A letter can go a long way, Thomas Keller.
It can travel 8,000 miles, from California to Bangkok, and into the hands of a young culinary student named Montep Kamolslip. It can ignite a passion for food. It can even result in a little company selling remarkable ice cream. I'll explain.
Last week I was introduced to Montep, a 21-year-old student and entrepreneur who goes by Tep. I'm looking for young people like him as I begin assembling a produce-driven restaurant business here. When I met Tep in one of the few family-style restaurants left in Bangkok's glitzy Thong Lor neighborhood, he instantly began to talk in earnest about food. Twenty minutes passed—as Tep struggled to shape uncertain English to describe his very particular passion—before I had a moment to order a drink.
"I think Thailand is losing some of its important traditions," he said. "Cooking is changing, farming is changing, food is processed." In between attending culinary school, working internships at hotels, and starting an ice cream company called les-bou-les, Tep, with a few like-minded young people, is attempting to create a Slow Food-inspired accreditation system for food in Thailand.
"I believe that you need to cherish quality, and that begins with good ingredients, and respect for tradition," he said, with what I now know is a nervous sort of urgency. "The question is, how do we get people here to recognize that classic Thai food is dying? How do we make slow cooking fashionable for young Thais?"