Food Work

This Chef is Championing Thailand’s Fast-Disappearing Recipes

One of Asia’s most awarded and respected chefs, Thailand’s Pim Techamuanvivit is putting the spotlight on her community’s traditional recipes.

This month as the world celebrates International Chefs Day, we feature outstanding women chefs to know about their journeys and the lessons they learned in the process. This is the third of a three-part series, ‘Chef’s Table’.

One of the few women chefs to dominate the world of luxury gastronomy, Pim Techamuanvivit is all set to helm of the iconic Nahm restaurant at COMO Metropolitan Bangkok from this month.

For someone who champions traditional flavours from her childhood and crafts them into extraordinary, multi-layered dishes of depth and excitement, Chef Pim is rather modest about her talents: “I think of myself as a cook rather than a chef. Cooking is the work of actually putting together delicious food and sourcing good ingredients.”

She believes cooking was always a woman’s domain. “Cooking, when it’s in the home, was always the work of women. It’s only outside of the home that it became a profession, and it became a man’s job. I’m not a professionally trained chef; I’m a cook who has been taught by other women cooks in their homes.”

Coming from an award-winning culinaire, Pim’s surprising admission reflects her modest but genuine vision that dining at her restaurant Nahm is an experience of Thai hospitality no different than if you had been welcomed into her grandmother’s or aunt’s home.

She sees herself and her restaurant as a link in that chain. The women in her life have passed it on to her, the next generation, teaching her how things should taste, and what part of what ingredient should be in each dish.

Chef Pim

Pim admits that she only started to get interested in Thai food because she missed home when she moved to the United States at the age of 19. The Thai food she got in America – even at Thai restaurants – was unrecognisable to her. Consequently, learning how to cook Thai food became a ‘project’ for her, and she would often call home to Bangkok and ask her aunt how to make certain dishes.

“I decided that every summer when I would come home, I’d go and sit in the kitchens and learn. If I knew someone’s family had a great recipe for something, I’d go over and watch in their kitchens. My parents thought it was quite cute, me sitting on the floor, pounding curry paste for hours and learning how to taste the difference in fish sauces,” she laughs.

Fast forward a couple of decades and her new menu at Nahm celebrates this heritage and nostalgia based on the finest artisanal produce and tradition. She’s also very particular about the ingredients: “I can’t make good food without good ingredients – I’m a cook, not a magician! I find ingredients by going to markets all the time and tasting everything. If I’m looking for fish sauces, I will get everything I can find – up to 15 varieties – and I will taste each of them and understand what they are each saying to me.”

One dish on the new menu, for example, is kanom jin nahm prik, made by her grandmother and one she grew up eating. “My childhood Sunday lunch,” she smiles. “I’m not saying it’s the best in Bangkok, it’s just that this one is my grandmother’s version and special to me. Our heritage is just memories, which we pass on to the next generation.”

First published as part of a series ‘Chef’s Table’ in eShe’s October 2019 issue

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