Nahm–with an Australian chef cooking Thai food–is ‘Asia’s Best Restaurant’ for 2014 | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

The verdict is out and newspapers worldwide have carried the headline: Nahm, a traditional Thai restaurant in Bangkok serving historical and heritage recipes, is Asia’s Best Restaurant for 2014.


The award, given by London’s Restaurant magazine, had over 900 international restaurant industry experts participating.


But when the winner was chosen, the crowd was abuzz. Many were expecting chef Yoshihiro Narisawa, whose restaurant in Tokyo was named Asia’s Best last year, to go home with the grand prize. Narisawa has also consistently been on the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list for five consecutive years. In 2013, it even went up five notches to be in the World’s Top 20.


But the top slot went to Australian David Thompson.


Commanding knowledge


An Australian cooking Thai food? That is the usual skeptical query. But Thompson’s Nahm even beat Bo.Lan, the restaurant whose Thai female chef Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava was Asia’s 50 Best’s first Veuve Clicquot Best Female Chef award winner. (Note, however, that Bo is an alumna of David Thompson’s original Nahm restaurant in London). Bo.Lan ranked only No. 28 this year.


What is it in Nahm that captured the hearts of the world jury composed of restaurateurs, chefs and food writers from around the world?


First of all, Thompson’s commanding knowledge of authentic Thai recipes is so impressive that even the Thai government invited him to teach about their own cuisine at the Suan Dusit College. Thompson’s dedication has paid off, from the dutiful nerd that he was, poring over century-old cookbooks of former Thai matriarchs to create Nahm’s menu, to the elegant culinary artist that he is today.


But more than that, there is a current worldwide sentiment and advocacy of going back to using the best local produce and creating the most succulent dishes with what’s in your country’s backyard. And Thompson is living this philosophy every day at Nahm, even if he’s not Thai.


It’s a philosophy that is very Alain Ducasse, actually. Ducasse believes that “the product is the only truth. A turbot (fish) without a stroke of genius is better than a genius without turbot. Each good product, grown with love and respect, in its distinctive land, has an incomparable flavor. Without which, a chef is nothing.”


(Incidentally, Ducasse is coming to the Philippines for a charity dinner for Super Typhoon “Yolanda” survivors on March 18. Call Enderun at 8565000 for tickets.)


Paying homage


This point was extensively discussed at the Asia’s Best Food Forum conducted before the awards ceremony. Thompson, Narisawa and Bo, among other highly influential speakers, emphasized that restaurateurs have the power to change the world’s agricultural landscape by simply paying homage to local farmers.


The story of Jack Yoss, director of cuisine at Sheraton Pattaya Resort in Thailand, was especially impressive. He lobbied to cancel all imported products and use only local produce even for the hotel breakfast buffet. Why serve tourists fruits that they can easily get from other parts of the world, he argued. The result: you get the freshest Thai fruits and vegetables when you visit his hotel.


The same philosophy is evident at Nahm. And the world has clearly given Thompson a standing ovation for this effort (aside from his evident culinary genius).


Manila is not far behind. In fact, we are up to date on this trend. The Philippines can boast of chefs who have been practicing this philosophy for some time now: Tonyboy Escalante of Antonio’s in Tagaytay serves greens right out of his garden next door. Margarita Fores has been traveling the country to establish alliances with local farmers for Grace Park. Robbie Goco has been advocating farm-to-table cooking at Green Pastures.


More noise needed


But the bad news is that there were no Filipino restaurants on the list of Asia’s 50 Best.


Does it mean that our chefs are subpar? Of course not. But it signifies that we have to make more noise to tell the world that we have chefs who can compete with the best. And that noise cannot come from private citizens, no matter how influential the Inquirer or other publications, and even restaurateurs or chefs, in their personal capacities, may be. Our chefs need the government to be their biggest cheerleader.


Because it’s a big investment. Singapore recognizes this, and has been capitalizing on its culinary scene for the past 10 years. The Singapore Tourism Board was, in fact, a major sponsor of Asia’s 50 Best. It has held pop-ups of Singaporean cuisine in New York, Spain, Paris and other top culinary destinations. The campaign has been effective, as Singapore now ranks among the top culinary destinations in Asia.


South Korea recognizes this as well. Jungsik, the highest new entry this year (which, incidentally, is also the first Korean restaurant to earn two Michelin stars) allegedly opened a New York branch with support from the South Korean government in order to promote Korean cuisine to a worldwide audience.


The Philippine tourism department has exerted some effort in the direction of culinary tourism. But we hope Secretary Mon Jimenez, with his advertising genius, can also consider marketing #itsmorefuninthePhilippines to the World’s Best judges and audience. With Noma restaurant and Nahm as examples, I promise the ROI will be exponential.


Thompson in Manila


David Thompson is coming to Manila (woohoo!). But he will not cook. There will be a food forum entitled “Off the Menu” on March 25 at the Raffles Hotel in Makati City. The speakers will include World’s 50 Best regional chair Leisa Tyler, slow-cooked food advocate Amy Besa and farm-to-table advocate Margarita Fores.


Hopefully, Thompson and Tyler will have time to experience the Philippines’ evolving culinary scene when they visit—so they may see that, yes, Filipino restaurants also have what it takes to make it to Asia’s 50 Best.


Nahm is at Metropolitan Hotel, 27 South Sathorn Road, Bangkok 10120. Call +662-6253388.


Silk Road is at 4th Ave. cor. 31st St., Bonifacio Global City. Call tel. nos. 8241678 or 0923-4218294. No reservations required. Major credit cards are accepted. Open parking across the building.


(Cecille Chang, creator of Thai at Silk, has opened this new restaurant. She boasts of a very personal menu but notes that one of her greatest influences was David Thompson’s Nahm.)


Visit for photos from Asia’s 50 Best and updates on the “Off the Menu” food forum. Follow @margauxsalcedo on Twitter.

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