Thailand’s Pichaya.-Asia’s best chef,
Thai chef Pichaya 'Pam' Soontornyanakij poses for a photograph at her Michelin-starred restaurant 'Potong' in Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand, 19 March 2024 (issued 25 March 2024). EFE-EPA/RUNGROJ YONGRIT

Thailand’s Pichaya.-Asia’s best chef,


By Paloma Almoguera

Bangkok, Mar 25 (EFE).-

Having recently been recognized as Asia’s best chef, Thailand’s Pichaya Soontornyanakij is clear about her restaurant’s mission: to inspire others by showing that kitchens can be led through compassion.

Last month, Pichaya, or Pam, was named the best chef in Asia for “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” culinary guide of 2024 due to her work at “Potong” restaurant in Bangkok’s Chinatown neighborhood.

“I am not an aggressive chef or leader. I feel that people make mistakes, you need to teach them in the right way. Being compassionate in the kitchen is essential, especially nowadays with the new generations you can’t use the old school method anymore,” the chef told EFE from her family establishment.

Sitting in one of the restaurant’s rooms, in a majestic five-story building built by her family more than a century ago, the cook – who will collect her award Tuesday in Seoul – said she is convinced that compassion is the best ingredient in her kitchen.

“People would quit, in this industry around the world it is very hard to find employees, so being compassionate and treating other people like family is very important…” Pichaya said.

The 34-year-old Thai-Chinese chef trained at the three-Michelin star Jean-George’s restaurant in New York has been successful since the 2021 opening of “Potong,” which means “simple” in Mandarin, She made the list of Asia’s 50 best restaurants and achieved her first Michelin star last year.

“Any award that is given to anyone is always a good thing because it recognizes the hard work and dedication,” she said, adding that receiving the award for the best female chef, and not the best chef in general, is not a discredit.

“… Maybe in 50 years, when there is a real balance of representation in the culinary world, when female and male are equally represented, then we don’t (sic) need a special award. But now we have to admit there are not enough female chefs, I feel this award gives inspiration to many young female chefs,” she said. “It is a good thing and I am very honored.”

Leading a team of 60 people, Pichaya said she wants to “show that women can lead in a different way. It doesn’t have to be right or wrong, but it can be different and be successful,” adding that she initially got used to working long hours and “not thinking about the holidays.”

She said she remembers this fondly, surrounded by professionalism and a passion that in her case was born many years before she put on the chef’s jacket: it was when she went with her mother to the market in Bangkok to buy ingredients or watch her cook for her family.

“It is her passion also. My passion started from there,” she said about her mother, although it took her a few years to start studying cooking full-time.

“Growing up I didn’t know cooking could be a career,” she said, speaking about how her mother encouraged her to train when she realized that it was her calling.

The family essence is not only found in the walls of “Potong,” where her great-great-grandfather began selling traditional Chinese medicine, but also in the dishes she cooks, Thai-Chinese food with centuries of tradition but to which she incorporates “surprise elements.”

“The best compliment is not about you cooking the most delicious food. For me it is when I hear a customer saying your parents must be proud of you,” she said, adding that her next ambition is to open a restaurant outside of Thailand.

“”I want Potong to be a restaurant where people come into (sic) Thailand and it is a must visit place. And we will continue improving what we do,” she said. EFE


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