Photo Essay: Thai Kitchen

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, one of the great things about being part of the food industry is getting to see what goes on behind scenes at restaurants – the controlled chaos (or sometimes uncontrolled chaos) that results in the food that is brought to your table. Some kitchens are quiet and orderly, some are just insane hubs of activity with steam and flames and smoke everywhere. Most fall somewhere in-between, and while there are often a lot of similarities, each kitchen has it’s own unique culture and feel.

A couple months ago I did a brief photo essay on the King and I restaurant here in St. Louis for FEAST magazine. This was my first adventure into a Thai kitchen, and it was a really amazing experience. The kitchen has several stations for different kinds of dishes: the head chef worked on the more complicated entrees like the seafood hot pot at station one, while station two seemed to be the place where any dish that needed a tremendous amount of flame were made, while the third station was for noodles like pad thai and rice.

Seafood Hot Pot
Seafood Hot Pot | Photography by Jonathan Gayman

There are two eye-opening observations I had while in the kitchen of the King and I. First, the head chef and all of the cooks are women, and let me just tell you, these ladies work FAST. A beautiful, complicated dish can be whipped up in literally seconds. This is a combination of the skill level that these women are working at, and a really interesting workstation, which is the second eye opening observation that I had.

In other kitchens, at a saute station for example, the cook will grab a pan from a rack of dozens over the stove, cook whatever he’s making, then send the pan off to be washed by a dishwasher, grabbing a clean one for each new dish. At King and I, each workstation consists of three woks which stay on the flames from the time service starts until it ends. After each dish is made, each cook is responsible for washing her own wok at a small sink that is built right into the workstation. When’s the last time you saw a head chef washing her own pans?

The other interesting factor was the language barrier. I don’t think I’ve been on an assignment where I was quite so out of my element from a communication standpoint. Everyone was extremely nice to me, despite the fact that I was constantly dodging in and out of their paths as they cooked and plated at breakneck speed. There seemed to be a lot of conversation about me (which I couldn’t understand) followed by a lot of giggling, particularly when I climbed up on top of a wobbly stool over blazing hot stoves to get a better angle. Hopefully my acrobatics didn’t get in the way too much.

To read more about the King and I, check out the article from the March issue of FEAST magazine

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