Dr Stanley Quek knows how to draw and please a crowd. He has successfully developed an abandoned district in Sydney, Australia, turning it into the vibrant award-winning Kensington Street which attracts over 3,000 people to its numerous restaurants, bars, galleries and shops each day.
Having worked with Chiang Rai born Chef Tiw Rakarain for many years, Dr Quek, one of Asia’s most successful real estate developers, was inspired to open Spice Garden right here in Chiang Mai. A more modest, and locale-appropriate project, Spice Garden sits amidst the tangle of sois of the old city. It aims to become a must-visit destination serving great food and creative drinks in a charming garden where artists, musicians and other performers will be encouraged to call home.
Inspired by Inspiration
“I have no specific recipes because I simply get into the kitchen and allow the day’s produce, my experiences and my ideas to inspire me,” said Chef Tiw of his methodology.
Chef Tiw helms a number of Dr Quek’s restaurants in Sydney, and now in Chiang Mai. He will be spending his time in the kitchen creating, inspiring and training locally-hired chefs to perfect his dishes.
Chef Tiw came to the kitchen relatively late in life. It was while he was working as a dish washer in Sydney to subsidise his language studies that he began to become interested in cooking. Self-taught, Chef Tiw spent the next few years watching cooking techniques on YouTube, devouring books and apprenticing in kitchens from London to Boston and Miami back to Sydney.
He cooked in Thai, French, Chinese, Japanese and American kitchens saw him returning to Australia. He was working at a Vietnamese restaurant in Melbourne when he caught the attention of Dr Quek.
Dr Quek invited Chef Tiw to lead his upcoming Indochine restaurant and the collaboration resulted in Mekong becoming an award-winning restaurant.
Flavours of Mekong
Within a year of Mekong’s doors opening onto the bustling Kensington Street, it was awarded the number one Asian restaurant in Sydney and third best Asian restaurant in the whole of Australia, a remarkable achievement for first-time Executive Chef Tiw. Inspired by the flavours, tastes and cultures of the people living along the banks of the mighty Mekong River, the restaurant serves creative takes on Laos, Vietnam, Cambodian, Myanmar and Thai cuisine…all with a French twist.
“Mekong’s menu is like nothing you will have ever tried before,” said Chef Tiw. “We have created each and every single dish, each one standing alone and being its own star. I want people to form their own opinions about each dish as they aren’t Asian and they aren’t western. I like using sophisticated French cooking techniques with Asian flavours. We don’t change the raw ingredients, but the techniques. Thai food, for instance, is very complex in flavours, but not so much so in cooking techniques, focusing more on pounding, grilling and boiling than on scientific and sophisticated methods. We will bring these methods in while preserving the flavours.”
“I like to think that I like to think differently,” grinned the energetic and passionate young chef. “When I begin to create a menu, I go to the place. I study its history, I look at its culture, its story, and I let it inspire me. For instance, when I go to Burma, I think of the colour gold and so my mind goes to pumpkins. In Vietnam, one can’t escape its dark past, so I think of squid ink and I bring these ingredients in to create a new dish, a new taste and a new experience in every bite so that when people eat my food, they too come on my journey.”
A Mekong Smorgasbord
Spice Balls with Mango Puree
Fermented pork, crispy rice and red curry balls are topped with a dainty and vibrant red tuile of Szechuan peppers. A light mango puree gives this dish, inspired by Laos, Thai, Burmese and Chinese cultures, a refreshing twist.
Roasted Chili on Squid Ink
Chopped catfish is mixed with eggplant chili paste and served with crispy fried tapioca balls served with squid ink. The dish evokes flavours and aromas of a classic Isaan larb, but intriguingly without any traditional larb ingredients.
Fried Pork Hock with Sweet YuZu and Green Apple Salad
Tender and juicy pork hock is cut into cubes then batter-fried with cassava flour, making for a crunchy and moist bite which simply melts in the mouth. The sweet yuzu and green apple sauce adds tart and freshness.
Where art is served on a dish
“Food and drinks are an art form and I am someone who loves art,” said Dr Stanley Quek, “so I want to combine these creative mediums so that each dish delivered to the table is artistic in flavour and presentation.”
Dr Quek went on to explain that he truly wanted to contribute to the Chiang Mai-scape through food innovation, presenting superb dishes and using the freshest produce. After all, he added, Chiang Mai is home to an incredible ecosystem of fresh produce. The chili, the ginger, the galangal, the herbs and the spices which will be used in the kitchens of Spice Garden, will be created into something we have yet to see in this city.
With indoors as well as outdoors dining areas, Dr Quek aims to bring the local community, Chiang Mai’s artists, performers and musicians together so that people can have a destination where they can truly enjoy themselves while being inspired and entertained.
Spice Garden will have two restaurants, two bars, one brasserie and a sixteen room boutique hotel, each outlet aimed to serve the purpose for different people for different occasions at different times.
The Kitchen at Spice Garden
This casual all-day kitchen is opened-planned and diners can while away the day watching the chefs do what they do best while indulging in a menu which includes international favourites such as tonkatsu with curry, Singapore chilli soft shell crab, char kway teo (a Malaysian fried noodle dish) or a tagliatelle pasta beef ragu. This is a casual restaurant serving outstanding food at affordable prices.
Echoing Chef Tiw’s award-winning eponymously named kitchen in Sydney, Mekong will be brimming with creativity and artistic flair. While some dishes will be similar to those found Down Under, they will not be precisely replicated, as Chef Tiw allows Chiang Mai to inspire him while bringing his exacting French techniques to Asian dishes. The food will harp to the colonial-era days of Indochina and there is even an outdoors terrace where a mini-Mekong enhances the exotic vibe.
Brasserie and Bar
It will be all about enticing aromas when you walk into this brasserie filled with freshly baked desserts and cakes, cut flowers and serving light and simple dishes such as pulled chicken Burmese salad, tempura and ricotta pancakes.
In the evening, the bar will serve world class drinks as a pre-prandial to a meal and be a place to unwind in a sophisticated but comfortable atmosphere at the end of the day. Serving its signature spice mocktails and cocktails, Spice Bar will also be highlighting Thai drinks, all served in an outdoors vibe amidst the sounds of live music.
Spice Garden will open its doors to us all on this November. It will be a city-destination which will have something to appeal to everyone. It’s tastefully low-key architecture blends in with the surrounding temples and pagodas, its charming garden already lush and tropical with trickling waterways has open spaces set up for live entertainment. Its casual, as well as more sophisticated food and drink outlets are designed to provide a place for you to make yourself at home and treat yourself to something special from breakfast to late into the night.
12 Soi 5 Moonmuang Rd,T. Sriphum, Muang Chiang Mai
Facebook: Spice Garden