Chef Chumpol Jangprai just cooked for 400 people as part of the MICHELIN Guide Vietnam 2023 Ceremony along with two Hanoian chefs, T.U.N.G Dining’s Hoang Tung and GIA Hanoi’s Sam Tran, the Korean Chef Jun Lee from two-star Soigné, and Chef Pierrick Maire, from Truffle Restaurant Saigon. He’s an Iron Chef Thailand winner. And his Bangkok restaurant, R-Haan has two Michelin Stars. But he’s still worried his dish at the MICHELIN Guide Vietnam gala dinner didn’t come out at the right temperature. “Are you sure it wasn’t too cold?” he asks us worriedly.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
After a long career in the industry, Chef Chumpol Jangprai still frets the details and keeps his insatiable hunger to learn. So, once reassured that his dish was definitely up to par, he attempts some quick math. “So, I really started cooking when I was 11 years old, but then only properly when I turned professional at 18, which makes 32 years as a chef!” His family has run a “legendary but simple Thai eatery” in Bangkok, called Sanguan Sri, for over 50 years, which explains his very early entry into the profession.
How R-Haan Went From One To Two MICHELIN Stars
In 2018, The MICHELIN Guide Bangkok debuted in the Thai capital. The following year, Chef Chumpol Jangprai’s newly opened R-Haan restaurant got one star.
A year later, he received his second star and became one of only five two-star restaurants in Thailand that year, along with Sorn, Le Normandie, Mezzaluna, and Sühring. In fact, Thailand has never had a three MICHELIN star restaurant, which means Chef Chumpol Jangprai has ascended as high as anyone in Thai culinary circles according to the guide.
Ostensibly self-taught, he’s learned a lot over that stellar 32-year career that included 11 years in Europe. Lots of it he imparts at the MSC Thai Culinary School he co-founded, at R-Haan, and his new restaurant, Waan Thai.
“You need to be four people: Western, Chinese, Japanese and Thai!”
“I cooked with Anton Mosimann, who pioneered cuisine naturelle, in Switzerland. I worked with Joan Roca, chef-owner of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, which was chosen as number one in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2013 and 2015. They all have something to teach you,” he muses. “And way before that, in 1998 I remember discovering, through Pierre Gagnaire, molecular gastronomy, and vacuum sous vide. It’s always like that. We have to be constantly open to sharing what we know and learning anything we don’t.”
“So, these days, I tell my students at MSC Thai Culinary School they need to be four people: Western, Chinese, Japanese and Thai!” he laughs. “Why not? We can take something from each type of cuisine too.”
Every single little detail…
Sam Tran’s GIA Restaurant received a MICHELIN star at the inaugural MICHELIN Guide Vietnam, as Chef Chumpol had done in 2019.
Should Sam go for the second star, Chef Chumpol has some insights on how he did it at R-Haan. “We definitely tried to level up everything we did that year, to go from one MICHELIN star to two,” he remembers.
“And so we upgraded the wine list. We put more premium wines on the list and a wider selection. And we improved the presentation of the food. Also, we articulated the story behind the restaurant better. Plus, we tried to be more creative. And we even tried to amplify the atmosphere with improvements to the decor. But most of all it was the service that we focussed on. Things like leadership, product knowledge, and small details – like the glass looks clean but does it smell good too? Every single little detail…”
The MICHELIN Guide Vietnam 2023 Gala Dinner
The MICHELIN Guide Vietnam 2023 Gala Dinner was tricky. It’s harder to be a perfectionist at that scale. There were some delays with the ceremony which affected the kitchen. So, Chef Chumpol and team had to go with it, with his Grilled Aromatic Duck Breast with Fish Sauce, Banh Cuon and Wild Blueberry Sphere not quite as hot as he hoped.
But we didn’t reassure him unjustly. The dish he made really was good with a Vietnamese fish sauce and port wine sauce, “that had lots of herbs inside.” Chef Chumpol reduced the sauce in Bangkok, then again in Hanoi. “After you sous vide the duck, you grill it, then quickly fry it in duck oil, and the juices that come out go into the demi glaze giving it a really concentrated flavor,” he adds. On top danced a flavorsome Kaffir lime leaf foam too. “Coconut and water boiled, some salt, add the lime leaf and then hand blend into a foam – very simple,” he smiles.
“Ten years ago, I cooked a gala dinner for 800 people in Abu Dhabi. So, I’m used to the scale. There, however, we could divide the kitchen into 4 sections, each serving 200 people. That way we could work quickly, and we had plenty of staff.”
“This time we had 40 service staff. That meant they’d have to balance three plates each, and take 120 each time. All you can do is really warm up the plates. But then, once they were plated, we’d have to wait for another 30 minutes because of the scheduling with the event. My dish had seven steps. So, you just have to go. Then, the only other option is to compensate for the loss of heat with a very hot sauce on the top,” he explains all while giving the impression that he loved the challenge.
“Every night we’d go to two or three pho places”
It’s his second time in Hanoi. The first one was around ten years ago, he recalls, to help to develop some Thai food concepts. “Everything’s changed,” he shrugs. “You can’t compare to ten years ago.”
He stayed at The Capella Hanoi. On the last day, he got to try Hibana and was impressed by the teppanyaki restaurant which got one of four one-star accolades in Vietnam this time. “The quality of the food, the ambience, it was very good,” he acknowledges. But besides that, he didn’t get the chance to try many restaurants – no time to try the other one-star restaurants in Hanoi, Tầm Vị, or T.U.N.G Dining or GIA Hanoi. “But, every night before the event, after we’d finished our preparation, we would try two or three pho places. One of the staff at Capella Hanoi is my old colleague, so he took me around.”
Back To The Bangkok Routine
Next, he’ll be back to Bangkok and back to the daily routine, “wake up around 8am, to cooking school, coffee, to the new restaurant, then R-Haan, a late dinner, and bed by around 2am.”
We wonder what he’d make us, next time we visit to help us understand Thai cuisine. “A massaman curry,” he decides. “It requires a lot of ingredients. And a lot of techniques representative of Thai cuisine. There’s flavor, texture, taste, and color. And with the taste, you have eight flavors: salty, sweet, savory, umami, sour, bitterness, spice, and there’s even some tannin taste as well.”