David Tamburini: the joys and pains of Italian cuisine in Thailand

The Tuscan chef is at the helm of an ambitious gourmet restaurant in Bangkok. A promising place, despite the obstacles

23-01-2018

David Tamburini, born in Tuscany in 1973. After his recent Sicilian experience at Casa Grugno (Taormina) and La Gazza Ladra (Modica), one and a half year ago he took over gourmet restaurant La Scala at the Sukhotai, a 5 star luxury hotel in Bangkok, Thailand

We had lost trace of Tuscan David Tamburini, the chef with a recent Sicilian past, first at Casa Grugno in Taormina and then at La Gazza Ladra in Palazzo Failla in Modica, where Accursio Craparo is now. We then received a note telling us that after a short stay serving Italian cuisine at trattoria Giando in Hong Kong, one year and a half ago he took over at La Scala, the ambitious gourmet restaurant on the ground floor of the sparkling Sukhotai hotel in the centre of Bangkok, Thailand.

We meet him under a hot sun, in the gigantic halls of the 5 star luxury hotel with Hong Kong ownership. Completely redesigned one and a half year ago, thanks to large investments, its décor recreates the old colonial atmosphere. This place is far from the city chaos, but you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to stay here – it’s the equivalent of around 150 euros.

Davide arrives with a calm walk, and introduces us to French pastry-chef Laurent Ganguillet, a sly old fox who’s charming guests with hot chocolate à la minute, all sorts of ganache and nicely offered chocolates. «It’s nice staying here», Tamburini starts to say, «I couldn’t say the same of Hong Kong because they asked me to make a stereotyped cuisine, which is not in my character».

The restaurant veranda overlooking the swimming pool

The restaurant veranda overlooking the swimming pool

Spaghetti with burnt aubergines, salted ricotta and date tomatoes

Spaghetti with burnt aubergines, salted ricotta and date tomatoes

This young man, before his Sicilian adventure, was a happy member of Paolo Lopriore’s brigade in Siena, in 2006, when Il Canto got a star. A solitary and intelligent cook, always nonconformist but without polemising, he’s a salmon who out of instinct has no intention to follow the current. Like that time when, some 20 years ago, thanks to an internship at Joia with Leemann, he decided to become a vegetarian before it became popular. And the changed his mind 3 years later, following the spreading of meat condemnations.

«I don’t want to have boundaries in this adventure. I only want to offer the cuisine I was offering in Sicily». “Here” however means a continent away from the southern Mediterranean Sea. Is it a possible goal? «Let’s say it’s a difficult task. But we’re trying».

Finding the necessary raw materials is not very easy: «I’d like to say I do what I’ve always done: I go to the market in the morning and design my daily offer based on what I find. But product-culture must still grow in Thailand, of course. And there are few vegetables in harmony with Mediterranean culture. I cannot use turmeric or lemongrass. Even tomatoes: they look nice but lack in flavour because soil and climate are very different here. There are no seasons. There’s basically just one. Torrid and often rainy». For the same reason, Gaggan decided to move his restaurant from Bangkok to Fukuoka in 2021. We’ll return on that.

Tamburini with pastry chef Laurent Ganguillet

Tamburini with pastry chef Laurent Ganguillet

At the entrance, the hall of fame with the chefs who cooked at restaurant La Scala

At the entrance, the hall of fame with the chefs who cooked at restaurant La Scala

So do you get raw materials from Italy? «Only some: Sicilian flour from Mulino del Ponte which I use for the bread, and some vegetables and wild herbs, and pasta from Mancini. But I buy most things from France. They have a good distribution in Asia. Italy has never worked as a team, they’ve never studied a common strategy to export our delicacies. I get Sicilian almonds from Paris. It’s ridiculous».

The staff is almost entirely from Thailand: «They’re good at cooking, they follow my advice and are motivated despite the long hours». The dining room service is a little more complicated: «Hospitality is not an issue: they’re very kind, like all Asians. As Italians, we have lots to learn from them. But they still must grasp those little nuances that make a perfect service. We’d like to eliminate all these criticalities by finding an Italian maître». Candidates better apply.

Pork, Tuscan style, puffed rind stuffed with “Chianti tuna”, hot cannellini beans, roasted lemon, fresh pepper

Pork, Tuscan style, puffed rind stuffed with “Chianti tuna”, hot cannellini beans, roasted lemon, fresh pepper

The cuisine is the latest one served at La Gazza Ladra and is very popular thanks to being light, intelligent, and with a recognisable style. Spaghetti with burnt chargrilled aubergines, Mixed pasta in a broth of red prawns with sesame infusion. Vialone nano rice with black truffle, horn of plenty and foie gras. How about saudade? «No, I don’t feel it, because wherever I go and will go, I’ll always cook Mediterranean food».

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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