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Food For Thought: Chef Nopporn Nutto

by Karin Chan 23 Jan 2017
Food For Thought: Chef Nopporn Nutto

My family was heavily involved in the food and beverage line because they ran a catering business. I wanted to break away, so I went for a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. I worked for six years as an engineer with the State Railway of Thailand, but then my mother asked me to come and help with the family business. Deep down, I still loved cooking. I missed the smells coming from my aunt’s kitchen, because they regularly catered for a hundred to a thousand people. I never regretted being a chef.

I’ve been here since 2000 and I joined Greyhound Cafe 11 months ago because I was interested in the opportunity to learn something new – making modern dishes with a Thai twist. I’ve been to the Greyhound Café in Bangkok and the standard operating procedures for the dishes are all the same, the only difference is that we’re pork-free. So we use chicken instead. Every four months, we have to go back to Bangkok for training to learn how to make new dishes.

Complicated noodles are very popular here. It’s for people who like to assemble their own food on their table. You take a piece of lettuce – if it’s too big, just fold the sides in – then place a noodle sheet in the middle. Top it with a spoonful of chicken, add a sprig of coriander, then drizzle spicy sauce on top. Fold it and take a big bite! It’s very ‘fun’ food, and you get to touch your food. They say that different fingers communicate with different parts of your body – the ring finger, for instance, is for your stomach.

Different parts of Thailand have different cooking styles. It mainly depends on the ingredients that are available. In the South, seafood is more accessible so seafood dishes are more common, and tend to be spicier. But it’s difficult to find seafood in the North, so they like to eat meat instead – red meat and chicken, for example, and the herbs are different too. Bangkok sits in the middle and gets ingredients from all corners, so it’s a mix of both. People like to go to Bangkok because you can get it all.

Traditionally, we have tom yam as a soup on the side. We drink the tom yam as it is to really savour all the flavours, then take a mouthful of plain rice. But here, it’s treated like a main. I see people spooning tom yam broth onto the rice to eat. Some even put the rice straight in the tom yam soup bowl, making it like porridge! The problem is doing it this way means you can lose some of the flavours. That’s what I want to teach Malaysians, but if people like to enjoy tom yam that way, then okay-lah.

Miang kham, one of my favourite foods, is a must-have appetiser for open houses. It means ‘welcome’. There are seven ingredients in it: lime, young ginger, cili padi, toasted coconut, shrimp, peanut, and the sauce. The traditional way to eat it is wrapping it like a California roll in the hand, then filling it first with a spoonful of toasted coconut so that it will absorb the sauce, which goes on last. Add the other ingredients, then fold the top down and eat it in one bite. This is very important – if you don’t eat it in one go, the flavours won’t explode.

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