Lao Culinary Luminary: Thav Phouthavong’s Michelin Star Journey from London to Thailand

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Lao Culinary Luminary: Thav Phouthavong's Michelin Star Journey from London to Thailand
A Michelin Star Lao-British Chef Thav Phouthavong

Born in Belgium and raised in New Malden, London, in the late 90s, Michelin-starred chef Thav Phouthavong’s culinary journey took root in the heart of a Lao household, where both parents, originally from Savannakhet, strived to keep their culture alive. His journey into the world of Asian flavors began as a young observer of his mother’s kitchen endeavors.

“From the very young age of nine, I started with simple things like cakes and fried eggs, then progressed to more advanced dishes,” Thav reminisced.

But his career trajectory took an unexpected turn at the age of 24. Despite initial contemplations of a career in advertising, a “click” moment occurred. He resolved to channel his passion for fine dining, redirecting his path into the bustling kitchens of London.

“Having Asian parents, it was hard at first. My father, who has experience in the industry, wasn’t keen, but they saw my passion and let me choose my career path. Now, I’m a chef.”

While his initial foray may have been rooted in Lao traditions, the young chef’s palate transcended borders. Today, this culinary path has earned him a Michelin star as a testament to his expertise in Southeast Asian cuisine.

In a conversation with the Laotian Times, the now-acclaimed chef shared insights into his journey and dived into his deep passion for Lao-Thai cuisine that traces back to his childhood in the United Kingdom.

From cherishing his roots to basking in the glow of his Michelin-acclaimed success at Bangkok’s renowned 80/20 restaurant, the Lao-British chef emphasized that the award symbolizes a commitment to top-quality ingredients and the preparation of dishes with consistently distinct flavors.

“It’s an absolute honor and privilege to receive the most prestigious accolade in the culinary world,” Thav said. “I would like to pay gratitude to my team; without them, this wouldn’t have been possible.”

Chef Thav cooking in the kitchen of 80/20 restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand
Chef Thav cooking in the kitchen of 80/20 restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand

Thav Phouthavong’s journey through the culinary world has been shaped by a decade of diverse experiences in London’s top kitchens. Notable among them are the 2 Michelin Stars Hibiscus, the avant-garde 50 Days by Albert Adria, and the local favorite Taiwanese restaurant Bao, along with its fine dining counterpart, Xu. Thav also acknowledged the influence of Michelin-starred Lao-American chef James Syhabout, specialized in Western cuisine. Despite not meeting in person, Thav expressed a genuine desire to try Syhabout’s food and meet him someday, drawing inspiration from his culinary expertise.

Despite this rich tapestry of culinary influences, his heart remains tethered to his passion for Lao and Thai cuisine.

His father’s work at the “Blue Elephant” Thai restaurant motivated Thav’s desire to present a Lao take on Thai cuisine, carving out a distinctive culinary identity.

Drawing a flavorful distinction, Thav compared Lao cuisine to its Isan counterpart in Northeast Thailand. He pointed out the unique umami profile in Lao dishes and their preference for less sweetness compared to Isan cuisine.

“It’ll be great to sort of punch into that market and go there, being able to showcase Lao food in a different way, and hopefully that will help with tourism. If I can set up a base in Laos and attract people to the country, that would be amazing.”

Thav Phouthavong’s journey exemplifies the fusion of cultural influences and a deep-rooted passion for culinary excellence, leading him from London kitchens to the heart of Southeast Asian flavors.