Chefs Crank Up The Flavor with Thai-Inspired Ingredients

These days many chefs are using flavors sourced from all over the globe to entice their guests, with Thai being one of the most popular. Between the savory taste to the ultra-fresh ingredients, it makes sense why so many chefs are eager to add Thai-inspired dishes to their menu. 

“I think chefs are now getting into these flavors because you are able to shock the palate and surprise it in a fresh and clean way rather than using rich fats or heavy sauces, says Ani Meinhold, General Manager/Partner of Phuc Yea. “At a time when chefs are minding their health and lifestyle, Southeast Asian flavors are a remarkable and aromatic way to to add bursts of flavor to a number of preparations.” 

We spoke with a few chefs to get the real deal on using Thai ingredients, learning how they go about cranking up the flavor.

Jason Licker, Pasty Chef and Author of Lickerland: Asian‑Accented Dessert

Working in Southeast Asia and winner of “Iron Chef Thailand, Pastry Edition,” Jason Licker is a pro when it comes to understanding Thai food. 

“I started using Thai ingredients for years,” says Licker. “It depends on the genre of restaurant that I am working for, but if it is an Asian concept, I sometimes use Thai Tea, Sang Som (rum) or tropical fruits that can be found in that region.”

Licker associates these ingredients with culture, which allows him to bring different traditions together in one place when he uses them. “These ingredients are special to me because they are the foundation of a culture. I love immersing myself in these ingredients fusing them with my style.”

Ani Meinhold, General Manager/Partner of Phuc Yea

At her restaurant, Phuc Yea in Miami Ani Meinhold offers lots of Thai and Vietnamese flavors that encourage the palate. “A particular dish that encapsulates Southeast Asian sensibilities is the green papaya salad,” says Meinhold. “What makes this dish so unique is the balance of sweet, sour, spicy, crunchy and umami.”

Phuc Yea's green papaya salad

Ani’s team doesn’t play around when it comes to the ingredients used in this dish either, bringing one powerful punch made with unique components.

“We use an abundance of fresh herbs, a combination or spicy basil, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), cilantro and mint, and mash that up with spicy garlic and chili, sun-dried shrimp for salt and umami, and bring it together with fish sauce and lime," she says. "We take either green papaya or green mango in its unripe and crunchy phase and toss it together with the vinaigrette and more herbs. The result is a conglomeration of ingredients that are layered, bold and wildly textural.” 

Nicole Votano Gonzalez, Director of Operations/Chef at DIRT

Growing up in Hawaii and working under a chef in Thailand for many years, Nicole Votano Gonzalez knows a thing or two about properly using global ingredients in her cooking. She “understands the flavor profiles” of Thai ingredients and uses items like kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass to get the taste just right.

“Thai food tends to hit all corners of the palate: salty, spicy, sweet, tart, and bitter," says Gonzalez. "I think that makes it a very satisfying experience for the customer and for the chef creating it.”

Scott Linquist, Partner and Executive Chef of COYO Taco

Scott Linquist is all about using unique Thai ingredients in his Wynwood eatery, bringing out bold flavors to mix with his Mexican cuisine.   

"I love the fresh and spicy flavor profiles from Thailand and I believe they are very similar to Mexican cuisine which I enjoy cooking the most,” says Linquist. “There is also of freshness and bold flavors and blending it with Mexican ingredients make sense." 

And Linquist isn't afraid to experiment with a variety of ethnic flavors since he feels it's exactly what his guests are looking for. "I believe people are challenging their palates more and eating spicier foods which I want to encourage.”