The Thai chef bringing back the original flavours of her country's cuisine through historical research and fresh ingredients
Bongkoch ‘Bee’ Satongun has dedicated most of her life to rediscovering and reviving the authentic flavours of classic Thai cuisine. Together with chef-husband Jason Bailey, she has carved a unique place in Bangkok’s diverse gastronomic scene with restaurant Paste, where she showcases refined versions of traditional Thai dishes that reflect the country’s heritage with layered flavours and textural contrasts.
From as young as five years old, Satongun used to help her mother in the family’s small restaurant in the Thai capital, squeezing coconut milk and preparing curry pastes, but her rebellious personality led her to see cooking as a chore and she moved on to pursue a career in business. The tables turned when, at the age of 28, she met Australian chef and restaurateur Bailey. Their shared love of classic Thai flavours led them to begin researching aristocratic Thai cookbooks and sourcing ingredients from all over Thailand before opening Paste in 2013 in Thong Lor, Bangkok.
With a philosophy of keeping 80 per cent of the traditional dish and innovating 20 per cent, Satongun investigates and reinvents traditional Thai recipes at risk of extinction as new generations lose touch with techniques and methods recorded in old cookbooks. Striving to keep the original flavours in her dishes, the 41-year-old Thai chef expresses her personality by adding new layers of complexity and presenting the dishes in innovative ways.
In 2015, Satongun and Bailey, by then married with a young daughter, opened Paste in its current incarnation inside Bangkok’s Gaysorn luxury mall. The restaurant is airy and modern, recreating the feel of a traditional Thai house with handmade furniture made from paper and bamboo. Here, Satongun is in charge of the kitchen while Bailey oversees the dining room and the restaurant's operations.
Satongun’s dream of bringing back the flavours and aromas of her childhood is realised in traditional dishes such as the smoky southern yellow curry – made with a curry paste rediscovered and perfected by the chef – which incorporates the tastes of Thai herbs such as galangal and lemongrass alongside the smoothness of coconut cream.
While she says that her cooking is mainly influenced by family heirloom cookbooks, she is also inspired by chefs such as André Chiang and Tetsuya Wakuda. Satongun and Bailey are committed to using the best and freshest Thai produce, which they source from local farmers through regular trips across different regions of the country.
With the new title under her belt, Satongun wants to raise awareness and change the way the world views Thai cuisine by advancing it to a higher level. Her commitment to authentic Thai flavours, her thorough historical research and her dedication to finding the best ingredients are sure to inspire chefs all over the world.
3rd floor, Gaysorn
999 Ploenchit Road
+66 02 656 1003
Now read the 50 Best interview with Bee Satongun.
Image: Sarah Brimley / Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants