6/26/2013 12:33:00 PM

A Chat With Spin Modern Thai Chef Ek Timrerk

Photo by Alberto Martinez
One of the best-kept secrets in Austin, chef Ek Timrerk has quite the distinguished resume. You know that chicken karaage you love so dearly at East Side King? Yeah, he developed that recipe, as well as a few others on the menu. He also helped his sister Titaya develop her menu for her well-known Thai restaurant on Lamar and worked at Uchi before opening his current venture, Spin Modern Thai, way up on 183 North. The Thailand native’s creative take on Thai food has been calling Central Austinites up north for over a year. So what’s it like to work with Paul Qui? Is Titaya’s really just temporarily closed? Timrerk sat down with us to answer these questions and more.

Zagat: When you were a kid, were you interested in food? 

Ek Timrerk: Not at all! Food didn’t amaze me until I started working in an actual restaurant. It was eye-opening for me. My sister started a Thai restaurant called Titaya’s, and me and my sister began to learn how to cook from my mom. She trained us to open that restaurant. We learned how to do basic Thai cooking. Afterward, when I was working at Uchi, I like to do friends' private dinners. So they pick what they want to eat, and then I try to do seven ways with one protein. That would be part of my routine practice.

Zagat: Switching over to East Side King for a second, how did you develop recipes with Paul Qui and Moto Utsonomiya? 

ET: Our recipes and the original menu was what we made for family meal at Uchi. Some days we’d be frying some beets and we’d be like, “Man this tastes good. We’re going to make a bunch of money on this.”

Zagat: What’s it like to work with Paul Qui in a sweaty trailer? 

ET: He’s great. He’s a good visioner. Always has something to amaze me. He’s a surprise.

Zagat: What do you like better, working at the sushi bar or cooking Thai food? 

ET: I like them all. I miss making sushi. But it’s more fun, the way that I approach this new Thai style cooking, I get to play with how to make traditional Thai food. I love traditional Thai food. But in my opinion, there are a lot of things that could be done with it, different ways, different approaches.

Zagat: Do you feel like Spin fits in with the modern Thai scene, like Sway? 

ET: I think it’s a great stepping up for Thai cooking. In reality, since I’ve been back to Thailand, food is changing there too. It’s not like it used to be when I was growing up. We’re taking influences from foreign countries. It’s crazy in Thailand right now.

Zagat: How so? 

ET: Japanese influence is pretty big over there. The restaurants that are popping up in Thailand are doing more modernized food. Different ingredients. Also we have a lot of new Thai restaurants that are using techniques from molecular gastronomy. More foreigners are coming in. And people are more open to the new modern food now.

Zagat: Would the food at Spin make sense in Thailand? 

ET: Absolutely.

Zagat: Is your mom still over there? 

ET: She comes back and forth. She lives in Austin, though.

Zagat: What does your mom think about your modern Thai food? 

ET: She felt a little weird about it at first. But the more I presented it to her by cooking at home and showing her, she started to come to realize it could be this way. She has opened up to it. Every once in a while she comes into the restaurant and I ask her to show me traditional dishes that I love that she used to make me. I’ll play around with it and make it something new.

Zagat: So you mentioned Titaya’s. The rumor is that it’s closed for good, although it has a sign saying it’s closed for renovations. What’s the deal? 

ET: She’s doing a whole new renovation. She’s redoing everything, the interior design. She’s expanding the kitchen, redoing the dining rooms, new complete look. She’s going to keep a little more than half of the menu, the popular items. Then I’m going to help her create a special menu, something like that, to go with it. We’re going to try to make it a little more upscale.

Zagat: Will the special menu be more modern? 

ET: Right. There will be some traditional stuff too, but there will be some modern stuff in there. The construction should be done by the end of August or early September. It will probably take us a month after that to put the food together.

Zagat: Coming back to Spin, how did you get the idea to do a modern Thai restaurant? You were still at Uchi and East Side King at the time, right? 

ET: It just - no one has done it here.

Zagat: How has it been to be up north? Do you feel like you’re still part of the culinary conversation? 

ET: I think so. I’m sure if we were closer to central and south, we’d be much busier. But I believe that if food is good, people will come.

Zagat: Where does your inspiration comes from? 

ET: A lot of TV shows that I watch that are Thai cooking from my favorite chefs that are broadcast from Thailand. I also try to make a trip back to Thailand once in a while. Me and my mom will do an eating tour, where we’ll start in the north part of Thailand and go east, central, south, then back to the north.

Zagat: I hear you moved to Germany when you were in your late teens with your family. What did you think of the food there? 

ET: I was influenced by a lot of Mediterranean cooking over there, like Turkey-style food, Moroccan food, stuff from Spain and Germany itself. I do a little bit of German cooking here too, especially in our family meals. I have a friend who will bring in ghost chiles and scorpion chiles, so I’ll make a goulash with them.

Zagat: If you could teach one thing about Thai cooking, what would it be? 

ET: Keep it simple. Keep to how we pair ingredients and herbs in Thai cooking. My first recipe to cook or marinate meat would be cilantro stems, garlic and black pepper.

Zagat: What do you like to do when you’re not in the kitchen? 

ET: I play blues. I sit down and play a couple of hours on the guitar. I learned from Moto. He’s a great blues player. He has a band called Texas East Side Kings, which is where we got the name for the trailer. All of his band members are like in their 60s and 70s, so he’s the youngest one. And they’re all in the Texas Blues Hall of Fame. When I began with Moto, I watched him play guitar and slowly learned how to play blues from him. I don’t play out. I just play as a hobby.

Zagat: What’s next for the Spin team? 

ET: A lot of people are asking us if we’re going to try to move locations. We keep that in the back of our mind. If we get a chance to move closer to central, we will. But right now, we’re just refining what we started here.


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