Chef without Borders

Dec 15, 2009
*Special to asia!

From Oslo to Bali, this Danish citizen has served up a global smorgasbord to the most discerning palates.


The buffet served at the Colonnade in Bangkok’s Sukhothai Hotel includes an authentic smorgasbord, and you hear the Executive Chef is a Dane. Another clue is that the new café is called Timian which means thyme in Danish. Directed by the ever-polite staff, you catch a glimpse of him, arms akimbo, a dashing figure at the Colonnade, but decidedly Asian.

If it weren’t for the Serbo-Croatian war of 1991, the culinary world may have missed out on the genius of Chef Nam Quoc Nguyen, who at only 36, was appointed to the top post at one of the most luxurious hotels in Bangkok. He was a Vietnam War refugee who left his homeland with his family at seven and grew up dirt poor in Denmark. He enlisted in the army as a young adult and did so well his first year there that he was named Soldier of the Year. While serving with the UN peacekeeping force in the mountains in Serbia, he signed up for kitchen duty. He quips, “It was bitterly cold in the mountains and I wanted to be somewhere warm.” He discovered his passion and joined a culinary school in Copenhagen after his stint in the military.

His foundation is traditional French cooking, focusing on modern European cuisine enhanced with Asian influences. He wants to move towards a simplified style of food preparation without the need for rich sauces. After two years at The Lighthouse in Singapore he learnt how to blend cuisines. One of his latest inventions is carpaccio beef with uni (sea urchin eggs). He has also created dishes with frog’s legs, turmeric and galangal. As chef at The Lighthouse, it was just him and the food but now he has to think of everything.

His "Duck Egg Cocotte with Black Truffle" is a soft boiled egg set in a bed of salt and presented in a martini glass. The accompanying black truffles and foie gras are stirred into the yolk and chicken jus and the whole thing is meant to be downed like a shooter. His “Garden Salad" comprises young grilled vegetables, leafy greens and a refreshing blend of Asian herbs, and a silky red rose petal.

Asked about his influences, he sums it up saying, “I have admired Gordon Ramsay for a long time. I like Alain Ducasse’s book about his style of cuisine and I have deep respect for Jamie Oliver who is great at simplifying things for the masses. Sydney-based Tetsuya Wakuda is also an inspiration.”

Chef Nam wants to make a name for the Sukhothai. He wants to continue to develop the Celadon and feels he cannot afford to sit back. As he puts it, “Food is like fashion. It is necessary to keep some classic and some new as long as you don’t lose the foundation and the direction.”

He thinks the future can be summed up in the maxim: Eat light, eat Asian, eat classic.



vivienne khooOnce a lifestyle editor at a website, a newspaper journalist and a food editor, Vivienne Khoo writes about luxury hotels, food and travel whenever she is not sub-editing. The perfume industry and essential oils are her pet topics at the moment.

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