The spicy Thai salad looks different. Instead of usual shrimp, lemongrass, and mint leaves; it comes with halved lychees, sous-vided tiger prawn, grilled banana blossom, coconut milk sauce, and a few edible flowers sprinkled on top. It tantalizes the taste buds with juicy, chewy, sweet, spicy and sour elements.
Served next is a creamy soup packed with coconut shoots and young coconut meat. It’s delicious and satisfying, thanks to shrimp paste and mackerel chunks that lend savory and salty flavors to the dish. One scoop after another until there is no soup left in the bowl, one diner blurts out, “I want more.”
A bakery in Ari recently opened its door as a chef’s table-style restaurant to promote five communities from around Thailand looking to adapt to a changing market – and climate – by rethinking what they know and reinventing their hallmark products.
Local Aroi is a social enterprise aiming to upgrade local cuisine to fine-dining standards. It’s partnered with the Community Development Department to launch a series of five fine-dining meals this month – each of which uses locally grown produce from each community in five provinces: Baan Khlong Ta Cha (Samut Songkhram), Baan Khok Muang (Buriram), Baan Don Nai (Phetchaburi), Baan Suksomboon (Nakhon Ratchasima), and Baan Haad Song Kwae (Uttaradit).
Baan Khlong Ta Cha was the first to kick off Local Aroi this month with some of their popular products including coconuts, lychees, tiger prawns, and banana blossoms. They were given a modern spin by 24-year-old celeb TikTok chef Narongrit “Chef Ins” Saekho, and became core luxury ingredients for the fine-dining table. Think a coconut cream cheese tart, leaf-wrapped bite with sugarcane mousse, lychee and prawn spicy salad, coconut soup, curry with stuffed chicken, and coconut milk ice-cream, and crumbles with coconut pancakes.
“Through the dishes, I want to highlight the community’s history and unique strength,” chef Ins said. “It’s no surprise that the courses are coconut-centric.”
Livelihoods in Baan Khlong Ta Cha rely on its local plantations, especially those growing coconuts.
“If you come to our community, you might get lost in a jungle of coconut trees,” said Buppha Waijaroen, community head. “We sell a lot of coconut products like coconut sugar, fragrant coconut water, coconut lotions and lip balms.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, its tourism-dependent economy suffered. It was a wake-up call for Buppha that they needed to adapt to survive.
“While the lychee trees hardly bear fruit anymore because the weather gets hotter and hotter these days, we use the lychee leaves to tie-dye T-shirts and sell them instead,” Buppha said. “But that’s not enough … We were seeking a way to add value to our products and sustain in the long run.”
Through months of training with Chef Ins, Buppha and local chefs learned and relearned their products’ uses in the kitchen. Traditional dishes like gaeng pa guai gai (jungle curry with chicken and bananas) were revamped with a touch of coconut milk and deep-fried chicken wings.
“Traditionally, we never add coconut milk into the jungle curry,” Buppha said. “Now we unpack what we used to know and try to adapt without bias.”
She said they meet weekly to discuss what other recipes they want to adapt and present.
The next Chef’s Table events are Wednesday (Baan Don Nai community, Phetchaburi province), May 19 (Baan Suk Somboon, Nakhon Ratchasima province), May 22 (Baan Had Song Keaw, Uttaradit province). They will take place at In De Bake bakery in Bangkok’s Ari area.
Two slots are available each day (5:30pm and 8pm). Each slot can serve 10 diners. Booking in advance is required via Local Aroi’s Facebook or 080-2785792.