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Edible petals

By Li Yingxue | China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-27 14:54

A celebrity chef brings Thai-style floral food to Beijing, Li Yingxue reports.

Sweet pork with pineapple. Blue-crab salad with Thai herbs and lotus. Deep-fried lotus roots and tom yum goong.

These are some of the edible-flower dishes visiting Thai celebrity chef Purida Theeraphong is bringing to Combal by Tiago in Beijing.

She also serves crispy flowers with raspberry-coconut sauce. The sauce adds sourness and creaminess to the dish.

Another starter is colorful Hokkaido scallops with gac sauce and coriander oil. The scallops are sliced to resemble roses, set among the sauce and edible petals to create a salad. The dressing alters the scallops' flavor and imbues the dish with spiciness.

Another salad features Argentina prawns with Thai grapefruit and a nitro red-curry mousse.

She also serves a soup of blanched fish with chili sauce and lotus petals.

The fish is plated under the petals. Theeraphong personally selected all the feast's flowers and tableware, which are shipped from Thailand.

"I put my character in the food," the chef says.

"I like something pretty but that's not only pretty and has something strong behind it. It represents a woman. I put the spice in the (gac) sauce on purpose, as it's the signature of Thai cuisine and it makes you feel you need more food coming."

Theeraphong became Thailand's Iron Chef Challenger's first female winner in 2012.

Her culinary journey started when she was studying English in Sydney and worked part time in a Thai restaurant 25 years ago.

"I noticed people love Thai food, and I was wondering why and how. I thought there must be something about Thai food that attracted so many people," Theeraphong recalls.

She then started to learn basic Western cooking methods before focusing on Thai cuisine.

"It's like being a doctor," she says.

"You need to know the basic knowledge and then find your specialization."

She moved from Sydney to Bangkok in 2009, after 12 years of learning how to cook.

Theeraphong became executive chef of the three-starred Michelin restaurant, Osha, in 2015.

"I think I was the first female executive chef in the hotel industry in Thailand because I have an international education and I'm specializing in Thai cuisine," she says.

Thai food's distinctiveness comes from its spices and herbs, she says.

"I want to bring Thai cuisine to the whole world, and not just the food, but also Thai hospitality and our culture," says Theeraphong.

The modern Thai restaurant Keaami opened in Beijing's Chaoyang Joy City at the end of last year, as Theeraphong's first foray into China.

"We use the ingredients and the cooking methods in the traditional way, but the presentation is a bit more creative," she says.

Keaami means "wooden island "in Thai. The restaurant has a cozy and informal beach atmosphere with Thai pillows.

The walls are covered with felt, bamboo and rattan.

Theeraphong believes the key to preparing authentic Thai cuisine is sourcing the right ingredients from the right places.

For the floral feast, Theeraphong prepares a Thai sorbet before the main courses. The two mains are jumbo Thai river prawns in curry sauce with celery and chili caviar served with butterfly peas, jasmine rice and fresh coconut juice as sides; and Australian black Angus beef with crushed Thai herbs with beetroot-jasmine rice. Both are colorful and flavorful, and contain hints of spiciness.

The desserts are traditional sticky rice with mango and durian, but she gives them a fashionable twist.

Guests can also select a plate of chili peppers - some of which are real and some of which are made of mousse.

Theeraphong's floral meals are inspired by Thailand's royal feasts.

"I think Beijing people love Thai food," she says.

"And compared to the number of people here, I don't think there is enough Thai food for now."

Edible petals

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