Ngam's Hong Thaimee: "Giving Up Is Not My Choice"
For me, becasue I was born and raised in Thailand and my cooks are Thai, when it comes to recipes, all sauces are as Thai as one could make it. But we brush it up and make it more up-to-date. Take our pad Thai. It's the national dish of Thailand, and it has a long history. It's made with fish sauce, tamarind, and palm sugar, and it has to be sour, salty, and sweet, but not sharp sweet because it's from palm sugar. I keep all elements of true pad thai and make it more health-conscious and local. That's where I get zucchini pad Thai or papaya pad Thai. Authenticity is in the heart. I grew up with it, I lived with it, I breathe with it. It can't get more Thai than this.
Any big lessons from your time with Jean Georges?
I've learned so much. It was so hard. They gave me the eye to see what it's like to be a professional -- what it's like to be smart at what you do. You do 900 or 1,000 covers a night there. You have to be smart about what you do. You have to have the mindset of a warrior. You have to deliver -- no excuse. It's the best experience one could have if you want to be serious. We're here to serve, and there's no excuse.
Do you have a regional affinity?
I love food in general, so it's very difficult for me to choose. My mother's side of the family is from the south, so we vacation in the south. My grandma would make things from the south. My dad's side is from Chiang Mai. And we have family in Bangkok. So we do everything.
What do you think about the explosion of northern Thai food here?
Happy! It makes me feel excited that people get excited about what I grew up with.
Any thoughts on Thai food in NYC and where it's heading?
I'm hoping that people will know that Thai food is not difficult. It's so straightforward. I think that's what I'm here for. It could be part of your daily life.
Thoughts on women in the industry? You're the majority owner of your business, and you're from Thailand, so you've had a really unique experience opening a restaurant here.
I never give up, and I think I got here because of determination, not because I'm a woman. Everyone has so much to offer. You are your biggest enemy -- doesn't matter who you are. You gotta fight with yourself. Everyone finds it hard to raise funds. I never took it that I couldn't find funding because I'm a woman, and I find it hard to believe that it exists in New York City in 2012. The city is ready to accept new talent. Is it hard as a woman chef? It's hard in every industry. Is it intimidating? At first, yes. When I first started, no one took me seriously. But it's not their problem. It's my problem. I'm not going to let anyone control who I am.
But I'm excited to see more of us out there. We have so much to offer.
Up next, Thaimee talks about her goals and her cookbook.