Inspiration can be found everywhere. For some, it strikes while browsing hand-me-down culinary notebooks from grandma. For others, it is gleaned from a celebrity chef's cooking show on television. Bongkoch “Bee” Satongun of one-MICHELIN-starred Paste in Bangkok seeks hers in the funeral memorial books of Thai aristocratic families, sequestered in the back shelves of old bookshops.
The books, a convention at Thai funerals, are often filled with Buddhist prayers, eulogies or cheerful tales of the deceased and, occasionally, a much-loved recipe.
Satongun, after all, has dedicated her career to exploring and breathing new life into classic Thai cuisine, digging deep into historical cookbooks and reviving forgotten recipes.
“With Thai food, it’s like death and life on the plate,” Satongun explains. “You have ‘dead’ [things] like fish sauce, palm sugar and seasoning, and then you have life, which is all the herbs.”
To pay homage to Thai cuisine’s true herb-based roots, she opened Paste Bangkok with her Australian chef husband Jason Bailey in 2015, serving what they called “heirloom Thai cuisine”.
“People say that Thai food is all about curries, but each curry has a different curry paste and each paste has a different measurement of herbs,” she says. “In one dish you might have about 20 ingredients. So you have to combine that together to make it balanced and that’s what interests and inspires me."
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