An ordained Bhuddist monk, poet, and painter, Chef Arun Sampanthavivat is a master of Thai cuisine. Raised on a rubber plantation in Thailand, he was exposed to fantastic food as a child. His grandfather was Chinese, his grandmother Thai, so he developed a sensitive (and happy) palate early on. He was an artistic child who loved poetry and painting. He was also a brilliant student who got accepted at the best schools in Japan and Germany, and in his twenties, ended up in Chicago to complete his doctorate in International Relations. While there, friends asked for his help starting up a Thai restaurant. At the last minute, they bailed, but Arun decided to go ahead anyway, even though he knew NOTHING about food. In a complete twist, he went about learning to become a chef by DRAWING the dishes first (he still has that original sketchbook in fact). He gradually learned what combinations TASTED good together too, and scoured the Chicago area, desperately searching for the ingredients of his youth like lemongrass, Thai ginger and lime kaffir. Since opening “Arun’s Restaurant” in 1987, he has become world-renowned – and won a James Beard Award as Best Chef Midwest. Celibate, he lives with his brother in Chicago and still practices the tenets of Buddhism. Although the religion espouses rejection of “worldly things”, Arun has had to embrace success.
Frommers has described Arun’s as “the best Thai restaurant in the country”.