People 3 minutes 19 February 2024

How Thailand’s Rising Star Chudaree “Tam” Debhakam Won the MICHELIN Young Chef Award in the Thrilling World of Culinary Sports

Chef Chudaree “Tam” Debhakam becomes the world’s first female Thai chef to lead a restaurant with two MICHELIN Stars.

"One thing I love about the kitchen is people working together as a team. Being in a kitchen is like playing a team sport, my favourite since childhood. In basketball or football, there is pressure and a shared goal. It's just as fun in a kitchen. There's more than just cooking."

Each chef has their own perspective on cooking. Chudaree “Tam” Debhakam, the latest winner of the MICHELIN Young Chef Award Presented By Blancpain and the first female chef in Thailand to bring her restaurant – Baan Tepa – two MICHELIN Stars, has an interesting outlook. She likens cooking to a team sport, her passion before entering the culinary world. When she wants to relive the fun, she goes straight into the kitchen.

"Becoming a chef was quite unexpected for me. As a kid, I loved being outdoors and playing sports. Despite growing up in a family of foodies who enjoyed discovering new restaurants, cooking, and savouring grandma’s recipes, I never imagined myself in the kitchen. The turning point came when I had the opportunity to do an internship in a kitchen, and it reminded me of the lively atmosphere I experienced on the field. Initially, I wasn’t passionate about cooking, but I loved the environment. In sports, you compete with yourself, practicing to become better, and kitchens have the same pressure. I needed to be perfect so they couldn’t reprimand me. After the internship, my passion for cooking grew, and I wanted to improve myself. So, I shared with my family that I wanted to go to the US for a 6-month professional culinary course."

After completing the half-year course, Chef Debhakam had the opportunity to intern at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a farm-to-table restaurant with two MICHELIN Stars. It not only provided knowledge and experience in cooking but also taught Chef Debhakam about waste and sustainability management, local sourcing, and the philosophy of seasonal eating. What started as a 1-week internship extended to a full-time position for 1 year, then 2, and eventually 3. The talented chef returned, distilling those experiences into Baan Tepa’s cooking philosophy.

"That 1-week internship expanded my culinary horizons. I asked to extend my stay, and it turned into 3 years. Blue Hill at Stone Barns' philosophy wasn’t solely about cooking; it instilled a passion for the entire process, from local sourcing to waste management.”

Upon returning to Thailand, the chef aimed to adopt this philosophy. “Initially, I didn’t plan to open my own restaurant, but after exploring Thailand for ingredients and cooking in my home's kitchen for 2 years for pop-up projects, Baan Tepa was born. We uphold the same philosophy, going beyond cooking to manage waste, compost, grow our own vegetables, source locally, assist farmers, and handle a rotating produce inventory daily. It's challenging, akin to a team sport, where each team member contributes to achieving a shared goal."

She later discovered that sourcing Thai local ingredients is rather more daunting than importing their equivalents. However, with her unwavering belief in the farm-to-table philosophy, she persistently strives for them. When asked why she's so invested in Thai food, the chef immediately replied, “It's in my blood. It's my identity.”

"You might call Baan Tepa’s style 'Creative Thai Food.' Growing up, my grandma always cooked traditional Thai food, which became a part of me. This passion drives me to elevate Thai food and its ingredients. Managing the quality of Thai ingredients is challenging, but we are determined to get better at it."

In the launch of the MICHELIN Guide Thailand 2024 edition, Baan Tepa made history as the world’s first Thai restaurant with two MICHELIN Stars, led by a Thai female chef who also won the MICHELIN Young Chef Award Presented By Blancpain.

Chef Debhakam's goal for this year is clear - she is determined to continue collaborating with farmers to improve produce quality while also maintaining the MICHELIN Stars.

"Needless to say, we must maintain the quality that has earned us two MICHELIN Stars. It doesn't mean becoming more serious, but we have to preserve the joy we find in cooking Thai food. It's our identity. The joy of creating Thai food will continue to be Baan Tepa’s signature trait."

Blancpain is the world’s oldest Swiss luxury watch brand and the proud sponsor of the MICHELIN Young Chef Award, fostering its connections with the world of haute cuisine and award-winning chefs for over 30 years.

“Innovation” has always been Blancpain’s watchword, emphasising the brand’s core values of precision, passion, authenticity, and creativity. These values epitomise watchmakers and chefs as they strive to be extraordinary and test their boundaries with inventiveness to achieve excellence. Both seek to create masterpieces as they innovate for success.

Not only is Blancpain an official timekeeper for renowned culinary competitions, but it also counts chefs, past and present, from hundreds of MICHELIN Starred restaurants as friends and boon companions.

For a long time, Blancpain and MICHELIN Guide’s global partnership has promoted the pursuit of excellence, passion, and expertise, which applies to the MICHELIN Young Chef Award Presented by Blancpain. The award goes to the most outstanding candidate out of a group of the most promising chefs who have proven themselves as exceptionally talented and creative innovators, creating dining experiences.

The MICHELIN Young Chef Award Presented By Blancpain is this historic watch brand recognising audacious young chefs seeking to add their creative flair to haute cuisine. The brand bestows prestige on the award, promoting Thailand’s place in the culinary world while encouraging young chefs to pursue excellence on the local and international stage by expanding the limits of their creativity and innovativeness.

FURTHER READING: “Cook With Honesty”: The Inspiration For Chef Garima Arora, Winner Of MICHELIN Young Chef Award 2022

Illustration image and other images: © MICHELIN Guide Thailand


Keep Exploring - Stories we think you will enjoy reading