Chef Pam

Chef Pam Potong

Bangkok is where Chinese immigrants have been following the dream of ‘making it’, since the 1800s, monetizing everything from manufacturing and medicine to the meals from their mother country. Opportunity called, along with forced adaptability; to the new culture, the new-language, the new availability of ingredients in their contemporary surroundings.

With generational roots in Thailand, their now home country, grandchildren of the Chinese immigrants to Thailand find that the dishes of their childhood are neither just from here, nor there, rather, part of a transpired cuisine set, Thai-Chinese. It is this one word, this one genre of food that inspired one great, times four, granddaughter to begin to actualise the concept she would put forth, as what she considers, the identity of herself as a chef.

Enter, Pichaya Utharntharm, a Thai-born, Thai-Chinese woman operating under the name Chef Pam. With her culinary education rooted in Western cuisine, having attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and worked with the likes of Jean-Georges, Chef Pam’s return to her birthplace rendered self-owned concepts that followed a similar Occidental theme. The Table, her 12-course, New American beef omakase experience and Smoked, a low and slow Texas BBQ concept, now serving out of three locations, garnered Chef Pam the accolades ,not to mention the exposure from a Top Chef teaser and multiple other achievements over her years in the industry.

But, of course, there was more to attain for the young chef. As she navigated through the journey of chef-life, it was during a day trip to an old building in Song Wat, a riverside neighborhood in Bangkok’s Chinatown, that Chef Pam started to see herself, rather, chef-expression start to manifest. As she walked through the building with her grandfather, Pam recalls, “I think at that time I felt like I wanted to showcase what I want to do as a Chef. I thought I can’t showcase that, myself, any better than I can in this building. I think the building chose me in a way.”

Chef Pam

As the story of her restaurant, her menu, her concept started to evolve, pieces of the 5-story puzzle were intertwined within each, resulting in her now two year old restaurant, Potong. Baring 1-Michelin Star and countless other recognitions, the restaurant is where Chef Pam puts forth her mission to, “bring the Thai Chinese cuisine, as one word, into the fine dining experience, which no-one has ever done before. I want to do something different, I want to shake things up in the food industry in this old building and in the way that when I create my menu, I want to create something that’s very original and iconic. It’s my duty to do it.”

Upon entry, guests are seated in a ground floor room lined with apothecary jars fermenting a variety of ingredients, in a similar waiting game experience akin to the arrival for a doctor’s appointment. Offered a serving of house made kombucha, paired with anticipation for the meal to come, guests are made to take a ride to the third floor in the elevator, rather glass display case that shows a rolling view of Potong’s culinary team in action. Something like an open kitchen but not quite.

Chef Pam

For those hoping to catch some time with the kitchen crew, that need is taken care of with a stop off at the kitchen for the daily bite and a chat with the team. Add in one more, standing pre-dinner course for house charcuterie and collaborative wine pairing, diners are finally offered a seat for the twenty courses that lie ahead.

While the experience is certainly climactic and her cooking style is nothing short of sophisticated, Chef Pam’s introduction of fine dine Thai-Chinese cuisine is categorically historic, with the dishes calling on memories of food made in her home by her mother. Similar dishes to those once made by her grandmother, in a tiny balcony kitchen that is now one of the dining rooms at Potong. Her father constructed it a closed-in space, solarium style that is decorated with Chef Pam’s childhood artwork, placed there of course, by her mother.

Five floors of history, from her family’s memories to the artwork left behind by a former tenant, come to life today in a multitiered experience where Chef Pam and her team evoke nostalgia of her own, and subsequently of the guests’ own. Take course fourteen from the current menu that’s appropriately named, “Community.” For any Chinese food enthusiast, peking duck is a staple. Carved table-side by a tuxedoed Chinese waiter, the dish is meant to be shared around a table full of dining companions by the slick turn of a lazy susan. The tender pieces of rich duck meat are only second to their svelte skin that, if done perfectly, shatters upon eating.

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Words Gauri Saini
Date 16.04.2024