Chef Bongkoch 'Bee' Satongun Of Paste In Bangkok On Preserving Thailand’s Traditional Cuisine
Paste restaurant has been on the lips of gourmands since it opened in Bangkok in 2015. Helmed by native chef Bongkoch 'Bee' Satongun alongside her Australian-born chef husband, Jason Bailey, it reintroduced the kingdom’s heritage dishes in a new light to cater to modern diners.
With her skill, passion and a lot of hard work (she is a self-taught chef who earned her stripes working at the family’s local restaurant), she helped Paste garner a star in the Michelin Guide Bangkok’s inaugural guide. Her continued efforts culminated in her most recent and personal achievement, when she was crowned Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants’ Elit Vodka Asia’s Best Female Chef 2018.
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It’s also a win that recognises Bee’s lifelong commitment to championing traditional Thai dishes. “I think it’s important to preserve one’s culture,” she tells T.Dining, adding that there are only a few restaurants today that prepare Thai dishes with the same incredible complexity and techniques that hark back to the period when Thai cuisine was at its peak—between 1870 to 1930.
At Paste, she revives long-forgotten recipes from centuries-old cookbooks by injecting her creativity and achieving a harmony of flavours that doesn’t sacrifice taste or authenticity. It's a complex procedure, she confesses. “I go through an extensive process of testing and refining a dish, referring to original recipes but also questioning how to reinvent it.”
Take, for instance, an elevated version of the pomelo salad that boasts a mix of chilli jam, gapi khoei plankton paste and Asian citron, studded with chargrilled Scarlet prawns. And there's the Panaeng curry, which uses Australian grain-fed beef.
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Suffice it to say, shortcuts, which she affirms “compromise the dish”, are never used. Even if that means having to constantly source fresh produce from local growers, preparing curry pastes from scratch every day, or smoking food with lychee wood, coconut husk and coconut meat to complete the flavour. “There’s only so much you can do with US$2 to make good curry,” she quips, while adressing the misconception about Thai food. “I wish to change the notion that Thai cuisine is only a cheap take-away cuisine," she adds. And what she is realising with Paste is helping to change diners’ mindset.
Scroll through the gallery for a snapshot of her feted dishes: