The man behind David’s Kitchen, funnily enough named David, is a familiar face in Chiang Mai, especially over the past few years. His eye-catching suits, his attentive service and his interesting stories are all part and parcel of the David’s Kitchen experience as we pass through the doors of one of Chiang Mai’s most popular restaurants. But what people may not know is the vibrant past of David Gordon – a man of eccentric ventures, ideas, careers and style. As a man with a varied professional past, David has some interesting stories to tell, so this month Citylife sat down with the city’s hottest restaurateur, to find out why David is who he is today – and why he still insists on wearing those lavender suits.
“I’ve had an eccentric life,” starts David as we sit down in his newly renovated David’s Kitchen at 909 just off of Kaew Narawat Road. “For years I chopped and changed my career, almost always every three years.” Apart from a few occasions, such as working for ten years in the theatre as a freelance director, directing his first West End play at the humble age of 21, David admitted to often finding himself packing up and moving onto something totally different three years later.
After living in the heart of London, visiting all the most popular haunts and discovering new talents left, right and centre, his decision to move out of his successful directing career was a surprise. He had become disillusioned; “For some reason I decided to buy a farm in North Wales, in the middle of nowhere,” David explained with a laugh. “Thing is, I didn’t know a cow’s head from its arse!” Looking back, it was no surprise that three years later, the farm was no more and David upped and moved once again, this time to Salisbury to open a book shop. Yep you guessed it, that also lasted for just three years.
From then, David ended up going down a more professional route, this time dedicating ten years of his life to helping men who were dependant on drugs or alcohol in a care hostel in London. As a qualified drug and alcohol counselor, David broke his three year routine, but in the end had to give that up too. “By the end, the 119 single dependant men kept attacking me! They didn’t know what they were doing, but it was enough for me.”
Up until now, David had been a man of home soil. Not often venturing out of Blighty for long periods of time, so David decided to do something off the wall, so he booked a plane ticket to Thailand – partly to relax after ten years of difficult social work and partly to see what else the world would give him.
“18 years ago I met a monk in Mahatat temple in Bangkok,” David began as he explained his first experiences in Thailand. “Phra Suputh and I became friends and he soon found me a job teaching English at the Suan Dok temple school in Chiang Mai.” This move was not planned at all, but for David, the draw of the east was too strong to ignore.
Over the next five or six years, David spent most of his time here in Chiang Mai, chopping and changing between jobs and roles, while keeping a firm base at Suan Dok temple. To this day, David and Phra Suputh are still good friends and David even seeks refuge at the temple now and again. “I even ordained as a monk,” he said to our surprise. “Twice!”
Several years on and still as eccentric as ever, David met a woman who would make him who he is today. After an 18 month courtship where they were never allowed to be alone together (much to the dismay of David), Prom and David were finally married. Prom, a trained chef, and David, a jack of all trades, soon found a venture they could both get their teeth into.
In no time at all they opened a restaurant tucked away in a scenic part of the Mae Kampong jungle, a restaurant that would quickly become popular with local villagers and travelling foreigners alike. For two years the restaurant grew in fame and good fortune. For David, the fame came in the name of the restaurant, a name that their friends coined ‘David’s Kitchen’.
“I feel like a fraud really,” said David, who admits he doesn’t know the first thing about cooking. “Prom was the chef that kept bringing customers back. It should have been her name really, but David’s Kitchen just stuck, honestly!”
Despite the success of this first David’s Kitchen, both David and Prom decided to close up shop and move closer to the city just in time for their first son to be born. “We wanted to be closer to hospitals and schools, so we moved into the Chiang Mai suburbs,” explained David. “At that time we were busy building a family so the restaurant never really came back straight away.” In the interim David found himself managing a small five star resort for an Englishman for three years (surprise surprise) before things settled down and both Prom and David felt like an investment into their own business was the right way to go.
“It was quite an easy decision,” said David. “All our friends agreed that we should just re-open David’s Kitchen – so that’s what we did.” Exactly two and half years ago, the second, much more elegant David’s Kitchen opened up just out of the city towards Mae Rim.
They both decided to go for a more sophisticated menu at the new David’s Kitchen, so a six week chef hunt was soon underway. “We were incredibly fortunate to meet a highly skilled chef that is still with us today,” said David with a grin on his face. “He has made what David’s Kitchen is today. He is not just a business partner or a Chef, but one of our family. One of our own.” The restaurant is closed on Sundays, and even after a long week together, it is not uncommon to see David, Prom, their children and Chef O enjoying a leisurely afternoon together in the city.
Chefs from all around the country applied, including several famous chefs from Bangkok. “We had one famous chef who applied, and after tasting his food and agreeing to a wage packet within our budget, we thought Christmas had come early,” said David. On the last day of applications, they were ready to offer the job when a young chef sent an email through, applying for the position along with a recommendation from a three star Michelin chef that they couldn’t just ignore. As it was just one day before deadline, it was doubtful that this new applicant would make it on time, but a call was made anyway. “Turns out he was just 500 metres away from our home when we called him! Five minutes later he was at our door,” laughed David.
That evening David and Prom sat down to a nine-course meal that got better and better after each exquisite course. A decision was made there and then. “By noon the next day we were popping champagne and celebrating the employment of our new chef, a young man with enormous talent,” said David. Chef O was welcomed to the DK family and soon the kitchen was being driven by Chef O a man fixed on excellence. With Chef O’s talent, it didn’t take long to become a huge success and three months later David and Prom offered him a partnership.
Now, two and half years later, David and Prom’s life is still improving. With the birth of their daughter and their growing fame, they are now in big business. “We offer a 5-star dining experience in a casual style,” explained David as he pointed out that all his waiters wear jeans and they insist on using first names with their customers. “It’s like a party at my house every night,” smiles David. “I get so excited to come and meet my guests, I love everything about it.”
Now with its new, more modern and stylish location in Wat Gate (where the old Dalaabaa Restaurant was located for those who remember!), the only way is up for the DK family. A new wine bar will open up downstairs in November and a private cigar and whiskey bar is to open a while after that, the first one of its kind in Chiang Mai.
Despite still never interfering with the kitchen, David insists that he has full confidence in any new ideas Chef O has. For David, it is his own personality that he brings to the table of each and every guest every night, chatting and wandering through the restaurant dressed in his signature lavender suit.
“The truth is, I just love wearing suits,” giggled David, insisting that despite the casual atmosphere, he hopes his suits don’t come across as too formal. “Prom says that she can spot me in a crowd of a thousand people because I’ll most likely be the only one in a bright red shirt and yellow trousers. I feel a bit like Mark Preston from MasterChef Australia – a series I am totally addicted to.”
Each afternoon when David is getting ready to meet and greet the guests to the always fully booked David’s Kitchen, David’s daughter looks past her father’s eccentric style and just says it as it is, “No papa, that’s not a lavender suit. You are just wearing pink.”