Kittichai’s Thai Now In Mumbai
After much speculation and minor delays, celebrated Thai chef Ian Chalerm Kittichai’s restaurant Koh (which means island) finally opened at Mumbai’s InterContinental Marine Drive, last week. Until 2008, the chef was at the helm of the eponymous Kittichai in New York, billed as Best New Asian Restaurant of 2005 by Food & Wine magazine. Kittichai relocated to his hometown of Bangkok in late 2008 and now oversees Murmuri, a restaurant in Barcelona and Hyde and Seek, a gastro bar in Bangkok. Kittichai talked to us about his culinary intentions for Koh. Edited excerpts:
Thai food is popular in Mumbai, but we don’t have too many authentic Thai restaurants. What can we look forward to at Koh?
I’ve eaten at Thai Pavilion (at Taj President). There’s really nowhere else to get good Thai food in the city. But, at Koh there’s going to be no tom yum, pad Thai or fried rice. I have more variety to offer. The menu is really big, 60 per cent of which is options for vegetarians. Thai food has so much appeal here because of the similarities in Thai and Indian cuisines, starting with the spices. People will return to Koh for that familiarity and comfort. We do have fried rice, but it’s prepared on the table on hot lava stones and is nothing like traditional fried rice. The meal must appeal to all senses and we want to make it interactive and involve our patrons in that process of creation.
Are there any similarities between Koh and Kittichai?
Last night a guest requested to see me after her meal. She had eaten at Kittichai and just wanted to say that she is a fan. I’m aware that other people have also eaten at Kittichai so we’ve got my signature dishes on this menu. There’s “chocolat baby back ribs”, “sashimi of Japanese hamachi”, “Chilean sea bass” and our special in-house green curry, which we serve with freshwater lobster or slow roasted chicken. We’re offering about 30 appetisers alone, while in Kittichai there were about 15. The feel of the two restaurants is quite different because Koh is designed by Japanese architect Satomi Hatanaka. Mumbai needed a scene and hopefully Koh will be that.
You pay a lot of attention to raw material. Will you be using local or imported ingredients?
I’m a stickler for fresh ingredients. In New York we weren’t allowed to import fresh ingredients, everything had to be sourced locally. Here I have no such restriction. We will be importing snake beans, Shimeji and king of oyster mushrooms, lesser ginger (mild in taste), galangal, kaffir lime, pandan, Thai sweet basil, sawtooth coriander, lemon grass, Alaskan black cod, sea perch, New Zealand lamb and yellowfin tuna. I also believe in supporting local farmers and will be sourcing fresh Lebanese cucumber, scallion, cilantro, jasmine rice, shallots and dry ingredients from Mumbai.
What are the highlights of the Koh menu?
I’ve paid a lot of attention to vegetarian options, including choices for Jains. This surprised the hotel management, they didn’t expect to be tasting food without garlic or onion, both of which are integral to Thai food. Every October in Bangkok, many people turn vegetarian so I’m quite familiar with Jain preparations. I’ve created crispy corncakes inspired by fishcakes and I expect the smoked tofu will fare really well. The tofu is presented with a lid on it and once you lift it a thin veil of smoke is released. The yellow fin tuna ceviche, the red chilli salted yellow bean glaze sea bass and the green curry are likely to be popular.
Your food is billed as modern Thai cuisine. Can you explain that.
My sister has a Thai restaurant in Sydney. She prepares her green curry with green peas in place of eggplant because Australians find them too bitter. I would never do that. I do not play with the fundamentals of Thai food. I have a different approach to how it’s prepared and presented. All the food must have a gentle balance of sweet, salty and spicy flavours. Mum used to run a chop house (like a grocery store) by day and in the evenings I rode a pushcart selling her curries in the neighbourhood. Everyday she’d come up with 15 types of curries using traditional Thai ingredients. That’s the sort of innovation I preach.