Chef Bongkoch 'Bee' Satongun Of Paste In Bangkok On Preserving Thailand’s Traditional Cuisine

Tastemakers

March 9, 2018 | BY Dudi Aureus

This year's recipient of the Asia's Best Female Chef title gets candid about reviving age-old recipes and putting her own unique twist.

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:

Paste restaurant

The dramatic centrepiece at the restaurant

Pomelo salad of chargrilled Carabineros Asian prawns from Spain, Asian citron, homemade-chilli jam and gapi khoei plankton paste

Chargrilled langoustine salad with northern Thai forest ingredients and tomato

Lon of red spanner crab , Nan province salted duck egg, fresh coconut cream, hairy fruited eggplant and lime leaf

‘Na Tung Khek’ - roasted duck, nutmeg, curry paste and sawtooth coriander served on rice crackers

1688 AD chilli relish smeared on pork wafers and topped with Gulf of Thailand red spanner crab

Oven roasted chemical-free chicken, lacquered with pure palm sugar and wild honey. Served with Kanchanaburi red curry and sour leaves

Andaman sea lobster, lemongrass, young ginger, kaffir lime juice, mandarin juice, buzz button flowers, young coconut & crispy fish skin

‘Kaeng Bon’ - live Canadian lobster, elephant ear plant from Chachoengsao Province, salted and cured game fish with kaffir lime & mangrove apple flower

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