ALBANY PARK — On the heels of opening his second restaurant, Taste of Thai Town in the old Albany Park police station, chef Arun Sampanthavivat's next step is television.
The chef's new show, hosted by the ABC7's Steve "The Hungry Hound" Dolinsky and directed by Marc Rita, is called the "Thailand Kitchen of the World." It airs in September on WTTW-Channel 11 in Chicago.
"Thai food is so rich. We did stir-fried noodles, spicy salad, satay, curry — we did so many things," Sampanthavivat said at his new restaurant's opening.
The show is funded by the Thai Trade Center-Chicago, a government agency of the Thailand Ministry of Commerce, solely to promote Thai cuisine. The series is written by Joe Yau.
Chet Hocharoen, senior marketing officer for the trade center, said Sampanthavivat was chosen because he has successfully shared authentic Thai cooking with a wider audience.
"We chose Arun for his traditional flavors, and because he is well-known in the Midwest," Hocharoen said.
The program features four 30-minute episodes featuring James Beard Foundation-award winning chefs learning to cook Thai dishes from Sampanthavivat.
Martin Yan of "Yan Can Cook," Jimmy Bannos Jr. of The Purple Pig, Carrie Nahabedian of Naha and Brindille, and Takashi Yagihashi of The Slurping Turtle are the four chefs, with a "pad thai throwdown" in one episode between Sampanthavivat and Yan.
Director Marc Rita said all four chefs except Bannos have extensive experience in Thai cooking. They filmed episodes in Chicago and restaurants in Minneapolis, and finished in October.
Dolinsky said they covered a lot of ground in four episodes, highlighting Sampanthavivat's signature traditional flavors and introducing viewers to a variety of Thai dishes, including curry, which the chef and Dolinsky say distinguishes Thai cuisine, instead of noodle dishes like pad thai.
"We did two versions of pad thai, my version, and Martin Yan's version, his creative version," Sampanthavivat said, mentioning that for the show, Yan cooked a Chinese version of the famous noodle dish.
"Pad thai gets Americanized when they take shortcuts and use ketchup instead of tamarind," Dolinsky said at last Friday's restaurant opening.
"Hey, you know tamarind!" Sampanthavivat said, tapping Dolinsky on the shoulder. "The real pad thai, with the tamarind, has shallots and cilantro and sauce with palm sugar and fish sauce, lime juice, egg, bits of tofu, dried shrimps even, sweet turnips, you name it. And bean sprouts. And garlic chives, not green onion — garlic chives. That's the real pad thai."
"Pad thai is famous because it's approachable," Dolinsky says. "It's the curries that really reflect the region, they reflect the culture, they reflect the local ingredients. Just like a mole would have 30 ingredients, great Thai curry's gonna have two dozen ingredients also."
Sampanthavivat's business partner Sunny Leon remembers one time when the chef made a curry dish with 18 ingredients.
"Eighteen ingredients!" Leon said. "To me, it's a waste of time. But it tasted so good."
"My favorite thing is curry," said Sampanthavivat, "green curry, red curry. All kinds of curry. It's the heart of Thai cooking."
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