Gen­er­a­tion T

In­tro­duc­ing Thai­land Tatler’s Gen­er­a­tion T lu­mi­nar­ies—the young game-chang­ers shap­ing the coun­try for the bet­ter

Thailand Tatler - - CONTENTS -

Pongcharn Rus­sell, the 27-year-old ex­ec­u­tive chef of modern Aus­tralian bistro Free­bird, is build­ing a blos­som­ing culi­nary ca­reer and is back where he wants to be, do­ing what he loves to do

This month we pro­file Pongcharn Rus­sell, the 27-year-old ex­ec­u­tive chef of modern Aus­tralian bistro Free­bird. Known as Top, he took an un­con­ven­tional route to es­tab­lish­ing his blos­som­ing culi­nary ca­reer but fol­low­ing a 10-year ap­pren­tice­ship in some of the UK’s best kitchens, he is back where he wants to be and do­ing what he loves to do.

The Be­gin­ning I wasn’t one of those who were for­tu­nate enough to know what they wanted to do. I stum­bled onto this path by ac­ci­dent. I was a waiter in a UK ho­tel and I asked the chef if I could ex­pe­ri­ence the back of house—the kitchens—for a week or two. He said yes and so I started do­ing dou­ble shifts: com­plet­ing my wait­ing du­ties in the morn­ing and then head­ing for the kitchen at three o’clock for din­ner ser­vice prep. Eigh­teen-hour days were a killer! But it was the first time that I saw West­ern cui­sine cre­ated in depth and that was ex­cit­ing for me—chefs would spend days mak­ing a soup or con­sommé and then it would be eaten within a few min­utes. That ded­i­ca­tion was eye open­ing! So I called my par­ents and an­nounced that I wasn’t go­ing to uni­ver­sity. Of course, they were dis­ap­pointed. They had sent me to an in­ter­na­tional school be­fore send­ing me over­seas to study in the UK, so the least they ex­pected was that I would get a bach­e­lor’s de­gree of some sort. They took some con­vinc­ing. I was 17 and had fin­ished my A Lev­els early. I just wanted to get on.

Proud­est Achieve­ment Be­ing hand­picked by my first men­tor, chef Alexis Gau­thier. He won his first Miche­lin star when he was only 28. Back then there were only 12 one-star Miche­lin res­tau­rants in Lon­don. He worked at Rous­sil­lon but was leav­ing to start his own restau­rant, Gau­thier Soho. I’d only been cook­ing for a year and a half, so it was an hon­our to be cho­sen as part of the open­ing team. Within six months we’d won our own Miche­lin star. To be given the re­spon­si­bil­ity of cook­ing the meat and fish, as well as pre­par­ing sauces, at the age of 19—well, it was un­heard of and I was very proud of the trust placed in me. When I moved on I didn’t go to res­tau­rants for the name of the chef, I went be­cause there was some­thing at each restau­rant that I needed to fur­ther my learn­ing. To be ap­pointed ex­ec­u­tive chef at Free­bird was also a great hon­our.

On Be­ing A Chef I think cook­ing well and be­ing a good chef is 95 per cent ef­fort and five per cent tal­ent. You have to be hard­work­ing and per­sis­tent. Rep­e­ti­tion is the best way to learn—when you do things a thou­sand times you get to know them by heart. It’s about the con­sis­tency, do­ing it day in and day out and hav­ing the dis­ci­pline to do it right.

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