Make it Loud: Q&A with Dylan Eitharong

Make it Loud: Q&A with Dylan Eitharong


In a semi-hidden location within the north of Bangkok, an American-Thai chef has, considerably improbably, turned the small shophouse the place he lives into Haawm, one of many metropolis’s most well-regarded eating places. Dylan Eitharong, 31, might sound an unlikely new culinary hero within the Thai capital. He’s a Floridian, born within the US to a Thai father and an American mom, and didn’t even develop up talking Thai. However meals related him to his father’s tradition, and that mixed together with his stressed and authentic thoughts has led him to craft a tiny 8-seater restaurant which serves an ever-changing prix fixe menu. It’s the stuff that excites the Bangkok diner (to not point out worldwide guests) and now he’s acquired a months-long ready record you could solely e book by DM on Instagram.

His meals is a mix of historic recipes, fashionable methods and masterful use of the complete vary of Thai flavors. The end result: dishes which are directly deeply Thai, and but completely new and completely scrumptious… a tough trick to tug off certainly. I first met Dylan just a few years in the past by means of the chef world, most likely by way of David Thompson, who’s a pal and mentor to us each. Dylan’s distinctive story and singular and uncompromising method to cooking is a part of why I requested him to return north this Fall to affix the League of Vacationers and cook dinner a personal dinner in an attractive rural setting throughout our Northern Thailand journey this November. He spoke with me by cellphone not too long ago to speak about that journey, concerning the connection between music and cooking, and why he retains telling individuals they will’t have the brussels sprouts.

The interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

Dylan Eitharong, photograph by Paul Travis

Andy Ricker: How did you find yourself cooking as a occupation?

Dylan Eitharong: That was an accident; it wasn’t my life’s plan. It was only a pastime that I had, cooking Thai meals. Most of my household on the Thai aspect, they’re good cooks. No less than they had been good to me rising up and I favored cooking so I believe that for me it was a straightforward manner to hook up with the tradition since I didn’t have the language. I began doing it at dwelling loads; I used to be educating myself how you can cook dinner totally different Thai dishes after which I began doing pop ups in my home. It began as a noodle store factor after which considered one of my mates was like “do you need to do it at my restaurant?” And I stated certain, why not. I’d by no means labored in a restaurant earlier than that however it took off and I saved doing that to get my chops. And yeah, right here we’re. What? Seven, eight years later.

Andy: You went straight for the factor you’re most occupied with with out actually having to undergo all of the travails of working in different individuals’s eating places for years and years, following their guidelines. You simply did your individual factor proper from the start.

Dylan: Yeah, I acquired fortunate. I’ve at all times achieved my very own factor.

Andy Ricker: Do you assume that’s frequent in your technology to do it that manner? Or do you’re feeling like that yours was a novel path?

Dylan: I believe it’s a typical factor to do with my technology. I don’t assume that the intentions are at all times good; I believe lots of people simply bounce into it as a result of they assume it’s a cool factor to do. Lots of people don’t persist with it as a result of it’s laborious, however this sort of start line is quite common for individuals my age.

Andy: That’s actually attention-grabbing to an outdated canine like me. Maybe much more attention-grabbing is the backstory about your dad, telling you that he didn’t know how you can communicate Thai early on; that’s an incredible little anecdote. Are you able to give me a synopsis of that entire state of affairs?

Dylan: My dad moved to the US 50 years in the past, first to California and finally ended up in Florida. All of the household mates have stated he determined to be an American man and to do this he shunned his Thai upbringing. We’d go to Thai eating places once I was a child and he wouldn’t communicate Thai with the service workers and he would inform everybody, together with me, that he forgot how you can communicate Thai. But it surely turned out that wasn’t true in any respect. He speaks nice Thai. He didn’t return to Thailand till perhaps eight years in the past, me in tow, and after we acquired into the taxi from the airport he began talking Thai… and that was the primary time I’d ever heard him communicate his native tongue! I’ve a number of mates whose mother and father are the identical technology who emigrated to the US and it’s sort of the identical…. they only needed to assimilate. Now that’s much less the case, however undoubtedly that technology of immigrants within the US simply needed to be American, placing their previous behind them. On reflection, I may see issues about my dad that had been very characteristically Thai. Like at dwelling, he would cook dinner Thai meals on a regular basis. I believe meals was the cultural bit that he saved holding onto as a result of it was the a part of his Thainess he couldn’t let go of.

Dishes from Haawm. Images right here by Dylan Eitharong, photograph at prime by Athena Intanate

Andy: Usually what the story finally ends up being when speaking to individuals in your place is “I grew up in a restaurant and I used to be round it my entire life and I sort of rebelled in opposition to it or was despatched away to grow to be an accountant/lawyer/and so forth ….after which I went again into it to assist out the household and now I’m doing it as a second technology restaurateur”, proper? However your story is kind of totally different: you didn’t develop up in a restaurant and also you weren’t obliged to go and assist the household. You simply did it by yourself. And then you definately stated fuck it and decamped to Bangkok and began doing it right here as an alternative of pursuing a profession within the USA. Issues had been going properly, undoubtedly you’d have killed it there, so why did you resolve to depart?

Dylan: Okay, so I used to be working the pop-ups again in Florida however I used to be in Thailand each 4 or 5 months and, traditional story, I met a woman right here and I did the lengthy distance factor for a bit and I made a decision okay, I may transfer to Thailand, why not proper? And at that time I used to be pondering there’s solely a lot I can study Thai meals residing within the US. As a result of my dad is Thai I knew I may get a Thai passport, which might make it straightforward. I solely deliberate to return for a yr, however then Covid occurred. In order that modified all my plans. Initially the plan wasn’t to cook dinner right here for a residing as a result of I didn’t assume I’d be capable of cook dinner Thai meals in Thailand, financially. I imply, what I used to be cooking within the US was road meals, like stuff you may get anyplace right here for filth low-cost. However I used to be simply gonna transfer right here anyway. I had my aunt’s home out there as a result of she moved out and needed to show it into an airbnb. She supplied to let me transfer into the home and run the BnB, and I stated okay, I’ll train cooking courses, run the airbnb …..after which that covid factor began. Then there have been no vacationers and no airbnb available. So, I didn’t know what to do. I took a restaurant job for a bit, however me being me (self-taught and solely actually having labored for myself) I didn’t love to do issues anybody else’s manner. So I believed, I’ve acquired this house at dwelling and I may return to doing pop ups like I had in Florida. I did it as soon as, twice after which by the third one, somebody got here they usually posted in some Fb group after which it was just about continuous from then on. I used to be capable of stop my job a month later. And it was tremendous!

Andy: And three years on, Haawm is at all times on the record of the should go locations in Bangkok!

Dylan: It’s wild.

Andy: Thai meals is a really huge and deep delicacies. How do you see your self becoming into it? You might be doing one thing that’s, to my thoughts, each very recognizably Thai but additionally fairly progressive. I do know that you’ve studied with Hanuman Aspler and that you just’ve frolicked finding out the works of different individuals like David Thompson and skim the outdated Thai recipe books, however you’ve additionally shaped your individual fashion. So with out forcing you right into a field, how do you view what you do?

Dylan: It’s meals that displays myself, I suppose. I’m very impressed by older recipes and issues like that however I believe the cooking right here at Haawm represents the issues I need to eat.

Andy: Some individuals have a bitter palate, some individuals are likely to have a salty palate, some push the warmth or herbaceousness…what do you assume your taste profile is?

Dylan: I like issues to be loud!

Andy: Loud. Let’s dig into that!

Dylan: I would like each chew you are taking to be loud. I err on the saltier aspect of issues, smoke additionally tends to be a taste I flip to and totally different textures are one thing I wish to play with. After I’m consuming, I need to be like, that’s fucking good! So once I’m making a menu, I need to really feel that from the whole lot on the plate. I keep in mind I went to eat with a pal, manner again, at some Japanese place in Orlando and we acquired a pair dishes and I can’t keep in mind what it was, however I discovered it unremarkable and his remark was “that is purported to be bland”…..and I didn’t like that. I would like the whole lot to be tremendous memorable, to hit your palate robust. My meals is sort of a punk rock music; brief, fast and loud.

Andy: Yeah, that’s good. I usually have used music analogies to check with meals. The best way a restaurant works is sort of like the best way a band works and the chef is just like the songwriter… perhaps you have got your biggest hits and they’re those which are essentially the most memorable to the diners despite the fact that it may not be your favourite tune. Do you have got a biggest hit? Is there one thing that’s at all times on the menu?

Dylan: Yeah, that was the Brussels sprouts. We put them on the menu as soon as early on: deep fried Brussels sprouts with naam plaa waan (candy fish sauce) as a result of I discovered brussels sprouts on the market. And it was an ideal bar snack. Then I couldn’t take it off. However I didn’t need to hold it on as a result of I needed to do one thing new…it’s not on anymore!

Andy: That’s frequent to musical artists too: they report a music or make one thing that they’re actually hyped about however by the point everyone else begins to find it irresistible, they’ve moved on. Do individuals nonetheless ask you for the brussels sprouts?

Dylan: It occurs every so often I’m like, please don’t ask me for that. I consider the menu as Guided by Voices songs: brief, quick, catchy. I like a menu with all these actually good, fast pop hits. Actually loud and on the market, however it sticks with you. I suppose that’s one of the best ways to place it.

Andy: Do you assume that being in Thailand and being surrounded by not simply the product that’s out there however the precise kind of vibe and really feel of the town has modified the best way that you just cook dinner?

Dylan: Yeah, large time. Covid clearly sucked however it did a number of issues for me in that I had all this free time. So I discovered to learn Thai, which is one thing I couldn’t do earlier than I moved. I learn outdated cookbooks and began enjoying with issues. And you already know what was the funniest factor? Again within the States I at all times felt very inflexible about how you can cook dinner Thai meals: it must be achieved this manner or it’s not Thai. However once I moved to Thailand, I knew what Thai meals was to me, I knew how I favored issues and I ended caring and began enjoying with the recipes. Then, having infinite entry to Thai produce, which Is fucking nice, completely modified how I cooked which is what I needed within the first place. That’s why I moved right here; if I had come to Bangkok and ended up doing the identical factor as in Florida, I’d have been a bit disenchanted in myself.

Andy: You’ll be cooking for the Roads and Kingdoms vacationers with me up in Chiang Mai in November. Once you go to do one thing like this, do you simply do what you do at Haawm in Bangkok or are you seeking to change issues up?

Dylan: If I do one thing a few times, the seriousness of it wears off in my head, in a great way, and I’m much more open to simply making an attempt new issues and utilizing what’s round me. I’ve cooked in Chiang Mai earlier than, however going up this time I believe it’s a bit extra thrilling as a result of now I do know the markets up there. I like moist markets anyplace and Chiang Mai’s are particularly nice, particularly at the moment of yr and I’m trying ahead to simply having enjoyable with it!

Andy: It sounds such as you’ve been a little bit of a stressed soul, such as you’re at all times shifting, making an attempt new issues. Have you considered shifting on from Haawm, from what you do now? Or are you content material with the place you’re?

Dylan: Haawm is what I need to be doing for the foreseeable future. I imply I don’t essentially need to be doing it on this spot endlessly. I like the small format however it may be restrictive so perhaps I’d transfer to a brand new location someday however wouldn’t need to do something larger than the 24 seats Prin Polsuk is doing at Samrub Samrub [ed note: we’ll be ending our Thailand journey with an all-out late-night dinner there]. There may be one other factor I’m engaged on: me and my pal Dimitrios Moudios are opening a spot referred to as Kreung, presently a pop up in Bangkok which, not like Haawm, has an a la carte menu and the entire level of that’s to be inauthentic; it’s simply enjoyable meals, sort of sassy. However Haawm is my child and that is the place I need to be: in entrance of individuals and cooking, doing my very own factor.

There are nonetheless spots out there on our the League of Vacationers culinary journey to Northern Thailand with Andy, Dylan and extra (Nov 26-Dec 3, 2023). Data on how you can be part of on the League homepage.


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