Among Chef Solomon’s fans are some of India’s biggest achievers such as Ratan Tata to Aamir Khan. As he continues his journey of culinary explorations, this time independently, the good chef opens up about what makes Thai Naam works.
Three years after he hung up his chef’s coat after 25 years with the IHCL group (then known as The Taj Group), in early 2020 Chef Ananda Solomon threw open the carved wooden doors of his stellar new restaurant, Thai Naam. It is located in The Orb, an F&B destination in Mumbai, where it abuts the international airport and luxury hotels such as The JW Marriott Sahar. It is a neighbourhood which no international traveller can avoid, one where several corporate offices have found a new home, and where The Taj Santacruz is just a short drive away.
The good chef gave Mumbai its earliest taste of what genuine Thai food is like at Thai Pavilion at The President. He was also the man credited with Mumbai’s earliest and finest coffee shops, Trattoria, and Konkan Café, where he drew from his childhood memories of food from the Deccan Plateau, which he says stretches from Mumbai right up to Karnataka. Chef Solomon’s sojourn with Thai cuisine began in the 1990s when he spent some time in Thailand to learn the art of cooking this herb-infused, aromatic Asian cuisine.
He ultimately coalesced his rich experience to create a note-perfect menu for Thai Naam.
And then COVID happened and within a month of opening, Chef Solomon had to shut down. “I used the time to retrain my team and set up a sustainable home delivery model, creating Bento Boxes for home dining and hosting customised food experiences,” he says. Orders for his food come from as far as south Mumbai, where a large portion of his fan base is located.
At Thai Naam, Chef Solomon serves food from different regions in Thailand. Unlike most chefs who are talking about the need for local sourcing and sustainability, he contends that most of the spices and sauces he uses come from the source he draws the cuisine he serves. “Those who cook Indian food in a country like the US, depend on spices and ingredients imported from India for the real flavours. The same logic works here, too. For authentic Thai flavours, we have to import a lot of your ingredients, some of the fish that you can’t acquire here, and the herbs. In Thai cooking, you use a lot of herbs. You experience the cuisine as much with your nose, as with your tongue. But a lot of other ingredients and vegetables are sourced from within the country.”
Times have been tough, with the threat of closure looming over some of the world’s best restaurants. Chef Solomon believes there is a way to make fine-dine restaurants work even now. “We have to make them more affordable, ensure there is no snob value attached to the food, it is not priced thrice the amount, and your guests and clients are so happy with the dining experience that they give you referrals. Also, you need immense patience.”
He speaks about his father with huge fondness. “He taught me the value of patience. In our home back in Mangalore, he regularly planted mango, jackfruit and other trees which would take almost 10 to 12 years to mature, not with the hope that he will eat the fruit, but with the hope that it will serve the future generations. Running a restaurant is something like that. You work hard, you put out good food, you stand behind the stove and cook yourself, you create an asset that will pay one day.”
Chef Solomon speaks with equal fondness about his mother, from whom he learnt the art of cooking. “The food she cooked was simple, yet it held centuries of heritage within its very flavours.”
Watch the videos to hear Chef Ananda Solomon speak about Thai cuisine, his restaurant and his list of favourites.