- School of The Oriental Hotel Apprenticeship Program at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok
- Chef de cuisine and co-owner of Saawaan
All in a day’s work
I first interviewed Sujira “Aom” Pongmorn in 2018, the year her Thai fine dining restaurant, the Michelin-starred Saawaan, opened. Born and raised on Charoen Krung Road in a family of professional cooks, chef Sujira grew up around food.
After high school, she completed the School of The Oriental Hotel Apprenticeship Program at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and started her professional career in the hotel's famous Lord Jim's. Chef Sujira's fine dining experience continued at Sra Bua, Issaya Siamese Club and at The House On Sathorn. In 2016, she opened Baan Phadthai with restaurateur Frederic Meyer, which was awarded a Bib Gourmand in the inaugural Michelin Guide Bangkok 2018.
In two years, chef Sujira has come into her own, but don’t take my word for it. She is the first recipient of the Michelin Guide 2021’s “Young Chef Award”. “Actually, I never expect I was going to win the young chef award. I thought this was something beyond me. But if you ask me how I got here, I will say, ‘I keep doing the things that I do and never give up. Perhaps, this has got me to where I am today,” says the rather humble chef.
“For me, it’s about the daily struggle to learn more about the cuisine I am cooking, to gain more knowledge about the techniques and at the same time sourcing information about the ingredients and products I use. Though, this is an ongoing process.”
For chef Sujira, exploring the country she grew up in is at the focal point of her process. “I want to explore everywhere. I want to showcase Thai products and show that imported is not always the best. In most of my cooking, I use Thai techniques and sometimes do use imported products but only because Thai products haven’t reached that level of quality, as yet.”
Though being at the helm of a one Michelin-starred restaurant, with the title of Young Chef under her belt, chef Sujira isn’t done, as yet. Her goal moving forwards is to make the best of every day. “I can’t speak for future goals, just daily goals, which is mainly to better myself, regardless of the pressure. My main goal is to be a leader, a mentor for other young chefs, regardless of their gender. I these other young chefs to not be discouraged, but at the same time know that they will be where I am if they work hard and not be too distracted by fame and fortune. Most young chefs these days have too much of an ego and they are hungry for recognition. They often forget what it takes to be a good chef; plenty of hard work, practice and knowledge. I hope I can be a good example for them. It’s not about age, it’s about potential.
Chef Sujira also published the Baan Phadthai cookbook in July 2018 because she wanted people know what pad Thai is, the technique behind the famous dish. “No one knows how to make the pickled radish, dried shrimp or the roasted sticky rice. This is very local knowledge that hardly anyone knows. I have combined modern techniques, too, to create the recipes. Since my work experience has taught me a lot, I want to share and spread it with everyone. I want people to know they can cook pad Thai in their homes.”
Look out for Saawaan’s new menu, which changes soon, ingredients of which most of will be made in-house.