Pearls of Wisdom: David Thompson

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Restaurant, Food

David Thompson, head chef at Nahm
David Thompson, head chef at Nahm
David Thompson is head chef at Nahm, the first Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Europe, situated in the five-star Halkin hotel in London’s Belgravia. He will soon open a new restaurant in Bangkok

David Thompson is head chef at Nahm, the first Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Europe, situated in the five-star Halkin hotel in London’s Belgravia. He will soon open a new restaurant in Bangkok.

Opening a restaurant is a bit like childbirth​. It is difficult to give birth, but very quickly you forget about the pain.

In London, the dishes I chose were less contentious​ and not too demandingly authentic. There are no fermented foods that Westerners find hard to stomach. In Bangkok the dishes are spicier. I am not holding back like I did in London.

In the 10 years since opening my last restaurant​, everybody has become far more professional than me. I’d be unemployable. I was told the other day – quite rightly – about health and safely, and felt like a bumbling old man.

My relationship with Thai food was through serendipity​. I went to Bangkok by mistake when my holiday plans changed, and fell in love with the place. It was edgy and chaotic back then. I found that thrilling.

I can’t tell you what Thai food is like in England.​ I only eat it when I’m in Thailand. When I’m in England I eat European food.

I’ve survived going to Moscow five timeswith my liver and brain still intact.​ That’s an achievement all on its own.

Work is sometimes like a marriage and you just want to say 'give me a break'.​ I’m happy I don’t have to be in the kitchen every day, but I am most days anyway. I choose to work in the kitchen – I’m not compelled to.

I have learnt to speak Thai but some of my phrases can lead to confusion.​ So I decided to go back to school to learn how to swear
properly in Thai.

I’ve had restaurants that have failed​ and I’ve been in crisis pretty early on. It has made me aware that you can have a great menu and service, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. It’s all down to that capricious thing called luck.

My main influences are a few Thai cooks who have been dead for 70 or 80 years​, as well as the old girls on the streets who cook in the most unlikely of situations. They cook over a few embers of charcoal in a battered old wok, but the food leaves me gob-smacked. It takes me 20 cooks and a £500k kitchen to produce that kind of food.

My next book is more accessible.​ I’ve got off my precious high horse of glorious regal Thai cuisine, and got to where I truly belong – in the gutter. Here you can really eat well.

My favourite food at the moment is grilled pork neck.​ It’s more  sophisticated than pork belly. Served with chilli sauce it is delectable, especially if you put on too much of the stuff.

When I open a new restaurant I stay with it.​ I’ll be here in Bangkok until February.

I can handle hot food​ but if I’ve been eating in fancy European Restaurants, the first bite of a chilli can be a bit of a bolt. But
after that I’m like a pig returning to a trough.

Related topics: Business, People, Pearls of Wisdom

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1 comment

I would strongly disagree…

Posted by NULL,

I would strongly disagree with David's adage that luck plays a major part in a restaurant's success. The word chemistry is far more apt and although it's rather opaque it's has to be present in order to form the amalgam of all the other elements he has mentioned plus a lot more. Of course this emanates from the patron and is always clearly felt immediately one walks into a successful operation. Rex Leyland The Restaurant Doctor.co.uk

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