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Chef Pam on being named
Asia's Best Female Chef 2024

Written by Gastronomer Lifestyle

April 3rd, 2024 

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Pichaya “Pam” Soontornyanakij’s meteoric rise as a culinary inspiration for young women recently led the Asia’s 50 Best Academy to name her Asia’s Best Female Chef of 2024. The Chef-Owner of POTONG, ranked No. 17 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2024, celebrates her Thai-Chinese cultural heritage through elevated cuisine in a setting that embraces her roots.

Having honed her skills under the mentorship of culinary legend Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Chef Pam had learnt her way through New York’s Culinary Institute of America before returning to Thailand to establish The Table restaurant and a private dining experience. In 2019, seizing an opportunity presented by her family’s vacant 120-year-old Chinese herbal pharmacy building, Chef Pam envisioned Potong. Together with her husband and business partner, Tor Boonpiti, she embarked on an extensive renovation project to transform the historic space into a multi-storey restaurant concept.

At Potong, Chef Pam showcases her family’s unique heritage through a tasting menu featuring around 20 courses of progressive Thai-Chinese cuisine. Signature dishes like her five-spice, 14-day dry-aged duck reflect her commitment to championing this culinary fusion. Additionally, she oversees Smoked, a casual restaurant chain known for its Texas-style barbecued meats.

In an interview with Gastronomer Lifestyle, she shared what receiving the Asia’s Best Female Chef award means to her, and what the culinary industry can do to empower young women for the future:

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GL: as an emerging female leader in the region, how significant is this award to you?

Pam: First of all I’m deeply honored to receive “Asia’s Best Female Chef 2024” from Asia’s 50 Best restaurants and the Academy. This award truly goes beyond my personal achievement. I believe this is because of the skills needed to be a chef in this modern age, my respect for heritage, and my relentless willpower & passion to become greater day by day.

When I think about it…. Having the opportunity to represent Thailand as a chef and receiving this award is beyond words. I am glad that Thai food can reach the world stage and hope it inspires young female chefs who also have culinary dreams like mine.

I am grateful to the Asia 50 Best Academy for this recognition. It’s not just mine, but a triumph for every aspiring chef worldwide. I feel thankful and motivated from this honored award. It reminds me of some of the tough memories that I had throughout my cooking career. I always love to challenge myself to a new task and push my boundaries. As a result of this award, I feel even more motivated to grow and become the best version of myself that I can be.

GL: do you believe the industry has reached a point where female chefs receive equal recognition as their male counterparts, or does it continue to predominantly favour men?

Pam: I believe that opportunities are always present regardless of gender. Yes, at certain times, there may be imbalances, but they always exist. Honestly speaking, I am a very optimistic person. Throughout my career, I have worked in male-dominated kitchens, such as when I was working with Jean-Georges.

Despite any circumstances, I have always been able to persevere. It cannot be denied that the physical demands of the industry make it tougher for females, given all the hard work in the kitchen, but I have always loved sports, so for me, it’s like being a team player in a sport. When I opened POTONG, I faced many challenges such as COVID, construction, staffing, etc.

However, I believe that everyone in the industry has also fought through these tough times together. During those challenging times at POTONG, I had the opportunity to be part of the community committee at the Songwat area, where I was able to bring together both old and new businesses to promote the area collectively. I believe that individually, we are just one drop, but together, we form an ocean. So, we were able to overcome those difficult times..

However, I do hope that what I have achieved can help drive more opportunities for other female chefs, not only in Bangkok, Thailand but across the industry. I have found that, little by little, if we start with something small, we can make a difference. Hence, the Women for Women (WFW) program, which I started to empower a new generation of female chefs.

The WFW Scholarship & Internship Program with the 
American Women’s Club of Thailand (AWC), was set up to promote gender equality in the culinary industry. I first met Val Munroz (from AWC) a year ago and learned that 6000 THB can help change the future of one female child in rural areas of Thailand by allowing her to obtain a junior and high school diploma. AWC is run fully by volunteers, which speaks volumes about this group’s genuine desire to make a difference in the lives of these young Thai females. I also firmly believe that education can truly make a difference in life.

I learned that many young Thai females in rural areas have fewer opportunities to receive proper education. For example, if a family has two children, one boy and one girl, and they can only afford education for one person, it will most likely be the boy. So, I want to contribute something in this space. It took us a year to bring this together; it was not a simple task.

Hence, why I founded the scholarship. The goal is actually quite simple: to provide financial assistance to young females in the rural area of Thailand who are passionate about pursuing a career in the culinary arts by following these objectives:

  • To provide an opportunity for talented young female student chefs who are in need of assistance to gain valuable experience. This experience may help them cope with a competitive environment and kickstart their careers, ultimately benefiting the community. This will be addressed by our WFW Internship program.

     

  • To provide assistance to females in rural areas who require support for university-level education to fund their studies and enable them to pursue their dreams. This will be addressed by our WFW Scholarship program. (AWC has never been able to support university-level education before, so this will mark their first breakthrough in doing so).
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GL: Apart from accolades such as these awards, what additional measures can be taken to encourage women's participation in the culinary field?

I believe several things can be done to encourage women’s participation in the culinary field. Firstly, mentorship programs for young female chefs can inspire and empower other women to pursue careers in this industry, similar to what I have initiated with WFW. Additionally, addressing workplace culture is crucial; fostering an environment of respect and inclusivity, as we do at POTONG, can make a significant difference.

GL: For young women aiming to become chefs, what initial steps do you suggest they take to begin their career journey?

Dreams without goals are just dreams. You have to have the willpower and the skills to back it up! Do not give up, never give up but always remain humble!


More information at: 
WFW Internship program: restaurantpotong.com/wfw-scholarship

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