In what part of Asia were you born, and what was your childhood like?
I was born in Bangkok, Thailand. I spent the first half of my life there, and was raised by my father, who ran a construction company, and my mother, who owned a famous Chinese style restaurant in Bangkok.
This restaurant is where I spent a majority of my childhood. I can still remember being there in the morning and the smell of the old wood burning stove and the myriad of herbs and spices being prepared for that days dishes.
"Working" there was how I earned enough money to go to school. I remember being 5 or 6 years old and being in charge of cooking the rice for my mother's restaurant.
As I got older, I took on more and more responsibility at the restaurant. My mother would teach me how to taste test food to ensure proper flavor and how to adjust ingredients to modify taste, texture and spice. Every morning, I would prepare the food and eat a little bit of each meal to experience the brightness of adding lemongrass to a stir-fried dish, and the special kind of heat the pink and white peppercorns add to curry.
What makes Thailand's food so unique?
What's interesting about Thailand is our original native food was very simple; it was mostly BBQ style dishes. The Thai food that most people are familiar with now is our modern, actually a hybrid food. The Thai started adopting the culinary culture from its neighboring countries, and their immigrants.
Take Thai curry. When we were introduced to Indian culture, we learned about their amazingly, dynamic blend of herbs and spices. But, we wanted to make it our own, make it even better. We liked the dynamic blend of savory, spicy, salty flavors, but did not like how the curry was so overpowering.
We then started to experiment with coconut milk. This added the needed base to preserve the rich, spicy flavor of the curry, but created the smooth texture and creamy flavor that makes it like no other.
Through this experimental adoption of food, we have been able to take another's culinary culture and, in our eyes, improve on it with our own fresh, local ingredients. This is why Thai food does not taste like Chinese food or Indian food. We wanted to make it our own and keep it consistent with our own culture and culinary values.
How does your birth place affect the way you approach food?
Well, it is more than just my birth place that has affected the way I approach food. I am actually Chinese by decent as my family is from China, so this adds an additional layer to my culinary experience. Being Chinese Thai (as opposed to being Thai Thai which means pure Thai) is very beneficial because at a very early age I was exposed to two different culinary cultures.
Thailand is covered by beautiful rain forest covered mountains and bordered by the ocean. This provided us with the perfect ecosystem for fresh, exotic ingredients. What ever we needed to improve on our dish's flavor, we could grow in our soil. This allowed us to be very experimental and creative.
What did you find different about Americans when it came to food?
I was very surprised to learn how important meat was to Americans. Everything from the type of meat (white or dark) to the amount of meat was very different. In Thailand, rice was always the centerpiece of the course and meat was a "family style" side dish that we all shared. This meat was normally ground meat that included nearly the entire animal.
Another difference is how Americans perceive food and it's affect on health. I believe the health food trend has heavily influenced the palette of Americans. Oil, dark meat and fats are used very sparingly. This presented as an interesting culinary challenge that is still a part of Ka Prow's evolution -- how to make Thai food as authentic as possible while still being favored by the American palette.
I see you have a Master's degree in computer information systems, why have you chosen the culinary field?
Well, in some way, I have always been involved with the culinary world. Even while I was going to school here in America, I worked in all types of restaurants. One of my missions was to experience every aspect of the restaurant business, from dish washing to food prep to head chef.
What originally attracted me to the field of technology was the problem solving, critical thinking and creativity that it required. Once I graduated and experienced some of the industry, I realized that I would miss the human component and being able to impact other people in a meaningful way, so I decided to commit myself fully to the restaurant business and haven't looked back.
Do you think your background in technology helps your culinary skills?
The field of technology is all about solving problems and finding better, more efficient ways of achieving some goal. This has lent well to operating Ka Prow because having to constantly improve existing items and creating new dishes always presents with a few problems. Being able to think critically, as well as creatively, has helped not only build my menu, but maintain customer satisfaction while constantly improving our menu items.
The other aspect of technology is the duality to everything. You have your positive and negative, hot and ground, light and dark ... everything has its equal pairing, and my experience in engineering and information systems has taught me how to embrace this duality. Whether it is salty and sweet, savory and spicy, Thai food has capitalized on this apparent duality.
Why did you choose to bring sushi into your restaurant?
This goes back to the duality that I spoke of just before. We serve two very differing styles of food. You have Thai food which is cooked in a way that is fast, spicy and fun. The use of a wok allows you to use hot temperatures and quick cooking styles. The process of preparation, many exotic ingredients and the combination of heat and movement is what makes Thai cooking so dynamic and flavorful.
Japanese food is just the opposite, especially sushi. Sushi is all about the ingredients, and the process is only there to present the raw materials in the most artful, appetizing manner. Everything from the slicing to the creating, it is done slow and meticulous as to not alter or damage the integrity of these simple raw ingredients.
What do you see for the future of your restaurant?
My desire is to differentiate Ka Prow more from other Thai restaurants by making our food more authentic to my region of Thailand. That's not to say that other Thai restaurants are not authentic. Authentic North Thai food is very different from authentic South Thai. Bangkok is in Central Thailand, so we have our own authentic regional food, and that is what I want to bring to Austin.
I also want to create more interaction between my customers and me, and that is what this newly created website will accomplish. I want to bring my decades of food experience into your own kitchen through videos, tips and tricks from the chef and other interactive tools that welcome you into my county's culinary world.
Let this not be our last interaction …