Top Mekong River Chef

| Thursday, 22 May 2014
Superstar Asian Chef David Thompson of Australia Joins Aqua Mekong River Cruiser
Mealtime on faraway river cruisers used to be an afterthought.  After all, you’re sailing such remote waters for spectacular scenery, and exotic cultures and wildlife – not to tuck into haute cuisine.  But times are changing.  As river cruising grows more popular, the lines are dramatically upping the culinary ante.  Even in the middle of the jungle.  Take the new Aqua Mekong, debuting September 2014.  Its menus should reach glorious new foodie heights.  So much so, gastronome-minded guests may forget to debark the boat and see the sights.  
Why the hoopla for this particular boat?  Because David Thompson is executive chef.  I’ve been following this Australian chef’s career since his Sydney restaurant debut.   Thompson lived in Thailand in the late 1980s and opened Darley Street Thai in Sydney in 1991.  It was voted “Best Thai Restaurant” eight years running by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.  In 1995, Thompson debuted Sailors’ Thai, taking Thai cuisine to a sophisticated next level.  Plus he authored two world-acclaimed Thai cookbooks.
The buzz over Thompson’s cooking reached the United States.  How could an Australian chef cook such incomparable Thai cuisine?  When Thompson opened Nahm London, and earned the first-ever Michelin star awarded for Thai cuisine, I discovered why the culinary world was so enchanted.  I ate at Nahm London.  I was catching up with old friends, but could scarcely focus on the conversation.  
If you believe in past lives, you might believe Thompson was a Thai chef to royalty in one life, and Escoffier in another.  He layers so much flavor into each dish, the closest to comparing his cooking complexity is with mille-feuille (1,000 leaves); French dessert that tastes like the puff pastry has 1,000 layers compressed into a few noticeable ones.  
Despite the explosion of taste in each Thompson dish, every bite is utter harmony -- like the culinary version of a Thai temple.  Serene and beautiful.
In 2004, Thompson moved back to Bangkok and opened Nahm Bangkok, recognized in 2012 and 2013 among the prestigious “World’s Best 50 Restaurants” list.  This year, he secured the number one spot on the same VIP list as “Asia’s best restaurant.”
Thompson will not be an absentee chef, a celebrity lending his name only to the Aqua Mekong.  I’m not saying he’ll make every sail.  But he will guide its culinary program carefully.  The man is a perfectionist.  He didn’t reach world-renowned stature as an MIA chef.
By the way, the Aqua Mekong itself should be stunning.  It’s the third luxury vessel for Aqua Expeditions.  The company claims this 40-guest boat is the first luxury ship to travel up and down the Mekong River, between Cambodia and Vietnam.  The ship carries a strong “sense of place.”  Interiors are built of local sustainable materials, with artisanal touches of the Mekong’s multifaceted cultures.  Count on a fitness center, library, screening room and observation deck for relaxing onboard time.  Luxe and large (320-square-feet) accommodations include a pillow-top bed and daybed.  Some have private balconies. 
The dining room will be decorated with fresh tropical flowers.  And fittingly, David Thompson’s cuisine – which will be prepared with riverside market finds and incorporate Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodia influences – will be served on elegant fine china.  I, for one, can’t wait to feast on his food.    (     

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