By Annalisa D’Alessio
World Food Tour caught up with Sanguan Parr, head chef at Nipa Thai in London, and learned about how she fell into the restaurant business, her favourite dish to cook and her go to eateries in the capital.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the food business?
Sanguan Parr: I grew up in Thailand, where there is a lot of importance placed on learning to cook at school. I also learnt a huge amount throughout my childhood just watching my mum cook at home. I first started to get into cooking by teaching at a friend’s house, but before that I was a housewife. Lots of people would come to our house for dinner parties and they were always so interested in the Thai food I cooked. I realised there were people who wanted to learn how to make similar dishes, so I started to teach.
But really, I fell into the restaurant business, it happened completely by chance. I happened to know the previous executive chef at Nipa Thai in London who mentioned they were hiring, so I went for the job. The head chef at the time didn’t think I would last six months, but here I am as head chef 20 years later.
Q: What would you be if you hadn’t been a chef?
SP: I would be a teacher for sure, that’s what my mother wanted me to be.
Q: What is your favourite dish to cook?
SP: My signature dish is probably Pad Thai, but I also love to cook Tom Kha soup. Tom Kha is slightly different to Tom Yum which is very well-known. Tom Kha is made of chicken and coconut, and you have to get the delicate balance of flavours just right as the soup is sweet, sour and spicy all at the same time. Having said that, it only takes two minutes to rustle it up!
Q: What are the five ingredients you always keep in your fridge?
SP: Lemongrass, chilli, garlic, shrimp paste, lime.
Q: What’s your go-to restaurant in London and why?
SP: Carluccio’s is great when we’re looking for something quick and easy, but still very nice. For special occasions it’s Kitchen W8 in Kensington—the food is excellent and the service is very good!
Q: Who are your inspirations, both in and out of the kitchen?
SP: My inspiration is my family. They support me with everything I want to do.
Q: Who is your chef idol?
SP: Without a doubt, Mary Berry!
Q: Can you tell us about a particularly memorable moment in your career?
SP: When I was asked to cook for the Thai Nation Day, which is the King’s birthday.
Q: You can only live on one cuisine for the rest of your life. Which one would it be?
SP: It would have to be Thai cuisine. I could live on fried fish with rice and morning glory.
Q: What is your favourite food fad and why?
SP: Anything to do with chicken wings! I find them so tasty, and love food you can eat with your hands.
Q: What’s your best-kept cooking secret or tip?
SP: Just to keep everything simple, and to enjoy your cooking.
Q: Do you have any future predictions for the food industry?
SP: I hope the food industry will be booming again, because most young career people and professionals don’t always have time to cook, so going out to eat is definitely the best alternative!
Q: Do you have any exciting plans and projects coming up in the future?
SP: Nipa Thai will be collaborating with Chang Beer in May, keep an eye out for it!
See also: Interview: Laura Petersen, Head Pastry Chef at The Coal Shed London
Interview: Steve Penny, Head Pastry Chef at Royal Lancaster London