When Pom Gongkam was very little, her mother had a food stall in a Chiang Mai street market. It was here, amid the crowds and the cacophony of sounds and smells and colours, watching and learning from her mum, that a lifelong love took root in Pom—of food, naturally, and of cooking, certainly; but most importantly of cooking for people.
That this love of cooking should take root so early on is no surprise—it’s in Pom’s DNA. She comes from a long line of cooks of all sorts that stretches back for generations, everything from street vendors to chefs. Her large family’s get-togethers always centered around food, with everyone up at the crack of dawn cooking up an enormous feast, secretly trying to out-do one another with ever more ambitious dishes.
Chiang Mai, in Thailand’s north, is one of the country’s oldest cities, and one of the places where Thai culture and traditions have been best preserved. It is a city full of art, music, and food. Being an agricultural area, there are fresh ingredients of all sorts available in abundance all year round. For someone like Pom with a passion for cooking, Chiang Mai was a perfect place to grow up.
Following a Passion
Pom grew up and went off to university earning herself a pair of Bachelors degrees. After she graduated for the second time, she decided to follow her heart and become a chef.
She returned to Chiang Mai and underwent training with some of Thailand’s top chefs. The training was very rigorous. At first, they had her focus solely on taste: they presented her with dishes and she had to identify all the ingredients. Next, they focused on ancient cooking techniques—no measuring cups, and no kitchen appliances. In this way, Pom learned how to cook by using only her senses of sight, smell, touch and taste to control the results. The training was difficult, but it gave her a very solid grounding in traditional Thai cuisine, as well as an appreciation for the way a mortar and pestle allows ingredients to release their best flavours while still retaining their integrity in a way that no food processor can.
The Lucky Country (Lucky that Pom moved here!)
Pom arrived in Australia in 1990 and spent two decades as head chef under Thai Master Chef Prasit Prathepsane at Prasit’s Northside Thai. She was also involved in the establishment of Pomegranate Thai in Balmain. Her culinary skills and creative flair got her noticed—from 2003 to 2009, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide mentioned her by name in its listings for both of those restaurants.
Pom has had write-ups in the “Dish It Up” column in the SMH’s The Sydney Magazine twice—in December 2005 and July 2006. She was also praised in the Herald’s Good Food Guide of September 20, 2005. She has had recipes published in Gourmet & Traveler Magazine and in Town Guide Japaralia, a Japanese magazine. And she has taught as a guest specialist in the Asian Cookery course at TAFE.
Bai Tong Thai Tempe
Now Pom brings her talents to Tempe. Pom is no ordinary Thai chef, and Bai Tong Thai is not your ordinary suburban Thai restaurant; Pom’s cooking stands apart for its creativity, its flair and artfulness. See, for example, her violet dumplings filled with caramelized peanut and smoked duck. Or her banana blossom salad with roasted coconut, crunchy onions and peanuts. She creates incredible dishes that have a solid grounding in traditional Thai cuisine but with modern twists that dazzle the taste buds.
At Bai Tong Thai Tempe, we give Pom free reign to use her creativity and innovation—our menu and specials are entirely her creation. Pom takes her inspiration from the seasons and what ingredients are available, from what she is feeling at the time, and from her memories of dishes that have been passed down to her. She travels back to Thailand regularly to seek new inspiration and recipes, and loves traveling around the world sampling different types of cuisine.
“I believe that ingredients from different cultures will merge together and create some new and unique cuisine,” says Pom. She is always innovating, always looking for new ideas, new inspiration, new ways to build on the traditional Thai cuisine.
There is something truly unique about Pom’s cooking and her culinary creations may weave their way into the fabric of your dreams. So come visit us soon and try it for yourself! You won’t be disappointed.