CHEF TALK: FIRE IT UP! with CHEF NEW
Oh boy! What a journey it has been for Chef New. Coming to Dubai ten years ago, not knowing any English nor how to cook, I think New can safely say that the last decade has changed her life completely. From cooking for herself, to cooking for friends and finally opening a restaurant with Lisa, it has been a steep learning curve for New which she embraced wholeheartedly. From humble beginnings in Dubai, Café Isan has been nominated quite a few times for accolades, but this year it was finally adjourned the Best Thai Restaurant in Dubai for 2020, Chef New deserves the recognition she is now getting. Chef New has grabbed every opportunity that the universe has thrown her way and for that Dubai should be thankful – as once chance meeting in South Thailand led Chef New to Dubai shores.
Name: Patthama (Chef New)
Restaurant: Café Isan
From: Isan, Thailand
Culinary School: Self Taught
Knife Hand: Right
Were you a good kid, did you eat your veggies as a child?
Yes. I liked vegetables growing up. At home, everyone loved vegetables. Our main food every day, say 70 percent would be vegetables. We used to pick our own vegetables from our farm – in Thailand we didn’t need to buy anything – we grew it ourselves, including rice.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I don’t know what I wanted to be – I saw so many people and wanted to be like them. But I never thought I would be a Chef. My mum and brother are so good at cooking which is why when I was in Thailand, I did not need to do anything in the kitchen as they would do everything and also because I am the youngest.
So how did the journey of becoming a Chef start?
My journey to becoming a Chef started 10-11 years ago when I moved to Dubai. When I arrived I couldn’t speak any English and so finding a job proved difficult. So while I went to Knowledge Village to learn English I also started to cook as it was too expensive for me to order takeaway every day.
I couldn’t find any ‘real’ Thai food – I know there is Thai food everywhere – but its Thai-Bangkok style food which I don’t enjoy. In Isan we eat very spicy food, we eat a lot of fresh, spicy salad. So I started cooking for myself by looking on YouTube every day. I would look for what I wanted to make that day, and then watch the videos and follow the recipes. And when I went back home after I started cooking I learned how to cook Isan food from my mother. I would then come back to Dubai and try making it. But some of the vegetables are not available in Dubai so I have to adapt the recipe using what was available locally.
I used to cook for myself but all my friends who were mostly from Isan used to come to my house as we Isan people like music and a good party. So I would cook for them and loved the food and asked me to sell the food I made. I asked them to who I would sell my food to – and my friends said that they would buy my food every day. I did not have any money to start this catering, so my now business partner Lisa, loaned me AED 200 to buy ingredients and that is how it all started. In Dubai I believe nearly 80 percent of the Thai population is from Isan and thanks to word of mouth my cooking got known to more people.
What did you have for dinner last night?
Everyday when I go back home I cook – whatever time that is. So last night I made a beef hot pot barbecue. It does not take long as I am pretty quick. So within 10 minutes I can my dinner ready.
Place you eat most often on days off?
I usually go to the local restaurants around JLT like Vietnamese Foodies. I have been there many times and I like to order a mix of things like their fried prawns and pho. I have also been to Hanoi Naturally – the pho is very good there. I also enjoy the grilled mushroom dish at Couqley.
What’s your favourite ingredient/ condiment to work with?
I like using garlic, chili, coriander root in my cooking. I think they are nutritious and have a nice smell and help keep the balance of the taste.
If it’s the last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in and what are you eating?
I will be at home in Isan with my family while feasting on a hot pot, papaya salad and a raw meat salad.
If you left Dubai to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
London or somewhere in the UK. I like the people there and have been there a few times and have a lot of friends there. What I will do there is not exactly like Café Isan but a slightly different concept, maybe not 100 percent Isan, but have more options of Bangkok style food.
What is the dish on the menu you eat most?
Papaya salad! But it has to be papaya salad Isan style with fermented fish sauce. And I eat this every day. Since I live away from Thailand it is not easy to find the Isan style salad – you do get the Bangkok version which is sweet and sour, but the Isan one is with fermented fish sauce and is spicy, salty and sour. My mom has a shop in Isan selling papaya salad which is why it reminds me of home.
How would you describe your food philosophy?
Simple, fresh and natural and sustainable. My farming background has taught me how to use ingredients completely. What others throw away I find a way to use those parts of vegetables – like using the coriander root. Another example is that I use the oil I get from the head of prawns in my tom yum paste.
If you were an ingredient what would you be, and why?
Red chili – that would be me, 100%. I am hot tempered in the kitchen – Lisa has nick named me – Gordonia Ramsey – because of my fiery temper. I like everything in the kitchen organized – it has to be perfect and super clean.
Best culinary tool? My pestle and mortar (krok as we call it in Thai). I used to use it when we were young to play with and every home has one. I use it as a base for nearly every dish I create.
Favourite cuisine? If not Thai, I like European food also. I like a good Sunday roast – totally different in taste to Thai food. I tried my first Sunday roast at Kaleidoscope at The Atlantis (the Palm).
What’s your favourite comfort food? A good cold beer – Heineken – and papaya salad
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given? It was by my business partner, Lisa Knight who told me to keep going through tough times and to never give up.
THIS OR THAT
Curly fries or regular fries?
Hot sauce or barbecue sauce?
Buffet or sit-down dinner?
Rice or Mash?
Soup or salad?
Lunch, Breakfast or Dinner?
Fried egg, omelette, or scrambled?
Crème brûlée or molten chocolate cake?
Ketchup or mayonnaise?
Chicken breast or chicken thigh?
Baked or fried?
Waffles or pancakes?
Lobster or steak?
And lastly, cake or pie?
Well, that’s that! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!