The menu at the newest Thai restaurant in Mumbai reads a little strange. You will not find a Tom Yum or Tom Kha Gai soup in it. No fried rice or Pad Thai either. Koh by chef Ian Kittichai is the latest entrant to the Indian restaurant scene where the chef may not be available at the restaurant, but his name gets the diners in.
After Wasabi by Morimoto, and Ziya by Vineet Bhatia, Hotel InterContinental Marine Drive decided to give its restaurant repertoire a boost by inviting one of the world’s most celebrated Thai chefs.
Kittichai carved a niche for himself in New York with contemporary Thai cuisine at his eponymous restaurant. A few years ago, he parted ways with the management of Kittichai and opened a Thai restaurant at Hotel Murmuri in Barcelona and a gastro pub called Hyde & Seek in Bangkok.
Doing away with Asian decor clichés, the ambience at Koh is cozy and understated, with dim lighting and orchids. Before Koh opened last weekend, we spoke to Kittichai about taking Thai food out of takeaway boxes to the fine-dining space and serving “Jain Thai” in his first venture in India. Edited excerpts:
Big bite: Kittichai imports most of his ingredients from Thailand. Kedar Bhat/Mint
How would you describe your style of cooking?
My food is very traditional and authentic, but the way I am serving it, the presentation is contemporary. It is my interpretation of Thai food. We want people to try food from different parts of Thailand and introduce them to things they may have not tried before. When I cooked at home, my father-in-law would be like, this is not Thai food. In Thailand, you actually dump everything together in one dish and can’t really taste anything. But I only plate it differently, so you can taste every ingredient in the dish.
What are some of the unusual dishes on your menu?
We use all the familiar flavours and textures of Thai food—peanuts, coconut, lemon grass, kaffir lime, galangal, basil. But there’s a surprise element in the presentation. We serve Thai curry in a fireproof paper bowl which has fire lit under it. We don’t have any fried rice on the menu. You get jasmine-scented short-grain rice that is cooked on a lava stone on the table. The presentation makes people go “ohhh”. Some of my signature dishes are Chocolat Baby Back Ribs and Yellowfin Tuna Ceviche. I made some basil ice cream this morning and everyone loved it. In America, people associated Thai food with takeout. I wanted to change that perception.
What are your influences?
I am using French cooking techniques. In Thailand, we have only stir-fry, steaming, frying and grilling. Here, we do a lot of slow cooking. We do lamb shank in Massamun curry that takes 12 hours to make. This way, you can actually taste the real flavour of the meat. We do a lot of marinades and smoked dishes. In India, I’m doing a lot of dishes for vegetarians and Jains. No one could tell that the food was without garlic and onions. I was told if I can cook for vegetarians here, I would be fine.
How do the Thai react to your style of cooking?
I was doing very well in Thailand and had my own TV show when I decided to move to New York. My mum said you’re stupid; here, the whole country knows you. Now, Thai people know me more. Students who come to the US, they all want to work at Kittichai. I have a gastro pub in Thailand but at parties they want me to do Thai food from New York.
How do you manage to run restaurants in different parts of the world?
I’m really lucky, I bring two chefs from Thailand with me to India. They have worked with me for eight years. I come here every month. Now, I’m based in Bangkok, so it’s easy for me there. My nephew is in Barcelona, and he helped me open the restaurant. But it was quite difficult in Spain. They don’t like any spice in their food. I wanted to kill myself. I had to change a lot of things. I had to take the chilli out and boil it to take away the spice but to include the flavour and the colour. But it’s doing well now.
Chocolat Baby Back Ribs
Chocolat Baby Back Ribs.
200g pork ribs
20g tomato ketchup
30g cocoa powder
20g plum sauce
1 tsp chilli powder
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 stalk lemon grass
1 small knob galangal
Black pepper and salt to taste
Wash and boil the spare ribs in water to which kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, galangal, salt and pepper have been added.
Bring it to a boil, cover and simmer for 2 hours. Remove from heat, strain the spare ribs and cool. For the cocoa sauce, blend tomato ketchup, cocoa powder and plum sauce. Coat the ribs with the cocoa sauce and cook in the oven for 8-12 minutes. Sprinkle with the chilli powder and serve.