Boy did I miss a big fat plate of good ol’ fashioned food controversy when I was away. As mentioned previously, Australian chef David Thompson has opened a branch of his Thai restaurant nahm here in Bangkok. Not surprisingly, when one considers how dearly the Thais regard their cuisine, the opening has inspired a generous serving of heated discussion here in Bangkok. Some of this was spurred on by this piece in the New York Times. The article makes for entertaining reading (sample quote: “‘He is slapping the faces of Thai people!’ Mr. Suthon said in an interview.”), but is somewhat sensationalistic in tone and Thompson claims to have been quoted out of context. The controversy is also the topic of this BBC piece.
The local media also has its share of nahm/Thompson defenders and detractors. This rather clumsy restaurant review in The Nation seems to have been impressed with the restaurant, while this letter to the editor in the same paper is a dramatic and not entirely coherent damnation of nahm and its chef. The controversy has inspired a rather soul searching editorial in The Bangkok Post, “Which Way Thai Cuisine“, as well as editorials in the Thai-language media, including the influential paper Matichon. But perhaps the epitome of the media attention was this hilarious spoof in Not The Nation: “Army Overthrows David Thompson In Cuisine Coup” (you know you’re in the limelight when you’re being spoofed).
People have the right to voice their opinions about cuisine and authenticity. But I find it disappointing how rather quite racist and xenophobic some of the Thai reaction to nahm has been; how would the Thais react to vaguely racist French criticism of a Thai landing a high-level cheffing job at Pierre Gagnaire? When it comes down to it, it really depends on the food, and I thought the most resounding sound bite about all this came from a Thai friend, who unlike many of the people writing or talking about the restaurant, has actually eaten there: “All I know is that if Nahm was about a quarter the price it is I’d be a regular. Authentic or not.”