Sunday, 1 November 2009

David Thompson: Thai Street Food

On Friday night I went to Gleebooks for a talk by David Thompson to publicise the launch of his new book Thai Street Food.

David Thompson is the writer of the seminal tome on Thai cooking; Thai Food. But I suspect he is someone that not everyone will have heard of. He isn't a celebrity chef in the mould of Jamie Oliver et al. I would be very surprised if there haven't been TV offers, but having been to his talk, I don't think it would be his style.

David Thompson wasn't at all what I was expecting. To lead a restaurant kitchen you need to have a bit of dynamism, charisma or energy. He didn't seem to posses any of these characteristics! He was a very quietly spoken and considered person, who captivated the audience. He said a lot of things about Thai cooking that ring true from my experiences of Thailand. Some of the best food is on the street and that there are very few high end Thai restaurants in Bangkok. He also spoke about the history of Thai street food, which I was surprised to hear is a relatively new phenomenon (last two decades). Before then food was very much centred around the family home; but modern urban living and mass migration from the countryside, have both helped to make street food more prevalent.

After his talk there were some questions from the floor. David Thompson must recently have said something semi-controversial in the press which he was asked about, and went largely over my head. There was also a bizarre lady who kept pushing him on where to get the best coconut milk from. One of the last questions was about his experiences in London (where he was head chef at Nahm). He started so well waxing lyrical about how London was one of the greatest cities in the world, and then descended into a five minute rant how it call also be the worst city in the world. Describing when the tube breaks down and you get stuck in a tunnel, escalators don't work and you encounter surly and badly trained shop assistants. All true, but there was no need to argue the point to eloquently!

As for the book I didn't buy a copy and I am not sure I will. It is A3 in size which makes it a bit cumbersome. Although I dearly want to eat some of the food he cooks, I think he is a bit inaccessible for your average home cook. He's the sort of person who wants to make his own fish sauce, pulp his own coconuts etc... It's not really the sort of thing you have time for when you get home from work.

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