We have plenty of professional chef buddies and we do appreciate them; especially when they are feeding us. But the other day we were side-swiped by a dish a non-pro, a mere amateur, an enthusiast (good god!), made for us and 140 other lucky souls at an annual gathering at the vineyard.

Vanessa Yap is a multi-faceted lady who excels in the kitchen, as a designer, and as a knitter. And like many talented cooks, she inherited a few recipes from her mother who she was terrified to cook for lest she fall short. No need to fear. This curry is well-balanced and plate-licking good. The other chef friends at the party that weekend were Stuart and Nicole Brioza of San Francisco’s Statebird Provisions fame (and Bon Appetit’s 2012 New Restaurant of the Year!) Their dishes throughout the weekend were amazing, of course. We expect that from Stuart and Nicole. Vanessa? We humbly ask for seconds. Pretty please?

Main Ingredients

1 whole free range chicken
4-5 peeled russet potatoes

Wet Ingredients

4 cloves of garlic
6-8 shallots
4-5 fresh red Thai chili peppers
1 1” chunk of fresh ginger
3 candle nuts (soak in water for 30-1hr)
(puree above in a food processor)

Dry Ingredients

3-4 tablespoons curry powder
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole star anise
3 whole cloves
3 cardamom pods
1 can of coconut milk
2-3 sticks of lemon grass (bruised and cut into chunks)
1 head of curry leaves (this might be a little hard to find, check the local Asian market. A picture is at the top of the page)
2-3 cups of water
3-4 tbs canola or other high heat cooking oil


1 small, 1/4” piece of shrimp paste (Malaysian Belacan). Stinky but adds umami
1/2 cup of lime juice

Serves 4-6


1. Cut the chicken into pieces (wings, thighs, breasts, drums). Leave the chicken pieces bone-in.

2. Cut potatoes into 1.5” cubes and fry in 2 tbs of canola or other vegetable oil. Set aside.

3. Heat up a deep stock pot and add 1 tbs cooking oil.

4. Under low heat, sauté the pureed wet ingredients and all the dry ingredients except the curry powder for 15 minutes until aromatic or light brown in color.

5. Add Baba’s curry powder.

6. Stir the ingredients until uniform and then slowly add coconut milk bit by bit. Stir slowly under low heat for 8 minutes. (This is the crucial part, add the coconut in small batches and keep stirring so that it doesn’t burn at the bottom.)

7. Add the chicken meat and stir to integrate. Add lemongrass, curry leaves and water.

8. Increase heat to high and bring the curry chicken to a boil and then lower the heat to a light simmer.

9. Add potatoes and simmer for 40 minutes or so or until the chicken becomes tender.

10. (Optional and highly recommended) after chicken is tender, add shrimp paste, lime juice and salt to taste.

Shopping Suggestions

There are Asian specialty markets in most medium to large cities around the country. Here are some pictures of key ingredients. Also, you can check out to buy ingredients. If you live in San Francisco, head to Richmond New May Wah. It is a great place for spices (curry powder, belacan, curry leaves, candle nuts….)
707 Clement Street San Francisco, CA 94118

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