Thursday, July 6, 2017

Follow the Chef: Gary Butler, the chef you must follow, literally

To say that my Follow the Chef series has been exciting (at least to me) thus far is an understatement. My previous 2 chefs had brands they created with their bare hands stripped from their grasp, and eventually found their own ways to survive in the business. My third chef though, is in a completely different category, and I shall start off with how he looks (finally, a picture of the featured chef!).

Presenting Gary, The Roaming Cook
Thanks to Martin, I recently got to know The Roaming Cook, Gary Butler. He's a die-hard Arsenal fan from the UK, and is not supposed to become friends with a hardcore Spurs fan like me, but there are too many things we have in common for a BITTER football rivalry to tear us apart.

Gary is not a trained chef, nor has he ever worked in a restaurant. He has a natural flair for cooking, and finds himself in the kitchen during all his free time. He shared with me that he lived a couple of years in his fiancee's house in the UK and started cooking for the family. Soon, he found himself cooking for his fiancee's parents' friends, then the entire street, which developed to even cooking for small events and dinner parties. His repertoire ranged from Italian, British to even exotic cuisines like Thai and Lebanese. Forget Curtis Stone, Martin is the true take-home chef.


Have a look at his website/instagram account and it will be clear where his cooking inclinations lie. He's just this Brit who's crazy about Asian food. I've been on 3 food expeditions with him, and not once has he suggested a Western restaurant. In fact, the older the place, the better for him. I can totally imagine him crouching gleefully near a low table in Hanoi digging into some Vietnamese rolls after rejecting a proposal to dine at a posh French restaurant in town. Hunting for original, local, Asian food is in his DNA.

What started off as a recipe website teaching his fans how to cook proper Asian food has also evolved into a platform with posts and videos on the authentic Asian fare he encounters during his extensive travels (increasingly in Thailand).

Gary doing what he does best, taking pictures of authentic Asian cuisine
Gary is a chef you must follow, and by that, I don't mean just Instagram or Facebook. He's uber familiar with the traditional eats in Bangkok old town (a place where I try to avoid as much as I can). If you need some advice, he is more than willing to help, and if he likes you enough, I am sure you will be invited to follow him around as he does his own food exploration.

Gary's ultimate goal is to have his own little eatery in Bangkok, serving a couple of delicious Thai dishes cooked from scratch with some yummy local coffee. As another self-taught home cook, I wish him all the best, as his success will mean hope for like-minded food-noobs like myself.

Make it happen, Gary! You already have your ambassador right here (provided I like the food)!


*************************************


"Follow the Chef" is a new blog series where I sit down face to face with chefs and help them tell you what they want to say, in their perspective. My inspiration for this series stems from the fast-changing dining landscape in Bangkok, which is both exciting yet confusing for consumers like us. Do we follow the restaurants, or follow the chefs? I hope I can help you make a better decision.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

2017 Half-term Report: Same same but different

Gosh, it's already the end of June, I thought 2017 had just started, and I guess it's fair to say that it seems to be nearing its end!

Wow, this year has been such a whirl for me. No, don't get me wrong, my life is still the same. Same country, same company, same job, same family (duh!), same blog, same Thai Government and same economy going through the same extended lull.

It doesn't sound very exciting at all, but it is. This year is the year I decided that sitting back hoping for things to change around me to happen is no longer good enough. Change comes from within. It's simply because everything is still the same, that I can concentrate on bringing positive change to my life.

I have the same 2 beautiful kids and the ever-lovely wife, but the kids are growing. My daughter is already in a nursery and will start her first school term in August (more dates with the wife finally!). They are slipping through my fingers and Daddy's expenditure will inevitably be ramped up significantly as this happens. Time to work harder without sacrificing precious family time. More little special family occasions, staycations, trips and nicer pictures will hopefully create priceless memories for us to cherish.


Work-wise, pro-active is the key word. Active diversification of our product lines and the commitment to provide the best service to our customers will hopefully mean an up-turn to our stagnating business. The poor economy is no longer going to be a convenient reason to explain a year with little or no breakthrough. Even if we can't beat the trends, we are not going down without a fight. In fact, we are in the process of finalizing a move to a brand new operating facility and creating the most exciting online marketing plan this industry has ever seen. Stay tuned.



Online, please be prepared folks, to see more and more of me. 2016 proved to be my least-prolific blogging year. but it's also the year that I started to see wider horizons for myself on this social media wave. I have started to create content for multiple platforms (will create a page to list them out soon) and plan to capitalise on this positive momentum. Therefore, you probably can't run away from the Stranger in Bangkok, be it here or somewhere else you least expected.



So there you go, thanks for bearing with me as I felt necessary to give a simple update of my boring life. Life might be the same, but embracing and creating change is actually a mindset. Having an idea in your head is great, but ultimately it's a big fat zero if you do nothing about it. Think, create, execute.

One of my favourite recent pictures.

I firmly believe that every good action will bring about a positive effect sooner or later, so rock on guys, let's fight the fight together, and may the rest of 2017 be an even better one for you.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Singapore Food in Bangkok: The Ultimate List

It's been 2 years since I started my "Singapore Food in Bangkok" series, and I believe it has helped dwellers in Bangkok satisfy their Singapore food cravings to no end. Honestly, it's a challenge making Singapore food sexy in Bangkok. No matter how authentic the food is, the really great restaurants I know serving Singapore food have all had to overcome a lot of obstacles in the last couple of years to get to where they are now.

Therefore, I feel it's appropriate for me, someone who spent 28 years in Singapore then 7 more in Bangkok, to consolidate all these worthy places in 1 post, for the convenience of everyone interested.

1. Chuan Kitchen

Chuan Kitchen's story is one of trials and tribulation. It even had to close before being taken over by a local family, but now, wow, it's bigger and better than it has ever been.



Stranger in Bangkok's thoughts:

This is one of the success stories of Singapore food. It's located far away from the city, near IMPACT Muang Thong Thani, and is patronized mostly by Thai families. Its mix of Singapore food, affordable and high-quality dimsum, chinese-style sharing dishes and now, good coffee from a designated barista corner ensures everyone in the family gets a good meal, oh, and a good photo too. It's run by a Thai family as we speak, but I can confirm that the food remains the same, if not better.

Stranger in Bangkok's favourites at Chuan Kitchen:

- Bak Kut Teh, soup and dry (Malaysia herbal style)
- Hokkien Mee
- Laksa (Katong style)


2. 8 on Eleven

Owned by the same group that runs Ping's group of restaurants, Tatsumi and Champion's Sports Bar, their excellent Singapore food is currently served at 8 on Eleven, a new restaurant/club concept on Sukhumvit Soi 11, extremely close to where Champions Sports Bar used to be.


A post shared by Eddie (@strangerinbangkok) on


Stranger in Bangkok's thoughts:

It might be a peculiar place to eat Singapore food when you enter the restaurant, but remember that the kitchen is the same one that churned out the popular Singapore food buffet at Champion's Sports Bar, as well as frequently caters for major National Day Events for the Singapore-Thai Chamber of Commerce, Singapore Club of Thailand and Singapore Embassy. Nothing much can go wrong if the food can pass the taste buds of the Singaporean community here.

Stranger in Bangkok's favourites at 8 on Eleven:

- Hokkien Mee
- Curry Puff
- Chicken Curry


3. Sambalacha

Sambalacha completely embodies the spirit of true-blue Peranakan, Uncle William Pang, who is the owner, marketer, chef and face of the restaurant. He opened the restaurant wanting to keep the recipes of his mum alive, and boy has he done that. His sambal is an ultimate x-factor and he knows it. It's an absolute masterstroke that he makes use of this sambal to enhance almost every single one of his dishes.

A post shared by Eddie (@strangerinbangkok) on


Stranger in Bangkok's thoughts:

I love it that he has random specials, especially on weekends. You can even order special dishes from him, cooked specially for you. You just need to speak to him to know what's possible and what's not.

Stranger in Bangkok's favourites at Sambalacha:

- Laksa (Nyonya Curry style)
- Beef Rendang
- Anything that goes with that Sambal (even the cucumber)


Honorable Mention: Boon Tong Kee

A post shared by Eddie (@strangerinbangkok) on

This household name for chicken rice in Singapore is already an established chain restaurant in Thailand. It has a ridiculously-huge menu and you could go 10 meals with no dish repetition without even touching their chicken rice.

Go for their chicken rice I say, because so far, it is the only dish that is convincing from their menu. It's as authentic as it gets, with the soy sauce and all, though the chilli sauce is a little too sweet. If you have a Singapore Hainanese Chicken Rice craving, Boon Tong Kee could be your best bet.

So here's my list after 2 years of tasting and research. I would not say it is a conclusive list, so please let me know in the comments if I missed out on any gems!



Thursday, May 25, 2017

Follow the Chef: David Okamoto, The David of David's no longer at David's

I love to blog about food, but it is hard for me to write unless I am extremely compelled to. That said, I have to admit that a few eateries have gotten very very close to impressing me sufficiently, one of which is David's Bakery. I love their soft-baked cookies to bits, especially the ones with runny centres and the maple bacon cookie, but I stopped short of writing a full review because I can't get over the fact that at the end of every session at David's, I just fall into an uncontrollable sugar high, and I don't know whether that's a good thing.

And this is also why I feel the need to write this piece when David approached me. Yes, the David of David's Bakery. Oh, just so you know, since the end of February 2017, David left David's. Yes, David's not at David's anymore, so before I confuse you further with my language, let us turn our eyes back at David Okamoto, as this is about him, and not about David's (I really have to stop this!).

David Okamoto was born in Japan (his mum's Japanese, while his Dad's American) but grew up in Hawaii, which, in his own words, is a food paradise, where you can find any kind of food you want on the island. Having been blessed with a natural flair for baking since young, this interesting varied food culture in Hawaii, plus his short stints at Kimuraya Bakery and Restaurant Kona made David an inventive and fearless baker.

However, his first job out of college was not in the food industry. He joined Rolex, who thankfully sent him to Thailand for work, and the rest, as they often say it, is history. Like myself, he fell in love with Thailand and decided to stay for good. He started off with a shaved-ice dessert bar named Snow Factory in 2011, which was probably a little too early for a premium Kakigori to take off in Thailand, considering how After You made a success out of theirs only in the last couple of years. His first venture had to end in 2012, but through the experience, he noticed his brownies selling out everyday and confirmed that baked goods would be his next step.

Through a trial and error process exhausting nearly 100 iterations of his soft-baked cookie recipe, David unleashed David's Bakery in 2014 and quickly achieved success, as his cookies are simply excellent. Personally, David's cookies are the only ones I have eaten that can be on par with the world-famous Ben's Cookies from the UK. They are awfully sweet though, and David agrees with me on this. His hands are somewhat tied, as locals really love their desserts and drinks ridiculously-sweet.

David's cookies not only taste but look world class. Photo Credit: David Okamoto
Without delving into the reasons as to why David left, it's time to look forward. Being on his own now, he has even more freedom to create and conquer. He's happily married in Nakhon Panom to a beautiful Thai lady, and is in the process of setting up his own factory, which in itself sounds like an extremely exciting project. He plans to create a completely different cookie plus an entire array of other goodies (brownies, dough, sauces etc.)  for mass production for the regional B2B market. That is to say, though David will be back doing what he does best in no time, it does not seem like it will be very straightforward for us to identify his products anytime soon.

I always feel that if you focus on what you do with unwavering passion, it is impossible to keep you down for long. David is certainly on his way back up with a vengeance, as he's sticking to what he does best. For the moment, if you would like to know what he's up to, do follow his new IG account where he plans to not only post his updates but also share cooking tips and recipes (great for home-cooks like myself).



I will also make it a point to keep you guys updated on his latest milestones on this very space. Since we are on milestones, I would like to congratulate David for his promotion from chef/baker to Daddy! Welcome to the club! Enjoy the ride man, life will never be the same again.

PS. David's Bakery remains one of my favourite bakeries in Bangkok and do get your hands on their soft-baked cookies if you want to know what I am talking about. Hopefully they remain the same after David's departure.

*************************************


"Follow the Chef" is a new blog series where I sit down face to face with chefs and help them tell you what they want to say, in their perspective. My inspiration for this series stems from the fast-changing dining landscape in Bangkok, which is both exciting yet confusing for consumers like us. Do we follow the restaurants, or follow the chefs? I hope I can help you make a better decision.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

If the Stranger can Cook: 台湾肉燥饭 Taiwanese Braised Pork Rice Bowl

Let me clarify that this is not a recipe post.

I cooked Taiwanese Braised Pork Rice Bowl for the first time just now because I managed to get my hands on some beautiful organic pork from Raitong Organic Farm via Sloane's Bangkok and decided to present this dish as a photo journal, sharing some tips along the way with some the pictures I took with my new camera.



Let me first say that this is a pretty simple dish, but to make it great requires some good pork and a few more steps that make it less straightforward.

Tip 1: Fried shallots, use as much as you feel comfortable with. This is the ultimate X-factor to the dish.

Tip 2: Blanch the pork first to rid it of its impurities and possible bad smell

Tip 3: No need to dice. Simply cut into strips and they will disintegrate during the braising process.

Tip 4: Add the shallots BEFORE the braising process, you wouldn't even know they exist after that.

You could add eggs in, and eat over some steaming hot rice!

That's it! Excellent ingredients, a lot of love and some clever tips later, you have a dish that you can never get enough of.

If you are still interested in a more detailed recipe, here's where I got my inspiration from:




Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Parenting Poem: When Parents don't need to Parent

May Day, 1st of May
Office closed, schools not so
You ask me why? I don't know
So off to school the children go

For the 1st time in 5 years
Even when no help is here
My wife and I have half a day
To celebrate the 1st of May

What to do? Where to go?
Not too used to this, ya know
So let's start the easy way
Spend the morn eating away



But there's still a problem, you see
Four hours more, not only three
Oh well, let's watch movie
Guardians of the Galaxy

***************spoileralert ***************

This Peter Quill
Just can't chill
Lost 2 daddies in a day for real
Though what I feel is mighty good
The high screen time of Baby Groot

What great time, passed in a flash
Like the the good ole days, starting afresh
We could eat junk
Watch a bad movie
What's most crucial, the company




Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Follow the Chef: Chef Poupée @ Bad Burger Bangkok

Anyone who remembers the On Nut Market, yes the rowdy one right opposite Tesco Lotus On Nut connected to On Nut BTS station will not forget a stall called Burgers and Bangers popping out of nowhere to sell gourmet burgers (that cost 4 times as much as any other meal sold by its neighbours) like hotcakes.



Much has changed since the the abrupt closure of On Nut market, but thankfully Chef Poupée is still finding her way to get her burgers into our tummies. During the Songkran break, I braved the waters, getting really really drenched in the process, and managed to catch up with her at her new baby, Bad Burger to discuss what ensued after being forced to leave On Nut.


Bad Burger, nice and comfy

My first impression of Chef Poupée was her incredible command of English, especially for someone who did not attend international schools nor went abroad for studies. Her cooking background was even more eye-opening. She honed her skills at Tables, Le Beaulieu and L'Atelier Joël Robuchon before deciding to share her talents with the mass market at an unlikely night market, with the most accessible dishes you can think of, the burger and the sausage.


Some familiar bad asses will watch you wash down burgers with craft beer.

According to Chef Poupée, she promptly started a new Burgers and Bangers at a permanent location in Asoke with a team of partners after the closure of On Nut Market, which built on the momentum of its predecessor. However, some board decisions stifled her freedom to make products that she wanted to present to her regulars. It soon became impossible for her to continue. Unfortunately, the partners decided to keep the name after her departure, so she had to accept the decision and start from scratch again with a new name. So, the birth of Bad Burger, this time with the full support of her immediate family, including her mum and brother.


The stars at Bad Burger, burgers and ribs.

In our short chat, something about Chef Poupée shone through, that is her passion for cooking, and the need for her to give what she thinks is the best to a large audience. She could have sold anything with her experience in the best kitchens in the country, but she still chose burgers after numerous obstacles threatened to end her run in the food business.

With her departure from Burgers and Bangers, she has moved away from sausages into BBQ ribs, which are sous vide for 24 hours (a disciple of the finest French chefs after all) before finishing off on the grill. I personally find the ribs refreshingly good, and also recommend her rib burger if you are not into beef.

In terms of the burgers, there's nothing much for me to say, but to tell all lovers of the original Burgers and Bangers that the founder is now showing off her skills at Bad Burger, and for all who have not tried her burgers before, give it a go and you will not be disappointed.





*************************************


"Follow the Chef" is a new blog series where I sit down face to face with chefs and help them tell you what they want to say, in their perspective. My inspiration for this series stems from the fast-changing dining landscape in Bangkok, which is both exciting yet confusing for consumers like us. Do we follow the restaurants, or follow the chefs? I hope I can help you make a better decision.


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