The master chef of fermentation

Phanuphon "Black" Bulsuwan, 35, is the chef and owner of Blackitch Artisan Kitchen in Chiang Mai. A self-taught cook, chef Black creates his daily menu based on season and culture, meaning that there is no specific cuisine to describe the dishes he makes. His restaurant's unique dining experience caters to only 16 guests per seating, served across two tables. He is also known as the local master of fermentation techniques, knowing about its misconceptions and the benefits it brings to the food ingredients. He has also partaken in many food events, the latest being Mad Face Food Week, which takes place until Sunday, at the Pepsi Pier on Charoen Nakhon Road.

How did you start your cooking career? Where did your inspiration to create unique recipes come from?

I grew up in my grandma's restaurant. It's been with me ever since I learnt how to run around her kitchen. I love being in the kitchen and cooking food for others to eat, but everyone didn't want me to become a cook because it wasn't considered a stable career. I ended up studying civil engineering, but once I graduated and worked until I was able to do anything that I wanted, I went back to learn how to cook to the point where I was able to open up my own restaurant. I started to learn how to cook in third grade using whatever I had in my kitchen, but nobody ate what I cooked except for my sister and that was the point where I thought to myself that I have to cook in a way that others accept it. I like experimenting and trying new things out and hope that it can be beneficial to others, more or less.

Do you plan to expand your restaurant outside of Chiang Mai?

I love Chiang Mai, even if I wasn't born here. I grew up here and want to stay here. If I have a plan to expand my restaurant, it would have to be within Chiang Mai. It is close to nature and could be able to do good things for people. But if there are more opportunities, I would like to expand through all over Thailand because each location is special on its own.

How do you come up with the recipes for Blackitch Artisan Kitchen?

I think of and experiment with recipes every day. There's always something new for me to try each day. I come up with recipes from experience, new knowledge, friends, neighbours, teachers, books, the Internet. We live in a time where we can easily share knowledge and because of this I can share what I know with others, as well. I never rely on any recipes.

What was the inspiration behind "The F**king Chefs"? How did you become a part of them?

We began as a group of four or five friends (including Chalermpon 'Van' Rohitratana of Escapade and Rarb, and Weerawat Triyasenawat of Samuay & Sons), who all happen to be chefs. We weren't the ones who came up with the name, but people referred to us as 'Those f**king chefs' and we ended up liking it. We do not rely on our recipes because our cooking is a skill from within, the name does not matter. It also serves as a reminder that we shouldn't insult anybody. We call ourselves 'Those Cooking People'. Now there are a lot of members in the group.

Why do you think the method of fermentation is important to your cooking?

Fermentation has always been a part of our lives, for example in shrimp paste, fish sauce, soy sauce, sour pork, pickle, liquor, etc. People have this wrong belief that fermented food is not good for health. I don't want them to think that way. Because if the fermented food is used in the right way, it can be beneficial and can be made into an elixir. By using it the right way, the process of fermentation can help in getting rid of the waste in the kitchen, changing it into reusable substances.

What can be expected from your meals at the Mad Face Food Week?

You will see how we manage the use of our ingredients, and street food that may look familiar but with a unique twist to them.

Will we see any preview of unique, exclusive dishes of your restaurant at Mad Face Food Week?

Of course! You will get a taste of it right here at the event!

Your pop-up restaurant will be playing blues, reggae, dub sounds, world music at the Mad Face Food Week. How did the music selection come about?

We love these types of songs and thought they were unfamiliar at a street food or fine dining place. We will make our playlist fun that they fit and play well in our restaurant. Whatever songs we love and whatever food we love, we will show that they can go well together.

Can you compare the food scene in Chiang Mai to that of Bangkok?

Chiang Mai food scene is definitely growing and becoming more sophisticated but the market is still small for the dining concept that I offer. Most of my customers are foreigners or people from Bangkok. I would like to think that my restaurant helps educate people about food and contributes to the improvement of the Chiang Mai food scene.