Food as Gift, Interview with Thai Essence Chef Ake Waratap, West Lafayette, Part 3 of 3


 (con’t) Thai Essence, Chef Ake’s insistence on intention, quality, energy and heart is palpable. When asked what would he considers his ‘signature’ dish, he refused to answer with a single dish. Every dish, he said, is made with care. In order to “show” me his philosophy, he pulled out some julienned ginger, thin slices of red and green pepper. “You have to feel it, like cutting through your own skin, smooth slices, no chopping,” he beams. Cooking is not about speed that bruises ingredients, or sloppy wasteful whimsy. It is intentful, considered and respectful. He shows me a beautifully carved radish flower (I am shocked to hear that he learned how to do all his vegetable and fruit carving on his own over YouTube!) and says that he was asked, “Why do we take the time to do this when most customers don’t even notice?” In response, he had answered that the flower is a symbol of care and even if only a few customers notice, it is still worth the effort. So instead of a signature dish to show us his philosophy, chef Ake offers us intricately carved flowers, precisely sliced vegetables, carefully concocted sauces and only by default deliciously executed dishes. As I suspected, he is an exemplar of an object-oriented practice invested in the recognition and respect of each thing as a gift.

True to material thinkers, Chef Ake continues to be fascinated by things and processes that fuel or challenge his commitment to gastronomic appreciation. For example, he is deeply concerned by buffet formats of serving that threaten attention to quality, care and detail. Similarly, he is excited by current farm to table philosophies that respect local ingredients and their producers. He recently returned from an exploration of ramen making in Japan. Curiosity and generosity seem to be driving principles in his food thinking and travels. The major drawback of his attention to detail and personal care is that he has little time to pursue and cultivate his wide range of interests. Creative people suffer this dilemma that leads to frustration or burnout all too frequently. Graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister famously takes a “sagmeister” by closing down his office for a year, every seven years. The famed chef of El Bulli, Ferran Adria closed his celebrated Michelin-starred restaurant and instead launched a “food think tank.” I sincerely hope Chef Ake finds a way to sustain his spirit of learning and experimentation. In the meantime, for those of you in the area, I encourage you to meet Chef Ake and visit his restaurant for a regular meal and then a special event (when he experiments with techniques and menu items). Traditional eastern cuisines in the West are both difficult and easy to innovate depending on the gastronomic experience level of the guests. This challenge makes the experimental special events at Thai Essence so fascinating to me. Thank you for sharing your philosophy of food as gift with us, Chef Ake.

Looking forward to many delicious experiments ahead,


Dear Fellow Food Philosophers,

I am collecting food philosophies through three guiding and loose questions:

  1. Consumption: What are your memories of food?
  2. Production: What are your guiding principles for making food?
  3. Demonstration: What would show your philosophy of food?

Please contact me, if you (or anyone you know…..anyone who is involved in making food…not just chefs) would like to share your philosophy with me. Thank you!

Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

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