Compliments to the Iron Chef of Thailand

The Hot Basil Chicken deserves much more recognition than it receives. At many Thai-centric restaurants, this stir fry number is overshadowed by its punchier accompaniments; ask around and most would associate the cuisine with sinus-stripping pots of Tom Yum Goong or a hearty Pad Thai fix. 

From the bustling kitchen of Soi Social, Resorts World Sentosa’s lively slice of Thailand, Hot Basil – or Krapow in Thai – is crafted masterfully in the hands of decorated chef and restaurateur Ian Kittichai, who professes the unassuming plate to be one of his favourites. The dish is available in three variations at Soi Social, pork, chicken and beef, but besides its embodiment of key Thai flavours, Chef Kittichai enjoys its versatility, even when the meat is switched out for plant-based protein.

Above all else, the Iron Chef of Thailand does not compromise on the herbs and spices that he was raised on.

Unlike most renowned chefs, Chef Kittichai’s first foray into the culinary profession was purely coincidental. At 16, he found himself working as a server at London’s Waldorf Hotel, after deciding that he would like to pick up a course in logistics while being able to practice his English. The thought of becoming a chef never once crossed his mind during his time washing pots and serving tables, that is, until he was called upon to fill in for a cook who called in sick one fateful day. “But I can’t cook; I can’t do anything in the kitchen,” he recounts. Nevertheless, with an impending cover of 120 guests for lunch, Chef Kittichai wound up helming the salad station. Thankfully, the lunch service went on without a hitch, but the pro tem pantry chef was faced with yet another life-changing question.

“Do you want to be a chef?”

He laughs with a hint of incredulity at the account. “I was 16 at that time and I really hadn’t thought about it. And then they sent me to culinary school.”

Fortunately, this wouldn’t have been the first time his life intertwined with his gastronomical journey. In his early years, Chef Kittichai spent his mornings driving the family tuk-tuk truck to the wet market to pick up fresh produce for his mother’s food pushcart business. “When I was 13, my sister taught me how to drive so I could help my mom out. She used to sell curry rice out of her pushcart, and we would drive to the market in the mornings at around 2.30am. Then I’d sleep in the vehicle for three hours until it was time for me to go to school.” This became the routine for young Kittichai, who worked tirelessly beside his mother for two years before graduating. “I saw my mom working all year round and she was really hardworking,” he expresses fondly, stating that the experience motivated him to set out on a different path.

Shortly after returning to Bangkok, Chef Kittichai eventually went on to become the first Thai executive chef at Four Seasons Bangkok. Though he had a lineup of 130 chefs under his command, it was clear that he hungered for something far greater. “I told the general manager at that time that if I was to be promoted, I wanted to go on educational trips to learn from the top chefs.” There, a deal was struck and he was granted the opportunity to work at Four Seasons Florida, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, and subsequently, at various free-standing restaurants across the States.

Since then, Chef Kittichai has gone on to establish a slew of his own restaurants, starting with the eponymous Kittichai, a sultry bistro within New York’s SIXTY SoHo, flagship home Issaya Siamese Club and its confectionery counterpart Issaya La Patisserie. Finally, his journey has taken him southwards and onto our shores for Soi Social; a 102-seater eatery that bears the warmth and soul of the Thai culinary scene. 

We wanted to create a relaxed and fun place for people to experience elevated casual Thai cuisine with great beverages. Soi means street in Thai and Social is the social dining aspect we highlight in the restaurant. It’s a place to come with your friends and family and enjoy a delicious lunch or night out for dinner.

Chef Ian Kittichai

Today, Soi Social beckons locals and tourists alike, presenting a bountiful menu that transports palates across coasts. A cacophonous aromatic teaser fills the air upon arrival, alluding to the heavenly piquant dishes that feature elements from the land to the sea, including Chef Kittichai’s personal favourite – alongside the classic Hot Basil, of course – Nua Yang Jim Jaew, an elegant plate of marinated Kagoshima A4 Striploin that’s grilled to excellence over charcoal, then served with an absolutely decadent sauce made with tamarind, palm sugar, fish sauce, dried chilli, shallots, sawtooth coriander and rice powder.

Somehow, through all his hard-earned accolades, Chef Kittichai remains as humble and diligent as ever, opting to busy himself with kitchen tasks such as the peeling of vegetables. “A chef I work with once asked me, ‘What kind of chef do you want to be? Do you want to be an executive chef or a restaurant chef?’ I replied, ‘Well, as long as I can be at the stove cooking, I’m happy.’”

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