Beer & food focus: A taste of Thailand

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Chef Max Piao explains a Thai-style tapas concept, and what better to accompany it than Thai beer Chang?AS ANYONE who has ever tried to order sweet...

Chef Max Piao explains a Thai-style tapas concept, and what better to accompany it than Thai beer Chang?

AS ANYONE who has ever tried to order sweet and sour in Shanghai or a bhaji in Bombay will know, what the Western palate thinks of as authentic Chinese or Indian cuisine may be very different to what the locals eat.

Thai food in Britain, though, has more going for it when it come to capturing the genuine flavours of Thailand. So says chef Max Piao, at any rate - and he ought to know. Max's mother was half Thai, and he spent time in Thailand as both a child and adult.

 In pub circles, Max is best known for his stint at the George & Dragon pub in Speldhurst, Kent, where the focus was, gastronomically and geographically, far from Phuket. The pub made a feature of working with local suppliers to offer very traditional English dishes, winning two two Bib Gourmand's from Michelin.

However, this experience of the pub trade combined with his Thai background made Max the ideal chef to work with Thai brewer Chang on a beer and food project. Max has developed a series of authentic Thai recipes which go well with Chang, as well as using the beer as an ingredient.

The reason why British Thai cuisine is more authentic, believes Max, is that it was a relative latecomer to the catering scene. "What has happened over the past 10 years is that many Thai people have come here and taken on pubs, and that has coincided with growth in interest in authentic food and raised consumer expectation - so Thai food is more authentic while Indian food is often stuck in the 1970s."

For the Chang recipes, Max has adapted a Thai style of eating called gap klaem. This is similar to tapas, with lots of individual dishes which can be mixed and matched. "In Thailand they tend to drink spirits with gap klaem, but it does go very well with beer - Chang is particularly good with spicy foods," he says. The dishes, which include delights such as steamed mussels, steamed spare ribs, and sesame crabcakes, are pub-friendly. "I wanted them to be the type of food you can enjoy sitting at the bar," adds Max.

Having now moved on from the George & Dragon, his next project will see him back in the British food arena. He plans to head up the kitchen in a pub in the Ashdown Forest area of Kent, working with foragers to source wild mushrooms and similar delicacies which grow in the area - watch this space.

Pubs serving Thai food are being invited to nominate their pubs for inclusion in the Chang Good Food Guide, due to be published later this year. Email your name, address and telephone number, quoting 'Publican' to by February 29.

For Max's recipes, click on the links on the right.

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