BY ANDREW NGUYEN
Photo by Emily Malan
Drive past any of Kris Yenbamroong’s Night + Market restaurants, and you’ll see a line out the door. Given he’s been a James Beard Award finalist multiple times for his unique take on Thai cooking, it’s not a surprise he has a devoted following. With three locations under his belt, Yenbamroong describes his hectic life as one fueled by “a mash up old school Thai with some ‘90s Asian-fusion influences” and lots of natural wine. If he wasn’t busy enough, he also launched an art gallery, Le Maximum, located next door to his Venice Beach location.
We caught up with the multi-tasking restaurateur where he talks of how he dreams of being stoned in nature, how caviar plays into his munchies, and the one Thai dish he can’t live without.
On growing up around cannabis: I was born and raised in LA but I moved to Thailand when I was in my early teens before moving back at 15. Some kid who was my neighbor introduced me to cannabis and then it was off to the races. It's something that historically I've loved, especially in my high school days and throughout college. I think I was kind of a hippie! I used to love rolling joints — there’s something nice about the process and it tastes good.
On his relationship with cannabis now: It sounds silly to say that I'm too busy to smoke weed but it’s true. The ritualistic aspect of rolling was very important to me, but I don't have enough time for that. These days I’m less about the psychoactive part. I'm already crazy enough! There's no ritual involved or romanticizing it — it's functional. I’ve shifted to taking edibles at night. I also keep vaporizer pens for chilling out and stress relief. I go for indicas or hybrids in lower doses. I’ve heard good things about CBD ointments and oils for muscles,which is something I've been wanting to check out.
On his ideal smoking session: I tell my wife all the time that I want to get a bong because it represents a different time in my life — zero cares in the world, zero at stake, broke as a joke, and so happy. That was probably the last time that I could give in to a situation. Now, I'm in charge of a lot of people and I have to be the one in control. I’ve got to plan a camping trip — I could get down with going out to the desert or up into the mountains. In that situation I can tap into the psychoactive experience.
On his approach to cooking: When I was starting out, I went through the period of wanting to do everything the most complicated way possible. I thought by making it difficult on myself that somehow the end product would be better. Except when you do a taste test you realize it’s no different and the simple way was just as good.
So the food that we make is really simple but bold — it’s spicy, salty, sour, and there’s a lot of texture. One of my favorite sayings that I got tattooed is, “Keep it simple, stupid.” I think it applies to everything.
The other thing that we consider is craveability. We want people to be thinking about what they ate two hours later or even the next day. They're having leftovers and are like, man, that was so good last night.
On his daily routine: In the morning it's always black coffee followed by juice. I get a custom cleanse from Pressed Juicery, so I'll put together six juices plus chlorophyll and aloe water. I work from home a lot but I’ll head into one of the restaurants for meetings and to try some food. I also have an art gallery so I’m working on emails, outreach, interviews, and showing people the artists’ work. Lunch is a delivery salad of some sort or sushi — I eat a lot of that. It's tough for me to go to bed if I'm not feeling satisfied by some dinner so I make sure to eat something substantial.
On his top 3 restaurants in LA: Shunji has the best sushi in LA. For breakfast, it’s Gjusta, and then I’ll hit Bar Amá for Tex-Mex.
On his favorite Thai dish: It would be larb which is a minced meat salad. There are different versions depending on what tradition you’re following. It's got everything that I like about the cuisine — spicy, salty, tart, herbal, and refreshing.
On his go-to munchies: I love the queso from Bar Amá. Otherwise it’s chips with sour cream, and caviar. But if I don't have caviar, then just chips in general — I crave anything salty.
On the best thing he’s made while stoned: Instead of wanting to do the simplest thing possible like I said earlier, when I get stoned I’ll do a really intricate meal. I'll go out and buy uni and make an uni carbonara with shredded seaweed and all the other trimmings.