Pichaya Soontornyanakij aka. Chef Pam, an Executive Head Chef at Restaurant POTONG, pioneers modern Thai-Chinese cuisine receiving recognition internationally. She has received many awards since opening this restaurant. She is praised for her dedication and cooking philosophy, The Five Elements: Salt, Acid, Spice, Texture and Milliard Reaction.
Chomp Magazine interviewed her to understand this remarkable, successful youngest female chef, hoping this will inspire younger and future chefs.
We were curious about the inspiration that influenced her to become a chef. Chef Pam replied, "Well, Chinatown and my family background are truly the origins of where I started to love cooking. Being in a family of mixed Australian, Thai and Chinese cultures is genuinely the blending of how my food memories stemmed. Even before I started my cooking career, I had already served countless dishes throughout my childhood with my mum.
Chef Pam told us that her parents had been raised and had met in Chinatown (Yaowaraj), Bangkok, Thailand. Bangkok's Chinatown is the only place representing how the Thai-Chineses are connected to their ancestors' backgrounds. "There are tons of experiences between me and the area." She continued, "My mum always brings me grocery shopping in Chinatown, where all the finest local Thai-Chinese ingredients are sold."
However, Chef Pam had quite a rich and diverse childhood.
"Growing up as a 'Thai-Chinese-Australian' with my dad, who is Australian-Chinese, and my mum, a Thai-Chinese, made me a multi-cultured person," She said, "I remember my mom, a housewife, cooked and prepared the food served for our family when I was a child. An interesting fact about my family is because of my dad's Australian half, he always loves western food. My mum, who came from a traditional Chinese family, knowing only how to cook Chinese food, had to learn from all the Western culinary cookbooks to cook for the family. I helped her with cooking, grocery shopping, and serving food to our family.
With the culture in which Chef Pam grew up gave her many advantages in her career. "The environment that I grew up in allowed me to know the authentic tastes, to understand how it feels to eat together as a big Thai-Chinese family on a Lazy Susan!" She told us, very proud of her root, "I never knew that one day these simple things would grow into my heart and become my great passion for cooking, opening my lovely restaurant/home at POTONG."
Being a successful chef can be challenging. Many people grow up with their parents or grandparents cooking for them, but that's not enough to guide them to the success they wish to be. One must work hard to achieve respect and recognition. "I had the opportunity to be trained at Jean Georges (a 3-MICHELIN Starred restaurant in New York), and the cuisine there influenced me until today. With classical French techniques, Jean Georges uses many Asian ingredients and flavours. I would say my time at Jean Georges was a challenging one in my life."
Not only through training and hard work, one must face obstacles. There have been many obstacles throughout my career, even until now. "When I opened my first venue, "The Table", which happened by chance. Its concept was a chef's table that neither emerged at that time nor was it popular in Bangkok, Thailand. It started off with a private dinner for family and friends. Words went around, and it became popular and had a 3-month long queue of customers. It had proliferated that it was beyond our chef's table venue capacity."
She closed the old venue and started a recent project, Restaurant POTONG, but like every business venture, an unexpected event always occurs.
"When I started working on POTONG's project, COVID-19 hit us." She shared, "That was a tough time for us too. We had to adapt to our government's regulations.
"To provide delivery food to our customers and sustain our business simultaneously, the team of 55 staff had to work together, come up with many great ideas, and work hard to pass through those challenging times. I have to say that we have a great community, many of my guests were really supportive of us, and I have reached out to many chef friends. We worked together, collaborated, and they were super friendly. We were able to go through these because of them also."
We were curious about what keeps Chef Pam going, and she answered, "Being positive and optimistic about everything keeps me from quitting. I believe these qualities make me strong and able to overcome these challenges."
With all the awards and fame she has received, we wonder if they are her ultimate goal. She simply and humbly replied, "My ultimate goal is just to try to be the "best" version of myself, keep pushing forward, and improve every day. As for my guest, I only want everyone to enjoy the food. Simple as that."
One last question we asked her was, "What does it take to be a successful woman in the F&B industry?" Her answer to that question was short but mighty, "The willpower and the skills to back it up!"
Chomp Magazine hope that our interview with Chef Pam will encourage everyone, women and men, to pursue their dreams.