Photo courtesy of Kin Khao

Resy QuestionnaireSan Francisco

20 Questions With Pim Techamuanvivit of Kin Khao and Nari


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In the Resy Questionnaire, we play a game of 20 questions with the industry folks behind some of our favorite restaurants. What’s your most memorable restaurant experience? Your favorite food movie? What restaurant would you want to time-travel for?

In this edition, we talk to the inimitable Pim Techamuanvivit, who runs two of the finest Thai restaurants in San Francisco (and the world, in our opinion): Nari and Kin Khao. Right this way.

The Resy Questionnaire

1. Favorite thing you’ve ever cooked?

Not a favorite, but the thing that to me was a turning point in what I think of myself as a cook was making my grandmother’s chili jam. Every time I went home to Thailand, I’d bring back chili jam. And at some point I was like: I need to learn how to make this. After I learned how to make it, it was a turning point. The chili jam is called namprik pao. It means burned chili relish.

2. Kitchen tool or equipment you couldn’t live without?

Mortar and pestle. Because I use it a lot, and because some of the stuff I do with it cannot be done with other equipment. Making Thai relishes — it’s not the same using a food processor. It’s very handy. To make a small amount of mayonnaise. To crush spices without having to pull out a grinder.

3. What pantry items would you bring on a desert island?

Salt! Salt will season just about anything I can forage or catch.

4. What’s your favorite restaurant to get seafood in San Francisco?

Anchovy Bar. I love anchovies.

5. Favorite cookbook?

I have shelves and shelves of cookbooks. I think the Zuni cookbook is a pretty perfect cookbook.

6. Your drink of choice?

Burgundy. If non-alcoholic, then coconut water.

7. Favorite food movie?

Eat Drink Man Woman.

8. Your ideal dinner party guests, dead or alive? 

Harold McGee, because he’s always fun to talk about food with. Neil Gaiman — he’s a writer. I’d love to cook for Mizutani-san — he’s a sushi master in Tokyo. Caroline Morey — she’s one of my favorite winemakers. She told me she grew up with a Thai nanny.

9. What restaurant industry person do you admire the most?

Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski. They have a few restaurants [State Bird Provisions, The Progress, Anchovy Bar], and each of them has a really fun and unique identity. And they seem to be having fun doing it. And people who work for them are happy. They’re happy. They’re good role models.

10. The greatest restaurant experience of your life so far?

That’s hard. It’s not a restaurant, but restaurant-related. Going out to Alain Passard’s garden and cooking in his kitchen with the stuff that we grabbed out of his garden. That was pretty amazing.

Photo courtesy of Nari
Photo courtesy of Nari

11. Your greatest professional achievement?

I think being still open after everything that we’ve had in the last few years. I think that’s a pretty big achievement. Still open and still busy and still keeping my staff pretty happy and my guests happy — I think that’s a big achievement.

12. What single dish best describes your personality?

It’s not a particular dish — but it’s a whole genre of Thai cuisine. Nam phrik relish, because it’s very simple, but it’s also very difficult at the same time. It relies on really good ingredients to make, and you need to think of everything that goes into it. The quality. There’s not a lot of places to hide, and there’s not a lot of margin of error to make a great one — it’s a difficult balancing act. It’s delicious and a little bit funky. There’s a lot going on.

13. If you could go back in time, which restaurant would you dine at?

Not a restaurant — I’d go back to my grandmother’s kitchen and just eat all the things.

14. Your favorite meal from childhood?

It’s not a meal, it’s just a toast — the bread similar to Japanese milk bread. With a chili jam made from my grandmother’s recipe. It’s delicious.

15. Your wish for the restaurant industry?

For everyone to be kinder. Gentler. Nicer. It’s not just for the employees, owners, for guests, but for everyone.

A Kin Khao signature: Mushroom hor mok. Photo courtesy of Kin Khao
A Kin Khao signature: Mushroom hor mok. Photo courtesy of Kin Khao

16. What do you wish you did better? What do you do well?

I wish I did everything better. I’m never satisfied. For real. If you stop trying to get better, then what’s the point? Then you’re just bored.

What I’m good at? I’m a very good learner. I’m always interested in learning more about everything — I never know enough.

17. If you could eat through a city for a day, where would you go?

That’s also hard! [Laughs] Tokyo is too obvious of an answer. Bangkok is also too obvious. It’s hard! I think Mexico City. Because I’ve never been there, I love Mexican food, and I’m always curious of the depth and breadth of Mexican cuisine.

18. The one thing you can’t resist splurging on when you go out?

Wine! [Laughs] I always spend way more on wine than I plan to everywhere.

19. What do you value most in restaurants?

How they make you feel. Because a good experience is not just about great food. Or great wine. It’s the whole experience. The food has to be great. But also other things: service, ambiance, how they make you feel walking out of it. That to me is the key. People remember that. I think how you make people feel is definitely up there.

20. It’s your last meal on earth. What are you eating?

I think it’s more about who I’d share it with rather than what I’d eat. I’d probably want to just cook at home with my husband and drink something great from our cellar.

Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar.