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As a TV chef, Thai P.M. cooked his own goose

Prime Minister Samak was forced to quit Tuesday, after a court ruled he'd broken the law by hosting two TV cooking shows while in office.

By Correspondent / September 10, 2008

Out: Samak, who lost his job for hosting a cooking show while in office, visited a market Tuesday.


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Bangkok, Thailand

In this food-obsessed nation, every politician wants to be pictured in an apron standing over a hot wok.

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Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej relished this role. As the brash TV chef on "Tasting and Grumbling" – one of two cooking shows he hosted – he served up a combative blend of opinion, market visits, restaurant tips, and recipes like Pigs' Legs in Coca-Cola.

Over a long and checkered career, Mr. Samak's fiery rhetoric on TV and in office has often landed him in hot water. But it may be his fiery curries that finally burned him.

On Tuesday, the Constitutional Court ruled that Samak had broken the law by hosting the TV shows while in office and ordered him to quit, adding a fresh batch of uncertainty to Thailand's spicy politics.

He may yet make a political comeback, as his strategists huddle to digest the court's surprise ruling. The People's Power Party, which he heads, said Tuesday it would nominate Samak to replace himself as premier.

During his seven months as prime minister, Samak, a stout man with a famously hot temper, whipped out his apron and served up food to Thai soldiers on the disputed border with Cambodia and later to Thai Olympians in Beijing.

In this, as in many other areas, he echoed his controversial predecessor Thaksin Shinawatra, who was unseated in a coup two years ago while attending a meeting at the United Nations. Mr. Thaksin liked to show his skills on the communal stir-fry, usually when the TV cameras were rolling.

In 2004, at the height of a regional bird flu scare, Thaksin joined a chicken- and egg-eating fair in a park in Bangkok to restore public confidence in poultry. He pitched in to help with the cooking of a giant stew using 10,000 eggs, a world-record attempt.

Samak's take on Bangkok's famed street food – a dizzying spread of curries, salads, soups, and meat dishes – didn't meet everyone's taste. Foodies sniffed that his slapdash recipes offered little new and that their originator was too sure of himself yet didn't teach the audience much.

"He's very confident that he knows all about food and cooking well. He's very proud," says Suwan Chakchit, founder of Baipai Thai Cooking School in Bangkok. "But he's overconfident about his [food] knowledge."

Samak also proved overconfident in his reading of the 2007 constitution, which says that cabinet ministers can't moonlight for private companies because it might stir up a conflict of interest.

On Monday, he testified to the court that he hadn't broken the law, because he wasn't an employee of the cooking programs. The court dismissed this defense, though, and scolded the defendant for misleading answers.