If there is one strong foundation in my career, it is a deeply rooted natural connection with Nan province in Northern Thailand. I must introduce this lush agricultural region from the very start, as its environment and culinary heritage plays a central role in Thai cuisine over the ages, and indeed in my cooking as well. Bordering on Laos, and connected via the Nan River to numerous other regions of great diversity, Nan will feature strongly as we unwind the wonderful stories of Thai historical cuisine, in fine culinary detail.
At Paste Restaurant, the Nan river valley is undoubtedly our primary source of ingredients. Heavily forested mountains, fresh streams and rivers, and fertile alluvial soil allow us to source not only privately commissioned, cultivated produce, but wild and foraged ingredients as well. People have inhabited this region since the stone age. As you breathe in the aroma of the soil, and the mist in the air, it is simple to understand the many reasons they stayed. Agriculture must be the foundation of every society, and it was from this center point that the Lanna and Sukhothai cultures were born, the very origins of modern Thai culture.
I have become more and more interested in researching the diets and ingredients of the minority groups who inhabit this area: the Tai Lu, Tai Puan, Mlabri, Phee Tong Leung. What a privilege to experience, to sense and share that certain purity of the ecosystem and it’s people, who have long survived and preserved their traditions, sheltered and protected by the remoteness of their location.
There is always a new blossom, leaf, legume, sprout, shoot, herb, fruit or fresh water ingredient to discover. And so many new friends and teachers to meet along the way. We spend hours in the vibrant, living jungle foraging and learning from the generosity of experts such local monk Pra Kru Somkid – who is a literal walking encyclopedia of knowledge about regional edible plants and herbs. Not only does he know how to find and collect those species, but his brilliant mind knows how to accurately offset and balance the herbs and aromatics against each other. When artfully combined in a dish, little additional seasoning is required.With each and every visit, each fresh nibble and balanced bite, my creative batteries are recharged, the fire of inspiration and invention is rekindled.