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There is nothing ordinary about Chef McDang and his rise to become one of the world experts on Thai cooking. Born into the Thai royal family, Chef McDang followed in the family tradition to go overseas to boarding school at 12 years old. Later he enrolled at Georgetown University, with a plan to realize the family goal of entering into the foreign ministry. But somewhere along the way, plans changed. Chef McDang enrolled in culinary school, the Culinary Institute of America, and put his life on a totally different trajectory. If not for this bold decision to go against the family wishes, no doubt Thailand would not have it’s most visible ambassador of Thai cuisine.

Reflecting on his life, Chef McDang agrees it might not have been entirely unforeseen, this move into the culinary world.  “My mother was a wonderful cook. And I grew up going into the royal kitchen, taking in the smells and senses of the kitchen,” says Chef McDang. Further, Chef McDang’s father, is a well known food writer, singer, TV personality and had his own radio show for 45 years. When asked about the inspiration from his family, Chef McDang says, “Yes, I am following in my father’s footsteps, and his shadow is very long.”

But it wasn’t always the case that Chef McDang was known for Thai food. He spent 20 years in America and ended up opening a restaurant there, the Back Porch Cafe, featuring modern American cuisine with flourishes of Thai.  But eventually after some serious thought, he decided to return to Thailand to be with his family. “I took the best of what American culture has to offer…” says Chef McDang, clearly wistful about his time in the US, “…and also the same with Thai culture.” In doing so he feels he has experienced the best of both worlds. And it was only when he came back to Thailand that he started thinking about his role in Thai culinary culture.

It started when the Thai Foreign Ministry asked him to go back to the US and do a lecture series on Thai food.  And shortly thereafter the first book on Thai food was written by David Thompson, an Englishman. And Chef McDang asked himself, “why are there no Thais writing about Thai food?” And a mission was born. Out of this came a weekly TV show on Thai cooking that airs in Thailand every Monday, a cookbook sold worldwide (The Principles of Thai Cookery) and many guest appearances on shows you have no doubt heard of like Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” and Gordon Ramsay’s “Gordon’s Great Escape.” Chef McDang says, “I wanted to bring real Thai food to the world!” And so he has.

Below is one of my favourite Thai dishes, also a national Thai favourite, as prepared by Chef McDang. I like this particular dish best with ground or minced chicken, but as you will see below, there are several variations. You can visit Chef McDang’s website for more recipes and to find his cookbook.

Pad Krapao

(Stirfried beef with holy basil)

12 ounce                                 tenderloin , sliced *
6 cloves                                  Garlic, peeled
6-8 each                                 Thai red and green chili peppers
½ tsp.                                     Salt
4 Tbsp.                                    Vegetable oil
½ cup                                     Onion, diced small
1 Tbsp.                                    Fish sauce
1 Tbsp.                                    Oyster sauce
½ tsp.                                     Sugar
1 cup                                        Thai holy basil, picked

* You can do this with any of protein (chicken, pork, beef, or seafood).

1.  Pound the garlic, Thai chili peppers and salt together. Reserve.
2.  Heat up the wok until very hot and add vegetable oil.
Add the pounded garlic and Thai chili peppers and stir-fry until fragrant.
Add the chopped onion and stir.
3.  Add sliced beef to the wok, quickly stir-fry until sliced beef stiffens
but not yet cooked. Seasoned with fish sauce, oyster sauce and a bit
of sugar stir to mix and cook. Turn off heat, seafood should not be
over cooked or it would become too rubbery.
4.  Before plating the dish add the basil leaves and toss in the pan to wilt.

Serve hot with rice and Thai fried egg (over easy fried egg with crispy fried edges).

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