“Being a successful chef is more than just collecting stars. It’s amazing to have those, but I have other goals and purposes too.”
You’ve probably heard of Chudaree Debhakham, whom people call Chef Tam. Despite being recognised for working in renowned kitchens like Blue Hill at Stone Barn and winning Top Chef Thailand, Tam has made a more prominent name for herself after establishing Baan Tepa. Located in Ramkhamhaeng, the historic compound was converted into a “culinary space:” Tepa Kitchen, Tepa Garden and the house itself. And although cooking is her passion, what’s at the core of Chef Tam is sustainability and culinary experimentation. We see this essence reflect in culinary experimentation are the core of the 31-year-old chef’s food and lifestyle. With that, let’s get to know Chef Tam more as we dive into her culinary journey beyond the Michelin world.
Chef Chudaree ‘Tam’ Debhakam:
On creating something new out of old experiences
As we sat down to talk with the chef, the first question was, what does ‘delicious food’ mean to you? Her reply was quick as her inspiration derives from that. “It’s when you feel something after you eat. Whether the plate of food sparks joy in some way, makes you feel surprised or even reminisce— that’s when you know it’s good.” To make that come true for others, the inspiration for her new menus comes from her old travelling experiences. Tam uses memories from the food and products she’s tried and seen to create something new. “I like to mix and match. I’ll get two elements and see if they would work well together. However, cooking can be difficult. Sometimes my creativity doesn’t work when I force a new menu. It’s like getting pressure to create something. It’s not organic.”
Her purpose beyond the Michelin world
They say receiving a Michelin star is a chef’s highest career point, but for Tam, it’s different. Although Baan Tepa received one MICHELIN star, that was just a stepping stone. “It all depends on how you think and your goal in life. If being in the MICHELIN guide is your highest point, it will be your highest point. If collecting the stars is your dream, that is great too. It’s valid. But I have other goals and purposes for opening a restaurant.”
It’s not just about the awards, Tam told us. She wants to create something and make a difference in the restaurant industry. One of the changes is to shift how Thais view fine dining. However, she’s also considering focusing more on casual dining. “I want to expand the restaurant, establish a different brand. But for Baan Tepa, we still need to do many things like developing sustainability within the restaurant or its operation.”
Some words of wisdom for aspiring chefs
For those with desires to be a Michelin star chef, Tam is here to give a little heads up. One of her advice is to try working in a Michelin-star restaurant first. “See if you like it because there’s a lot of pressure. You need a lot of attention to detail to be in this industry and to perform at that level. Not everyone will like the fine dining or the Michelin restaurant environment.” Another tip she gave is to travel around and do lots of experiments. Chef Tam believes in intensive research and meeting with local producers for skill development.