Separated At Birth: Bangkok’s Chef Ton and Singapore’s Chef Han

5 ways these two chefs share remarkably similar career trajectories.
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Thitid Tassanakajohn, also known as chef Ton, helms the kitchens of two of the most exciting restaurants in Bangkok, Le Du and Baan and is a hot favourite to receive a Michelin-star when the Guide launches in Bangkok later this year. Singaporean chef Han Li Guang made the headlines recently when his restaurant Labyrinth was awarded a Michelin-star this year. They may have a thousand miles between them, but these two young chefs have so much in common that their four hands collaboration in Singapore in August could not come more naturally.
Chef Thitid Tassanakajohn, known more simply as chef Ton
Chef Thitid Tassanakajohn, known more simply as chef Ton
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1. They are the same age…
Both young chefs are 32, and already making waves in their respective countries. Last month, they came together to curate a menu showcasing their cuisines over a two-day event. "We’ve actually never met before this collaboration,” says chef Han. “Two weeks ago when he came to Singapore for a holiday, a mutual friend introduced us over email as she thought that our styles were quite similar and we were both the same age, 32.” “Yes, this event was put together very fast... like three days,” laughs chef Ton.
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2. …And so are their restaurants.
Chef Han (left) set up Restaurant Labyrinth on Neil Road in 2013 before moving to larger premises at the iconic Esplanade Mall as business picked up. The same year, chef Ton opened Le Du, the Thai word for “seasons”, in the Bang Rak suburb of Bangkok, and later, a second restaurant Baan showcasing more traditional Thai cuisine. He says: “The fine dining scene in Bangkok is quite young, I would say that it really started to grow five years ago. My restaurant is 4 years old, so I was really lucky with the timing.” Chef Han agrees: “It was the same here in Singapore, we came in at the right time, when people were more open to fine dining and starting to explore.”
3. Their restaurants are both award-winning ones.
“Maybe I’m being diplomatic, but I think every chef deserves an award!” says chef Han, laughing. “Labyrinth may have gotten a star, and another restaurant might not, but that doesn’t mean the other chef has not worked as hard. Le Du is on Asia’s 50 Best list, and Labyrinth is not, but the bottom line is we don’t cook because of the awards, but it is nice to receive the recognition.”

SEE RELATED: MICHELIN guide announces first-ever Bangkok edition for 2018
Labyrinth's mod-Sin take on Orh Luak (Photo credit: John Heng)
Labyrinth's mod-Sin take on Orh Luak (Photo credit: John Heng)
4. They are both on a mission to change mindsets regarding local cuisine.
“We both look at our cuisines from a similar angle, and we want to change mindsets about what local cuisine can be”, says chef Han. “It’s the same for me as well, but it’s getting better though,” says chef Ton. “Now when I tell diners this fish is from this local fisherman from a certain region, they get excited. Before, it would be like: ‘Do you have salmon?’”
Chef Ton's interpretation of traditional Thai mango sticky rice
Chef Ton's interpretation of traditional Thai mango sticky rice
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5. They are entrepreneurs and business owners.
That’s also the reason why they could put together their four-hands collaboration in record time. “Chef Ton is also the owner of his restaurant like me, we call the shots and don’t have to get approval to get things done,” says chef Han. “It’s like you okay? I’m okay. Let’s go!” laughs chef Ton. But being the owners of their own businesses come with drawbacks as well. “Being a chef is hard enough, but being a business owner on top of that? I always tell people I can create even more with my food and train faster, if I didn’t have to deal with the business side of things!” says chef Han.

    RELATED READING: First Day I Got My Michelin Stars: Han Liguang of Labyrinth


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