Close Up Interview With Head Chef Pom Gongkam from Bai Tong Thai Tempe, Sydney

Head Chef- Pom Gongkam

Tell us a little about yourself ?

I was born in Chiang Mai, Thailand. My family had been involved with food for many generations, from chefs to street vendors. I am fortunate to have been living in Australia for 20 years now. Before coming to Australia, I studied and graduated as Bachelor of Business Admin from Chiang Mai University as well as Bachelor of Industrial Engineering from Sanno University in Japan. Currently I am the head chef at Bai Tong Thai in 703Princes Highway , Tempe.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Chiang Mai from Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is one of the oldest city in Thailand and was the capital of Siam a long time ago. Today Chiang Mai is famous for preserving Thai culture and tradition, it cultivates many artists and is well known for fresh produces harvested in and around Chiang Mai.

When did you know you wanted to be a chef?

Since I was very little I always loved cooking.  My mum used to have a food store in the local street market. I loved watching and learning from her from a very young Age. After I graduated from universities, I followed my heart and decided to become a chef as I felt I want to spend my life creating beautiful food.
Chiang Mai City

What is your favourite food memory?

I come from a very large family. Whenever we have a family gathering, the whole family would get up very early to cook up a feast. We then pack some of the food to the temple to present to the Buddha and the monks before we would settle down at home and eat. One of our favourite must have dish is the Curry of ginger, pork belly and jackfruit. In Thai, Jackfruit means lucky.

Where were you trained, and how difficult was your training?

I was trained by some top chefs in Thailand.  The training was very difficult but I believe was most instrumental to learn about Thai cuisine.

BBQ Pork Strips

I was taught to learn about the taste first, I had to be able to tell all the ingredients from just tasting food. After that, I was taught the ancient techniques, using only traditional equipments and ingredients. I was not allowed to use any measuring equipments nor any electrical equipments such as a blender. I learnt how to control ingredients just by our senses – eyes, hand, smell, taste.

Where do you get your inspiration when you design a menu?

My inspiration comes from the different seasons and the fresh ingredients that are available. I also design menu depending on what I feel and memories of dishes passed down to me.

What is your favourite kitchen equipment?

Mortar and pastel, because it breaks down the ingredients and releases the best flavours but still retain it’s integrity.  In modern day cooking where electric blenders are used more often, it can not bring out the best in our food like mortar and pastel would.

Best piece of advice you would give a home enthusiast?

If it doesn’t work first time, keep trying until you get it right. Even the best chefs would need to try many times before they finally get it right.

Best cooking tip for a young apprentice just starting out?

Be inspired by the food around you and try everything as the same dish can taste and cook differently each time.

Funniest kitchen incident?

I tripped over the floor mat and ended up on all fours on the floor with food all over me, while at the same time trying to keep a straight face.

Chicken larp

Who in the food world do you most admire?

Charlie Amattayakul –celebrity chef and teacher born in a family that cooks for the Thai royal family.  He was passionate about passing all the ancient cooking to new generation in Thailand in order to keep the old traditions alive.

Charlie was also the first Thai to start a cooking school in Thailand ( in the Oriental Bangkok), One of his famous student was David Thompson.

Favourite foods to cook with?

Chilli, lemongrass, kaffir lime fruit and fermented fish paste.

Do you have a favourite cook book to recommend?

Charlie Amattayakul’s book Thai food (only available in Thailand) or David Thompson’s Thai Street Food.

What do you think is the most challenging ingredient to work with?

Fermented fish paste, if you don’t know how to cook it well, it will end up tasting very bad and ruin the whole dish

What do you like to eat when you’re at home?

I enjoy the different cakes and desserts from all different cuisines in the world.

What is going to be the next big thing in the food world?

I believe that ingredients from different cultures will merge together and create some new and unique cuisine.  We are being exposed to so much more different ingredients and cuisine in our modern world.

What do you do for fun?

I love eating out with friends when I am not working or testing new dishes.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

Paris because of the rich food culture

Scallops with Mango

What do you most love about your job?

My kitchen in Bai Tong Thai Tempe.  I love creating new dishes and see and hear satisfied customers.

If you had just one wish, what would it be?

I wish I have more time to travel and eat around the world.

Where do we find you and your restaurant?

Bai Tong Thai Tempe
703 – 705 Princes Highway
NSW 2044
(02) 8668 4800

Vinh Van Lam
the authorVinh Van Lam
Vinh Van Lam, co-founder of ArtSHINE, is a visionary art coach and entrepreneur with a passion for fostering creativity. With a diverse background in art and business, he brings a unique perspective to empower emerging artists, enabling them to thrive in the dynamic art industry through the innovative platform of ArtSHINE.

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