Executive Chef Taweesak Trakoolwattana (Tao) of Saba, Dublin, tells us about his passions and his pet peeves
What’s your earliest food memory?
I grew up in Suphanburi near Bangkok in Thailand. My dad’s birthday was a special occasion and my mum would prepare a big family dinner. All of my 12 brothers and sisters would sit around a big pot of stir-fired garlic and pepper ‘Blue River Prawns’. I loved this treat, it was a childhood favourite and it will be on our new menu in Saba.
What was the most valuable lesson you have learned on your career path?
I always believe that it is important to treat my team like my family, as their family are in Thailand. If we ensure they are happy and passionate about their craft, they will be more relaxed and cook from the heart rather than as a duty.
What is the best thing you ever cooked?
My most recent memory was last summer when I went fishing off Hook Head in Wexford and caught mackerel with friends. We marinated the fish with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, chilli and wrapped it up in a banana leaf and barbequed them. The Irish sun was shining and it was a really lovely evening.
What is your pet peeve in the kitchen?
Consistency. I use a lot of fresh ingredients as when dried ingredients are used, the dish can change significantly. Consistency is key and sticking with fresh ingredients in your recipe is one of the easiest way to produce great food.
Which kitchen tool could you not live without?
For me the most important tool in my kitchen has to be the wok. Growing up in Thailand, the wok was used for congee at breakfast, noodles at lunch and a stir fry or curry at dinner. Every home should have one!
What is your current ingredient obsession?
Birds eye chilli have always been my favourite and they are used a lot in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Chillies are packed with vitamins and powerful antioxidants. I love that kick of heat and the depth they give a dish.
What/who are your biggest influences?
My biggest influences have to be Thailand and Vietnam, I like to focus on the different regions and dishes that stand out in each area. I love to work on recipes that will represent these places and give customers a unique dining experience to remember.
What was your most memorable meal?
Last year I visited Japan to research their cuisine. I came across a small restaurant in Kyoto that served Matsusaka beef which is black-haired Wagyū or "Japanese Black". It was sweet, juicy and tender like butter. I can still taste it. The beef alone cost over €100 and was worth every penny.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I love to make something very simple and tasty. I love Korean instant noodles which I season and add vegetables and pork. It’s real comfort food, so tasty and easy to make after a hard day’s work.
Dream dinner party guest?
I would be honoured to cook for The Princess of Thailand, Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. I had the privilege of meeting her in the Chester Beatty Library when she was on a visit to Ireland three years ago. I presented her with Saba: The Cookbook. I would love to cook a full Thai banquet for the Princess as I have previously cooked for her parents the King and Queen of Thailand.
What are your favourite eateries at home and abroad?
In Dublin, I love Chapter One and the elegance of each dish. When I lived in Germany, my favourite dish was ‘Schweinshaxe’, or roasted ham hock and sauerkraut. When I am in the West of Ireland, I love the seafood chowder in Bar One Castlebar, Mayo. It’s delicious.
What/who inspires you?
My mum is a big inspiration to me. She raised me and my twelve brothers and sisters and cooked for us every day. She brought me into her kitchen at the age of nine and taught me everything she knows. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for her.
Let us in on your top foodie tip…
Use fresh ingredients and good quality sauces for Thai and Vietnamese food. It brings out the natural aromas when cooking. This is what makes our food authentic, healthy and delicious.