Tommy Tang is not only a world-renowned Thai chef but also an extremely personable guy,
full of life, and a great sense of humor. He has had a successful TV-Show in America,
“Let’s get Cooking,” and is developing a new and exciting TV-Show along with
some other projects. I recently sat down with Tommy for a chat at the beautiful
Shangri-La Hotel, overlooking the Chao Praya River, which winds through the center of
Bangkok. The 3-hour interview flew by because Tommy is so relaxed and entertaining,
just like his shows!
SPLASH – You left Thailand at a fairly young age and became involved in the music
business in LA before you got into Thai cooking. Can you tell us how that came about
and what led you to your current career?
Tommy - After finished high school and Junior College at Palo Verde College, in Blythe
California, I moved back to LA to do odd jobs and eventually a LA based local band
“On The Rock” asked me to manage them and later another band “Tour The Force”
also joined under my management. One of the guitar player's girlfriend that worked in
Chan Dara, a Thai restaurant in Hollywood, introduced me to the owner and since I had
a restaurant background, they hired me to help run the kitchen and the rest is history.
SPLASH – Your show on PBS, “Let’s Get Cooking,” was very successful. I remember the
first time I saw your show and how spontaneous it all seemed. You have a fun and
entertaining style of cooking. Can you tell us about the show and why it was so unique?
Tommy - WMHT, a PBS station in Albany, NY approached me to host and produce a
Thai cooking show called “Modern Thai Cuisine” which also is the same title as my
1st cookbook. I informed WMHT that I would like to create a TV cooking series that
began with a travel segment. I'd search for a great place to visit and sometimes tell
the viewers about the history of that location and then proceed to the cooking and they
agreed. This format had not been tried before and it turned out fantastic. As a result
many chefs are using this formula on their own TV program. lol!… To date, we produced
over 200 episodes for PBS Network.
SPLASH – You told me your show was censored because you were dancing duringthe show?
Tommy - When WMHT presented the series to PBS, the Network thought the cooking
show format and host should be reserved but that's NOT me. I cook, laugh, have fun,
and sometimes I dance in the kitchen which no TV chef dares to do. My thought was, life is
too short so why not do a show that the viewers not just learn something from but have fun
watching as well. This was something PBS never encountered so they sensored my show.
I’m the only cooking show that's ever been sensored by PBS. Hahaha! If I made a little
mistake, so be it. This is real and if I screw up so what. Nobody is perfect including me.
SPLASH – You have your own style of cooking Thai cuisine. Can you tell us what that is?
Tommy - Well, I was born into the food business, my father had a sidewalk café in Bangkok
near Grand Central railway station. Thai people originated from Xisuan Banna, Jing Hong
province, in the southern part of Yunnan, China. So you can say Thai food orginated from
Chinese food but it has it's own characteristic flavor. The food is actually spicier than
its Chinese counterpart but not peppery hot like most people assumed. Actually, the chilies
migrated to Siam, by the oversea visitors that came to do business in the Ayutthaya period.
Siamese kingdom was existed from 1351 to 1767. Ayutthaya was friendly towards foreign
Thai and Indian Cuisines.
I like to combine ingredients from all over the globe and create the flavor that I like and
present to my friends to taste. My food can be summed up in two short words,
“Global Cuisine”, with a Thai influence. In the late 70’s when I created this cuisine,
everybody asked what are you doing with the Thai foods? This is not Thai cuisine. But
today most chefs follow my footsteps and create their own version and still have my
footprint on them.
SPLASH – So now what’s next for Tommy Tang?
Tommy - Doing more TV series for my fans in the US and Canada and also create a new
TV series for Thai/Asian market. I also I want to toy around with co-produced films and
maybe re-opening Tommy Tangs restaurant…
Feature and Photography = Daniel Herron Copyright 2013.
Tommy and Hillary Clinton photo – Courtesy of Sweet Basil Production.
For Tommy’s website visit: Tommytangs
A special thanks to Centara Grand Hotel for the scenic backdrop of Bangkok
from their Sky Bar.
Special thanks to the Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok, for use of their grounds for
our photography. Image courtesy: Shangri-La Hotels
For further information on the Centara Grand and Red Sky visit: Centarahotelsresorts
For information on the Shangri-La Hotel visit: Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok