Chef Vichit Mukura was already elevating Thai cuisine to five-star level way before this new wave of progressive Thai restaurants and chefs came on the scene and started gaining international acclaim. For 28 years, Chef Vichit had led the kitchens at Sala Rim Naam at the Mandarin Oriental, and acted as the unofficial ambassador of Thai cuisine. The fine-dining Thai restaurant frequently hosted big names in international politics, top celebrities and well-heeled foreign guests, who all dined on perhaps what was the most sophisticated Thai fare at the time.
After nearly three decades, the chef decided to leave the prestigious Thai restaurant, and ventured out on his own establishment called Khao. His decision paid off—the restaurant bagged its first Michelin star this year.
Chef Vichit sat down for an exclusive interview with Time Out and opened up about his career progression, his work ethics and how it feels to be a Michelin-starred chef.
What was the secret behind the success of Sala Rim Naam?
The way to take Thai food to the next level has to do with consistency, and this was dependent on my team. I couldn’t do it alone—I led a team of 32 people in the kitchen, as well as about 15 students at the cooking school. I needed to cultivate my team and guide everyone on the right and the same path. How to make the food consistently good was a challenge for me every day. I was also present at the kitchen myself, not sitting in an office as a commander. I encouraged everyone to acknowledge our collective goals and objectives, and what we wanted to achieve. I always taught my team to learn from every mistake, and find how to fix it and make it better.
Why did you decide to leave Sala Rim Nam?
I was 53 years old at the time, and I found everything was easy at The Oriental and it felt pretty much like a comfort zone. I wanted new challenges in my life. All my kids had graduated already so I wouldn’t fail them much if things didn’t work out. I decided to open my own restaurant Khao. I used to be a big piece of a jigsaw puzzle at The Oriental, but at Khao, I became the person putting the pieces together. My boss used to be people in superior positions but now, the customers are my boss. I have to give them a good impression.
What makes Khao special?
We started off as a chef’s table restaurant that used only premium products, even more premium than what we used at Sala Rim Naam. But we wanted to expand our market and make our restaurant more accessible, so we launched more casual à la carte dishes. To dine here is not to experience the most delicious food, but we promise you the best quality food you can get in the city. I named the restaurant Khao (rice in Thai) because rice has a special place in my heart. It’s not just a kind of grain, it’s the thing that bonds people together in a meal. I also have a rice farm at my home in Chantaburi that grows red jasmine rice. You can also try it out here at the restaurant.
How did you feel when Khao was awarded its first Michelin star?
I was happy. Everyone was happy. But is it the ultimate happiness as a chef? No, it isn’t. I always tell my team to do their best and to not expect consequences. I believe great things will come eventually if you really give it your all. In the culinary world, there are bigger things than Michelin. The best we can do is to maintain consistency and make our customers happy.