Redefining Thai culinary heritage
It is not often you find chefs leaving independent restaurant kitchens to get lost in the crowded field of hotel kitchens. Yet that's exactly what chef Patchara “Pom” Pirapak did.
Born in Yasothorn in the northeast of Thailand, where she grew up in a large family, chef Pom has fond memories of cooking with her grandmother and is the person to whom Pom attributes her decision to become a chef. A classic tale of a woman inspiring a woman!
Though a rising star among young Thai chefs, chef Pom left the Michelin-starred Saneh Jaan in 2019 for the culinary team of Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok. There, she joined as chef de cuisine at Terrace Rim Naam and Sala Rim Naam, the hotel’s celebrated Thai restaurants. It was in these kitchens where she added personal twists to create Thai dishes of distinction.
Like many restaurants during Covid, however, both were shut (they'll reopen later this year). Yet that didn't stop Chef Pom.
Built in the early 20th century, Baan Phraya is a historic Thai house on the Chao Phraya River, next to The Oriental Spa and across from the main buildings of Mandarin Oriental. After almost five decades, the house reopened its doors for a Thai fine-dining experience orchestrated by Chef Pom. At this venue she found an ideal setting to showcase her cooking skills as well as vision and passion for Thai food culture. Indeed, nearly forgotten recipes have been adjusted for present-day palates while maintaining fidelity to Thai culinary heritage.
Inspired by that heritage, the chef has created a dining experience at Baan Phraya featuring her interpretations of dinner parties and feasts of the past as part of an elegant eight-course seasonal dinner menu, with Chef Pom re-introducing diners to time-honoured Thai dishes and cooking techniques.
"The menu at Baan Phraya is closely linked to the philosophy of the house. Khunying Loearn Mahai Savanya, the wife of Phraya Mahai Savanya, was skilled in the kitchen and often treated guests to her treats," says Chef Pom. Working from the same philosophy, the young chef has brought back traditional dishes including some no longer popular.
At Baan Phraya, even an amuse-bouche links to traditions of the house. Ma hor (galloping horses) — bite-sized pineapple topped with minced pork, shrimp, shallots, turnips and peanuts — was served a century ago as a welcome snack to help guests cool down from the heat outside. Chef Pom has reimagined it for 2023 and it is still served as the first bite at Baan Phraya.
Traces of the house's history likewise emerge in the menu through dishes as simple as soup. Gaeng ron, a favourite of yesteryear, is back on the menu though with twists. The original recipe used glass noodles in a light coconut broth made with dried shrimp and squid. Chef Pom swaps the noodles for thin slivers of squid and adds smoked squid roe to the intense coconut broth, which further acquires its aroma from a variety of peppers and prickly ash leaves.
When Sala Rim Nam opens later this year, Chef Pom will be at the helm of the kitchen. "In the future, I would like to impart knowledge of traditional dishes and ancient recipes to the younger generation," she says, though her focus will remain on the revival of provincial dishes that are not well known.
"I prefer to be in a kitchen and let my cooking speak for me and itself," says this quietly confident chef.