D.C. Chef Imports Authentic Thai Flavor and Flair

In January, Hernan Murno, Executive Chef and owner of Washington, D.C. based BasiKneads Catering, broadened his culinary horizons during a month-long trip to Thailand. Murno spent time in the mountainous north, cosmopolitan Bangkok and the sunny beaches of the south. A short excursion to Siam Reap in Cambodia rounded out the adventure. ?Thailand is a very diverse country, and you will taste it in the food?, says Murno. He elaborates, ?a local curry made in the north, with definite Burmese flavors, will be completely different than what you will encounter in the Muslim-influenced south.?

Murno was invited to work with chefs in Chiang Rai and Krabi to get first-hand experience with Thai cuisine and ornamental fruit carving. He explains, ?the Thais have a long tradition with elaborate presentation, and it is possible to incorporate some of these exquisite styles into our more upscale menu presentations.? At a wedding recently catered by BasiKneads for an Asian-American couple, Murno garnished the buffet with ornamental carvings that gave the decor a decidedly South-east Asian touch.

How Do You Like Your Honeybee?

From trendy restaurants in Bangkok, to hole-in-the-wall noodle shops in Chiang Mai, Murno spent his time tasting as much as he could, and whenever possible, sneaking into the kitchen to observe local cooking techniques. ?I was not nervous about sampling from street vendors ? I just used common sense?, meaning patronizing vendors whose carts were immaculately clean, popular with locals, and who served food piping hot. Some of the more adventurous foods that he tasted include ants? eggs and honeybees. ?One street vendor made omelets cooked in tiny boats made from banana leaf. You would choose what topping you wanted, and honey bee and ants? eggs were specials of the day.? When asked if he would be adding these ingredients to any of the BasiKneads menus, Murno replied, ?some Washingtonians still get nervous about quail eggs ? I don?t think all of our clients are quite ready for ants? eggs.? Maybe in a few years?

Exotic Ingredients

?I love this curry!?, exclaimed an eager bride-to-be during a private tasting hosted at BasiKneads? kitchen. Murno thinks part of the secret is in the ingredients. The chef says that the trip, ?introduced me to ingredients that are commonly used in a typical Thai kitchen, such as Thai eggplant and green peppercorn, but are too often overlooked here in the States, even in some of the best Thai restaurants.?

Evidence of this is also shown in BasiKneads? latest version of Pad Thai. ?Many American Thai restaurants ?doctor-up? their Pad Thai to Western tastes by adding bottled chili sauce or even ketchup. I make my Pad Thai using a more authentic recipe, resulting in a lighter and less sweet dish ? different from what some of us are used to around here.? The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

A Tropical Fusion Menu At a March dinner catered for the Board of Directors of the World Resources Institute, an international environmental think tank, BasiKneads presented a new ?fusion? menu inspired by Murno's recent trip. Guests were treated to a dinner where each course featured a different tropical fruit, such as mangosteen, guava and carambola. The menu included Duck Breast with Pink Peppercorn and Passion Fruit Sauce, Chilled Star Fruit and Crab Cakes with Bloody Mary Sauce and Fresh Coconut Flan with Lime Sorbet and Caramelized Water Chestnuts.

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About The Author, Andrew Crane