The head chef at Chaophraya, Drew Saktayakorn on his fragrant Thai style, why his mum is his idol and how he ended up in Brum quite by chance
Tell us about your cooking
My style is fragrant and unfussy with a focus on the best and freshest ingredients I can get. I like to balance the tastes so that the finished dish has flavours that are blended perfectly.
How did you become a chef?
I’ve always loved cooking. My mum is my idol and is a fantastic cook, so I learned from her as a child. I studied agriculture at university in Thailand followed by two years training to be a chef at a government run school that provided a specialist course. I then worked in a hotel for six months before getting a job in South Africa, but the ambition was always to work in the UK. After a couple of years in SA I returned to Thailand to train for a further certificate that would enable me to do that. I wrote to 15 restaurants in the UK and only one was interested! As it turned out I was very lucky as it was the Michelin-starred Nahm in London. At this level there is such a lot of detail. I listened to everything and learned lots. I stayed there for three years before moving to another of their restaurants Bussaba where I stayed for a further two. A friend of mine wanted to work in Leeds for Chaophraya and because he didn’t speak very good English I went with him to meet the owner Kun Kim and we both ended up working for them here in Birmingham, so really I was just helping a friend!
What do you eat when at home?
At home I eat my food. I’m from the mountainous region of Northern Thailand and I love the traditional food from that area, such as chill pop pop. I make a fragrant paste with lots of spices, garlic and onion pounded in a pestle and mortar served with grilled fish and sticky rice.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
My mum is the best chef in the world! She’s my idol. Growing up she cooked beautiful, fresh food for us every day and she inspires me.
Is the customer always right?
Yes, the customer is always right!
What was your favourite food as a kid?
Sea bass, because it was simple and tasted incredible. I loved the natural flavours back then as much as I do now and all it needed was salt and lemongrass to really bring it alive.
Food heaven and food hell?
Heaven is fragrant grilled fish with lots of vegetables. Hell would be junk food. It’s unnatural and full of fat. We have many choices and this is such an unnatural one. In Thailand we don’t have much junk food. Lots of vegetables, herbs, fish and rice.
Share a cooking tip
Try to keep all of the tastes balanced as that’s the most important thing especially in Thai cooking. Bring all the flavours out from nature and nurture the tastes that are true in every ingredient.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
A farmer with rice fields, vegetables and fruit. When I retire I’d like to go back to Thailand, so maybe then.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
The green curry is very popular and the massaman with lamb is particularly good with palm sugar, tamarind, herbs and chilli.