One of our favourite bloggers takes her unique knowledge on healthful living down south. Premchit Prateap Na Thalang may be moving away from Bangkok but she promises to be back often, much to the delight of local foodies.
Fine dining is such a part of the cultural landscape in Thailand that it’s easy to forget that it is a recent phenomenon, initiated in the 1990s primarily to satisfy the demands of an all-important tourist industry needing a nice place for high-end travellers to eat.
In an effort to elevate and glamourise their efforts, purveyors of Thai gourmet food have been wont to declare that their dishes originated in palaces and are, therefore, ‘royal’. Many high-end menu items, however, are made so only by promotional hype or prohibitive price. It should stand to reason that, if your food is associated with the most respected institution in the kingdom, its references are beyond question. But few diners have actually eaten Thai food in a palace and are susceptible to believing anything they’re told. Many of the dishes touted as authentic are unknown to any palace, either today or in the past.
The point of discussion starts out as one of authenticity but ends up being one of public relations. The debate on real Thai food grew more heated when a foreign chef made vast claims that he was coming to Thailand to show us how to cook Thai food. He came with a great reputation and announced that, due to his having researched traditional Thai dishes in old cookbooks, he therefore knew better.
So what is it that makes a Thai meal truly authentic? Royal recipes? Exhaustive research? If Premchit Prateap Na Thalang has any say, it is neither.
A regular blogger on this website on the issues of health and wellness — which includes eating well — Premchit is keen to point out that her knowledge is derived not from royal recipes or scholarly pursuit but from the traditions of her own family, which have been passed down from generation to generation — twelve, in fact.
Traditionally, good food was served in the home and, when people went out for a meal, it was usually quick and easy, eaten at a stall on the side of a street or in a busy open-air shophouse. As a trained chef, Premchit has been able to adapt her family’s recipes to a fine dining context, offering meals in a western-style course-by-course service. Appropriately, she calls it NA THALANG Ancestral Siamese Cuisine.
For nearly 200 years Premchit’s family traded with the British East India Company, including her ancestor Thao Thep Kasatri, the heroine of the Battle of Thalang (now called Phuket) in 1785, who supplied Sir Francis Light with aromatic and medicinal plant products.
Premchit’s mother and father have passed on to her all they know of their family’s ancestral wisdom and secrets for growing, harvesting, using and dispensing indigenous plants and traditional knowledge for beauty, medicinal, nutritional and perfumery benefits.
So Premchit is not only an acclaimed chef, she is an internationally certified Aromatherapist, organic cosmetics formulator and organic perfumer. She is the creator of EXPERIENCE | PREMCHIT Natural Wellness Retreats and PREMCHIT Ambrosias and Elixirs. Appropriately, she has used her combined knowledge in all these fields to advocate a lifestyle that is both beneficial and luxurious.
When she decided to start her own business venture, Premchit originally wanted to have a restaurant. The priority of a young family kept her from making the commitment, however. So the next best thing was to hold secret dinners, a concept popular in the west where diners who had committed to joining a dinner were told of the location at the last minute and the meal served was a complete surprise. Premchit offered this as an introduction to her ancestral cuisine, featuring dinners made from her family’s recipes, a unique dining experience that combined gourmet dishes with healthful benefits. Foodies in Bangkok rejoiced.
The meals started out with a ya dong, a powerful medicinal alcoholic beverage not for the faint of heart. Like the rest of the dinner, the recipe for this fortifying drink was passed down within Premchit’s family for generations and is claimed to have kept Premchit’s grandfather healthy well into old age. For some of us, it was a stiff way to begin the evening.
The dinners proved to be a revelation, even for those die-hard foodies who attended. The meals were recognisably Thai in their use of local ingredients like chillies and coconut milk. The cooking techniques were recognisable as well: leaves deep-fried in a light coconut-based batter, a light curry served with wild rice or a salad of piquant ingredients. All were recognisably Thai but, with the southern influence, it all managed to taste new.
The meals, however, are actually an extension of Premchit’s overall concept of livng a healthy life. Not only has she created the NA THALANG ancestral dinners, she also has created EXPERIENCE | PREMCHIT Natural Wellness Retreats and PREMCHIT Ambrosias and Elixirs. In doing so, Premchit embraced the essence of her family’s long heritage, that of nature, creativity, benevolence, enlightenment, healing, service, spirit, trade and engagement.
She says: ‘Many people want to avoid or treat the chronic ailments of modern life in a way that is not only painless, but also convenient, effective, enjoyable, natural, private, and fits in with their own personal, work and life schedules. I have designed my wellness retreats so guests have the convenience to start their retreat on any day of the year. Guests also have the flexibility to experience their retreat with any of my unique luxury resort partners and the privacy to do their retreat by themselves or with a friend or family member, as well as the enjoyment of combining their retreat with a holiday at an exotic destination, where the journey in retreat to wellness is a profound personal experience.’
Premchit believes the opportunity for everyone to be and to stay healthy, is by simply designing and living a lifestyle comprised of four key elements: a healthy diet, regular physical activity, a healthy lifestyle and having healthy relationships. These are all presented and experienced during her EXPERIENCE | PREMCHIT Natural Wellness Retreats.
As part of her overall philosophy of healthful living, Premchit ensures that all the ingredients used in her food, spa products, ambrosias and elixirs are managed and harvested on a sustainable basis. They are wild-harvested or organically grown in their natural environment. A conveyor of traditional wisdom, she feels it is important to respect and protect the intellectual property rights of the indigenous peoples who are keepers of this knowledge and makes sure that her products directly benefit disadvantaged and poor harvesters, farmers and producers. She does not use ingredients for Ambrosias and Elixirs which are of animal origin, tested on animals or of plant origin listed by CITES as endangered species.
After a successful run in Bangkok, however, the next chapter of Premchit’s life is about to begin. She is moving from Bangkok to Phuket due to the popularity of her secret dinners down south. The move will be an easy one, however, because it is a homecoming. Not only will Premchit be closer to her family, ‘I’ll be closer to the sources of the food,’ she says. ‘All the raw materials, such as spices and produce, will be fresher and more easily selected for quality. Foods such as mud crabs or leaves that are foraged from the jungle can be chosen when they are ready and menus can be adapted to the best ingredients available. Even the eggs will be better as they are laid by free-range chickens.’
But will that make it so Bangkokians will be deprived of Premchit’s ancestral cuisine? ‘It will actually be easier to produce the meals in Bangkok while living in Phuket. I can get all the ingredients together and bring them up with me when I come to Bangkok to produce a dinner.’
Does this mean there’s home for those of us who love Premchit’s dinners and want to introduce her cooking to others? Premchit smiles at the possibilities now that she’s moving back to her roots, closer as it were, to the food she loves.
As they say in print publications, watch this space.
22/12/2011 - 10:00