meaning of Saawaan is heaven, why this name for the restaurant?

 Chef AomSure, for us you come here and it’s good food, good service. We want you to feel at home and relax. We don’t want to be stuffy or stiff. You come here to see your friend or your family and eat great Thai food. That’s heaven for us.

Sometimes traditional Thai food and fine dining can be hard to combine but Saawaan seems to have succeed. Whats your secret?

 Chef Aom: It starts with the initial idea to open the Saawaan restaurant. I wanted to have basic Thai cooking and to combine it with modern cuisine that I have been taught throughout my career. I want to present to the world that Thai food can be served in an international way. 

Thai food can be like French cuisine or nordic cuisine. At the same time, I want to keep the original taste just work on the presentation and use modern techniques.

In terms of fine dining in Thai cuisine, what do you think needs to be done to make it more accessible?

Chef Aom: I think when foreign nationalities think of Thai food they only think of Pad Thai and such. Classic Thai dishes you find in street cooking.

However, there is so much more to our cuisine. Not only working on taste, but we as chefs also need to know about the product and how to present it in the best way. Like Tom Yum Goon. 

You have to present the blue river prawn not just the soup and know how to cook it perfectly. 

It’s more successful for the restaurant to focus this way. Even the original dip that we used to eat back in the day some Thai people cannot eat anymore, so we have to think about making it balance with the current climate of taste. 

‘Change something difficult to eat, to something enjoyable to eat’. That’s where Thai fine dining can succeed.

The menu of Saawaan changes seasonally is that right?

Chef Aom: We change the menu 3 times a year. We follow the season along with the produce. Although this means being flexible. For instance its winter now but it’s still not cold enough for some produce! We have to be adaptable to the climate.

How do you go about the sourcing of ingredients?

Chef Aom: First of all, I love exploring the world and its flavours! Not just Bangkok. I spend my days off going to other countries or other areas of Thailand to see friends who live in these areas.

I like to work with organic farmers and I’m lucky to have met the right people to introduce me to such places.

The owner of the restaurant supports me on this quest and I’ve built a good relationship with the farmers I work with, discussing with them what the restaurant needs. 

We even have our own farm not far from Bangkok where we produce local vegetables and quail. Actually quail i’ve tried a lot in Bangkok and I always thought why don’t we supply our own? 

The problem with the Thai quail is it’s a very small bird, almost the size of your palm!

Not quite big enough to do a charcoal cooking. This is why In Thai cooking quail is usually just deep-fried and served straight away. I wanted to make it like the French and wondered how?

I talked to the farmer and explained I wanted our quail to be larger they told me it was impossible! 

But I didn’t think so, it’s supposed to be possible. 

We just need to learn how. So we tried to research chicken feeding as both are poultry and there may be an answer. What we actually started with is to feed the birds with coconut milk, as it’s nutritious and fatty, but we didn’t force them. 

We really wanted the birds to have a happy life so raised them free range. 

We added to it the same place as their water and also fed them corn, mung bean, red bean, and even brown rice.

We saw after some time the development of the quail was getting better and the size was improving. We started with 50 quail. And now we have a lot, we are actually getting birds twice a week!

So it's important for your restaurant to work with local farmers closely?

Chef Aom: Yes of course. You can find stuff around the city but we feel it’s better to build that personal connection from the source and create something unique for our guests. 

We loved the courses and the presentation, Especially your mud crab dish where we used our hands!

Where did you get this inspiration from?

Chef Aom: Yes, we like to be playful, actually, people have been using their hands for food throughout history and still do in some cultures. 

There are some restaurants that will only use a fork and spoon because they believe using hands is impolite, but I say why not! It’s our origin, our hands are supposed to be used for eating! Every country did it before. 

So I wanted to bring that element to our restaurant and show people that fine dining doesn’t have to be stuffy and boring, it can be fun.

For the dips inspiration, a long time ago I was looking for rice and I saw a group of farmers eating something together. It smelt amazing, like grilled lobster or prawn.

 I wanted to follow it and discover. What they were doing was eating crab on a bamboo stick and grilling them. 

Once ready they cracked the shell and ate it with sticky rice and fish sauce, all mixed together. I used this experience and sculpted it into the dish that we serve today. 

There had to be a bit of work on the balance especially with the fish sauce which can be very powerful, and this is why the dish is served Namprik dip style inside the crab shell with sticky rice on the side.

Related Article: What is Nam prik?

Talking about Nam prik, It seems like everyone has their own recipe and style of making it.

Why do you think it's important for Thai culture?

Chef Aom: Actually Nam prik is very much loved in Thai eating and there are many types. A long time ago in Thailand, we used to grab herbs and fish and make Namprik with them. 

Then we would add boiled vegetables and rice. That is the root of us and Thai cuisine. All Nam prik has a story behind it but some foreigners don’t find it easy to eat. 

It can be salty, sour or spicy but it’s delicious that way. There is also the unique umami flavour you get when you eat it with rice.

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