A Michelin-starred chef with years of experience in Thai cuisine, chef Therdtus “Tony” Rittaprom from Zabb Pu Tawn in New York Upper East Side hopes to serve you the most authentic Northern Thai food. Winning the Most Innovative Award at Rib King NYC with his Gaeng Hung Lay Ribs, he hopes to feed more customers BBQ the Thai way, using Thai techniques with a little less spice than what he eats himself.
Food Karma: Can you tell us more about your culinary background?
Chef Tony: I learned cooking from my parents. I started from cooking for friends and family, and his friends and family members loved my cooking. So I decided to open a restaurant in Thailand and we got very good responses from the customers. Later on, I decided to do something bigger, a catering service right here in Thailand.
FK: When did you come to New York City?
CT: I had a chance to come here from Thailand ten years ago. And so I went and worked for multiple Thai restaurants to get more experience. And it was in 2015, when I was working for Zabb Elee in Queens that I won my Michelin star. Then I partnered up with Chanchai “Charles” Khampinchai right here to open up Zabb Pu Tawn in 2016. I love cooking and I prefer to focus more on the cooking to serve customers the most authentic Ishan and Northern Thai food.
Chanchai “Charles” Khampinchai: Anything that he serves his family, he serves his diners, with heart.
Tachchapak Rittaprom (Chef Tony’s Daughter): But so much less spicy!
FK: Can you tell us more about Northern Thai food?
CT: A famous dish from Northern regions is larb, which is ground pork with marinade with larb powder, which we imported from Thailand, along with other spices like chilies and peppers, and a special Thai spice called “macquet” to make it smell really good. And then there’s also the Hung Lay ribs which won the Most Innovative award at Rib King, which use ginger, tamarind juice and cumin powder all mixed together. I marinade Hung Lay paste with pork ribs overnight and slow-cook the next day for a few hours to make the ribs tender.
FK: What about Isan food?
CT: For Isan, there’s Laab Gai, which is a minced chicken salad, with chili powder, roasted rice powder, lime juice, fish sauce, cilantro and scallion, and mint leaves as well. If you like it spicier, we can add more chili powder. And then there is the Tom Zabb spare rib soup, with well-done pork ribs, chili, fish sauce, roasted rice powder, lime juice and garnished with cilantro and scallion also.
I also want to talk about Pad Thai, which is perhaps the most popular Thai food out there. I made the sauce for it from fish sauce, palm sugar and tamarind juice all mixed well together. This is authentic Thai, because other Thai restaurants would add vinegar, which is far too sour.
FK: Is cooking with rib and brisket a big part of Thai cooking?
CT: Yes! We grill a lot of ribs for Brisket King and Rib King, which is a big part of Thai cuisine. I have been BBQ-ing since I was in Thailand so I’m used to dealing with ingredients like these.
FK: Are there specific techniques and differences to BBQ-ing the Thai way?
CT: The most important thing to me when grilling is the marinade. I usually marinade the beef overnight to make it more tender, and serve it with my special tamarind-based sauce to customers. In terms of techniques, I use high flame to make the outside more crispy while keeping the inside tender, and I flip the meat often to make sure it’s not burned.
FK: Have you been to other events like Rib King and Brisket King?
CT: These were our firsts.
FK: And how did you feel being a part of them?
CT: I was really happy when I got the invitation. I had so much fun there and I loved meeting all the customers in person, and they loved my cooking also!
CK: There was a long line of people waiting for his ribs!
FK: At Brisket King, you had a dish with an interesting backstory called “Crying Tiger Ribs.” Can you tell us more about the story and if you have any other similar backstory for your dishes?
CT: So a hunter went into the woods, and he saw a cow with a tiger bite. He then took the beef from the cow and he grilled it on an open flame, with delicious fat dripping down onto the fire. That is the tears that we were talking about. But the tiger was also crying because he couldn’t eat the yummy beef that the hunter was having right in front of his eyes.
FK: Such an awesome origin story! And how was winning the Most Innovative award at Rib King?
CT: I’m definitely very happy and proud of what I’ve done. I’m also very happy with customers’ response to my cooking-with-heart approach.
FK: In the future, do you plan to expand the menu and dive deeper into BBQ-ing?
CT: We have already been adding to our menu here at Zabb Pu Tawn, and we will be sure to accept any invites to similar events in the near future.
FK: Do you have anything else to share with our readers?
CT: That’s all for now, but I will be off to make Crying Tiger ribs for you right now!
As you might expect, I had a really good meal at Zabb Pu Tawn, with Crying Tiger ribs, chicken feet spicy soup and house-made sticky rice, all cooked by Chef Tony. If you want the delicious food without having to write a whole article, support Zabb Pu Tawn here and follow their actions on social media platforms.