Sweet Success for Thailand

Swapping Poppies for Agricultural Sustainability. World`s great international chefs travelled to Northern Thailand to pick Chinese chive flowers and cape gooseberries.


A very short video showing the international chefs in Thailand

I hope you enjoy watching this video. It was certainly a great joy working with Joan Roca, Peter Gilmore and Ashley Palmer-Watts. They dealt admirably with the cameras who wanted to capture their every waking move….almost.


Top of their game, Joan Roca, Ashley Palmer-Watts and Peter Gilmore embraced temperate crops in former opium hot spots when they travelled to The Royal Project in Chiang Mai.

On the 29th February 2016, three of the world’s best chefs travelled to Thailand for the first in the 50 Best Explores series, a gastronomic global food safari in search of culinary inspirations and humanity.

World-renowned Chefs Joan Roca, Chef-owner of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, No.1 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list; Ashley Palmer-Watts, Executive Chef of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London, No.7 on the list; and Peter Gilmore, Executive Chef of Quay in Sydney, No.58 in the world ranking, first visited Bangkok to attend the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016 awards, before heading to The Royal Project in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.

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Ashley Palmer-Watts, Peter Gilmore and Joan Roca on last day in Chiang Mai.

During the five-day food safari Joan Roca, Ashley Palmer-Watts and Peter Gilmore – accompanied by leading chefs from Thailand , Chef Chumpol Jangprai, Iron Chef of Thailand, master Chef Nooror Somany Steppe of Blue Elephant and Chef Nan Bunyasaranand of Little Beast – explored and experimented with exquisitely humane temperate produce from Thailand’s unique rural and agricultural initiative, The Royal Project. The first of its kind, and most successful in South-East Asia, the initiative encourages sustainable agricultural practices in places of deforestation, poverty and opium production.

During the time of 50 Best Explores the chefs met hill tribe farmers from around Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. Chef Joan Roca appreciated the humanity of the Royal Project as he was able to see the initiative in action. While at Teen Tok, Roca saw each stage of coffee from plucking off the plant to the drying and right up to grinding and drinking. It came full circle, seeing the produce in raw form at a farm in Chiang Mai and then returning to fine dining establishments back in Bangkok. “I’ve seen that there are high quality crops and Royal Project products are consumed in the best restaurants in Bangkok. This trip has allowed me to know better a fantastic country that is Thailand.”


Without the support of Thailand’s Department of Tourism 50 Best Explores would not have been possible.

Chef Palmer-Watts and Chef Nan will never forget their time with a trench full of sturgeon, a monstrously big fish. They both caught a sturgeon with their bare hands and saw them taken away for sale by the Royal Project team. Meanwhile the highlight of the trip for Palmer-Watts was cooking in a tribe chief`s house where together they boiled taro root before adding a chilli paste which the international chef pounded heartedly with wild garlic and local herbs. To the pot the chief and his new “assistant” added a small amount of bok choi then the two visiting chefs squatted on the floor with the chief to scoop the root and greens out of the same bowl that had a minute before been hanging over the fire. The broth was simple but hot, tasty and amply served by some plain white rice. The next meal that the chief might enjoy could well be a TV dinner for Ban Muang Ang, only received electricity the night before the Royal Projects team of chefs arrived.


Ashley Palmer-Watts cautiously man-handles the Royal Project’s carefully raised sturgeon before Chef Nan (to his left) did the same.

As Palmer-Watts recalled “we witnessed first hand how the project is working so very tirelessly to help the hill tribe people eradicate opium production. He urges people back home to consider coming to this area and staying in one of the incredible home stays within the Royal Project areas.


Hill tribe villager cooking at home. Photograph taken by the chef that cooked with her – Peter Gilmore of Quay Restaurant in Sydney

One of Chef Peter Gilmore’s best experiences was watching and participating when a local hill tribe woman cooked over a charcoal fire in her traditional teak house, in Mae Saab. She slaughtered a “house chicken” (a chicken that lives around the house) chopped it into pieces and then cooked it in a very hot metal pot, over a clay charcoal stove. After searing the chicken in some oil, Chef Gilmore added an intense paste of herbs, chilli, garlic, and ginger. They steamed and roasted the dish at the same time, adding fresh Thai herbs at the end and a roasted chilli relish. “It was pretty simple but really tasty,” said Gilmore. Chef Nooror’s highlight was discovering more herbs she can use in her cooking thanks to the Royal Project. “In future (dishes) I think I’ll use rosemary and Italian basil,” she said.


This exploration culminated in a Gala Dinner on Friday 4th March at the Blue Elephant, Bangkok, with host chef of the house, master chef-owner Nooror Somany Steppe.


L-R: Chef Nan, Chef Nooror, Chef Roca, Chef Gilmore, Chef Chumpol, Chef Palmer-Watts, Chef Ping at Blue Elephant

The menu at the gala dinner was chosen by the individual Thai Chefs who accompanied the international chefs on this inspiring five-day gastronomic journey. Joan Roca, Ashley Palmer-Watts and Peter Gilmore, stood proudly alongside Thailand’s leading chefs – Chef Chumpol, Chef Nooror and Chef Nan – as they described the ingredients that they had encountered and the hill tribes they had met. Chef Roca, Chef Palmer-Watts and Chef Gilmore described the wonders they had encountered and having tasted the dishes already were able to assure the assembled diners that they could expect a stupendous five-course menu. Each course was introduced by the collaborative pair of chefs. The international super star chefs talked enthusiastically about the produce, techniques and practices they had picked up during their epicurean-adventure. The Thai chefs spoke graciously of the influence that the international chefs had brought to bear. The passion and energy of the Roca, Palmer-Watts and Gilmore inspired the partner chefs when cooking the Thai chefs favourite dishes. The dinner came to a perfectly sweet conclusion with Chef Ping’s dessert which he presented to all four international chefs at the start of their 50 Best Explores Thailand adventure.

Black Bone Chicken, Caviar and Chinese Chive flowers all from the Royal Project helped to make this a most memorable feast.

“The Royal Project has a very important social implication,” said Roca. “Around the kitchen and food we can transform a society.”


This trip was made possible thanks to the kind support of Thailand’s Department of Tourism and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.


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