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Thailand's Tommy Tang, Celebrity Chef - From Bangkok to Hollywood!

By Daniel Herron - Writer and Photographer

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Tommy above Bangkok at the Red Sky, Centura Grand

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.

  

Tommy with presentation plate and filet of beef special

 

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 serving a special

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.

Tommy and Hillary Clinton

 

SPLASH – You told me your show was censored because you were dancing duringthe show? 

 

Tommy at Angkor Wat, Cambodia, UNESCO Site

 

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.

 

Tommy with the fresh catch!

 

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

traders, including the Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, Japanese and Persians, and later the

PortugueseSpanish, Dutch and French. The capital, also called Ayutthaya in the sixteenth

century.  The Portuguese, chili/paprika from South America is today an integral part of

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. 

 

Tommy at the Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok

 

 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…

 

Red Sky Bar - Centara Hotel, Bangkok

Red Sky Bar - Centara Hotel, Bangkok

Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok

 

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

Published on Sep 07, 2013

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