Yoong Chan Restaurant - The Systematic Artistry of Neo Chinese Cuisine

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Yoong Chan Restaurant - The Systematic Artistry of Neo Chinese Cuisine

Chef Air, Kulapol Samsen, was actually my student 10 years or so ago at the Comm Arts Inter program of Chulalongkorn University. He was a bright student, performing well in the courses he liked, but I don’t think I ever realised how talented he is till we sat down and talked at his Yoong Chang Restaurant on Soi Ari Samphan 6, not far from the Ministry of Finance.

The dining room feels like an ancient Chinese tavern dating back to the Three Kingdoms era with its strong, rustic wooden tables and new, more comfortable and convenient, upholstered, classic, W-bone, curved back wooden seating. The walls are a natural trowelled concrete finish with large windows that afford natural lighting during the day that is replaced by indirect lighting after sunset.

Before we began our interview, I was served a very delicious and refreshing ice red Ceylonese tea in a dark brown, pseudo-antique ceramic vase ordered from Lampang which Chef Air said became an instant Instagram photo sensation.

What impressed me most about Chef Air is his practicality. After graduation, he opened a sound studio and composed music for films and advertisements, and he became successful quite quickly. After a few years though, he realised that as music evolved, he found it difficult to keep up and really didn’t like the new sounds. So, rather than make money but be miserable doing it, he closed the studio and turned much sooner to his second passion, food, and decided to open a restaurant sooner than later and give up the aspiration of building a network of sound studios and production houses.

“Growing up, my mother taught my brothers and I to be quite discerning in the food we would eat. At home, if I liked something, I had to be quick or my brothers would take it all, and when we went out I would listen closely as my mother, who is actually Chef Pom [ML Kwantip Devakula] of Celebrity Chef Thailand, could be quite critical about different dishes’ tastes and textures.”

So, next, he enrolled in the Basic Cuisine and later a more advanced cuisine course at Le Cordon Blue Dusit Culinary School where he learned from he says, “my mentor, Christian Ham”, now the chef at Centara Grand’s Red Sky restaurant and bar at Central World. After a short stint in the kitchen of Gaa restaurant, Chef Air decided to open a Chinese restaurant and when I asked him why, he answered, “After studying the market, I thought I had the best chance of succeeding. With most cuisines, the chefs are always trying to outdo each other, to introduce new, more intriguing recipes while the goal of Chinese restaurants is to perfect and preserve rather than develop and progress their menus. Thus, it’s less competitive.”

So, Chef Air went in search of a Chinese cooking school, and when he had nearly given up at finding a serious school, he discovered Martha Sherpa. “After reading all the negative reviews by students who said they were worked too hard, I realized this was the place for me, and I was right. There was no screwing around here; the curriculum focused on strict discipline, following recipes to the letter.”

During his two-month course, whenever free, Chef Air was out tasting and learning about new dishes, two lunches and two dinners at least per day. He also went to Shanghai to explore the culinary world there. Then, he came back and entered an internship at the Shang Palace, Shangri-la Hotel Bangkok.

After this, he felt ready and began looking for a location. His plan was to open a Hong Kong barbecue using American techniques, and after finding the site on Soi Ari Samphan 6, designing and then constructing the restaurant, a week before opening he realized he had miscalculated and not allocated enough cold storage space for the suckling pigs, fowl and beef to make a profit. Chef Air explained, “In professional cooking, everything is dictated by numbers, weight, temperature and time. It all has to be very systematic.”

To solve his problem, Chef Air decided to sell his own version of a Chinese pasta, Shanghai Biang Biang Mian hand-pulled noodles with marinated egg yolk and fried shallots. He opened on time, serving seven different Biang Biang Mian dishes and after the first posts on social media on a Friday night that grew to 300 shares and a reach of 7,000, the following night, he was sold out within an hour. And as Chef Air says, “It’s been uphill since then.”

Chef Air describes his cuisine as Neo Chinese. Many of the dishes are Sichuan inspired, like the sour, numbing Drooling Dumplings (wanton), tantalizing Sichuan-style Stir-fried String Beans and “Kung Pow”, Tasmanian wagyu short ribs which are prepared ‘sous vide’ for 24 hours, which is French for under vacuum, so the beef falls off the bone and remains soft and tender before being stir-fried with crispy garlic and chilli.

Chef Air now also features a number of barbecue dishes, like his quite mouth-watering Chinese Smoked BBQ Pork. A delicious appetiser that should not be forgotten is Chef Air’s Shaanxi’s “Rou Jia Mo”, a Chinese-style gravied burger served with a kind of pocket pita and Mala sour cream and pickles salsa. Another delectable treat is Chef Air’s Yun Cha, raw shrimp served in a Sichuan-inspired broad bean and peppercorn oil sauce, which is delicious with some form of citrus.

Yoong Chan is open from 10.30 am to 9.30 pm everyday but Tuesday.

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