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Chef Bongkoch “Bee” Satongun has been cooking since the age of five, helping her mother by preparing curry pastes and squeezing coconut milk in the early years and progressing to completing dishes by herself between high school and university in the small family restaurant in Bangkok.
However, her rebellious personality led her to see cooking as a chore and she moved on to pursue a career working in hotels in the back-end of the business. The tables turned when, at the age of 28, she met Australian restaurateur and Chef Jason Bailey. Although she already knew the authentic flavors and ingredients of classic Thai dishes, Bailey helped add a more formal element to Satongun’s culinary education by training her in the kitchen.
Bee Satongun started her culinary journey researching old family cookbooks and heritage techniques before opening the current incarnation of Paste with Bailey in Bangkok in 2015. The restaurant is airy and modern, recreating the feel of an elegant Thai house with handmade furniture made from paper and bamboo, floor-to-ceiling windows and a sophisticated soft color scheme. Satongun is in charge of the kitchen, while Bailey oversees the operations and art direction of the overall restaurant. The couple’s shared passion for the country’s traditional cuisine and their strong desire to elevate Thai dishes to a higher level led to the creation of Paste’s “heirloom creative Thai cuisine”, with a philosophy of keeping 80% of the traditional dish and innovating 20%. Striving to keep the original flavors in her dishes, the 41-yearold Thai chef expresses her personality by adding new layers of complexity, while refining and smoothing out the flavors and presenting the dishes in innovative ways. With roots in the 6th and 7th centuries, Thai cuisine has changed and evolved over time, absorbing Portuguese, Dutch, French, Japanese, Chinese and Lao influences.
Authenticity is not duplication of the past. It is learning from the past, discovering depth and details that are new to us, and adapting them to the future, just as those artists, writers, and chefs of history did before us.
In her opinion, food is worthless without cultural taste which cannot be reproduced or faked and comes from deep within the chef who must have been fortunate enough to cook with older Thai generations.
Paste gained its first Michelin star at the beginning of 2018 and Bee Satongun also became Asia’s Best Female Chef 2018 - awarded by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants - in recognition of her technical expertise and flair for striking a delicate balance between tradition and innovation, reinterpreting traditional Thai cuisine in a modern context and combining ancient and contemporary techniques alongside surprising twists.
At Paste, Satongun and Bailey are dedicated to sourcing the best fresh produce from all over Thailand by going on regular research trips, including handpicked coconuts, mountain salt from the northern region of Nan and fish sauce made from local freshwater river fish with a milder flavor than sea fish. “Thai food is all about the freshness of the ingredients and it’s important that they come from the right area.” Menus change regularly but diners can expect intensely flavored, colorful dishes such as the char-grilled langoustine salad with northern Thai forest ingredients; beef rib, braised for 12 hours and served with long pepper, roasted tomatoes and mushroom soy; old style hot and sour soup of crispy pork leg, chargrilled shallots, jackfruit seeds, roasted tomatoes in a smoky chicken broth; tapioca dumplings of royal project smoked trout, toasted peanuts, mustard leaf and wild sesame or one of Paste’s signature curries, such as Kaeng Bon with live ocean lobster, elephant ear plant from Chachoengsao Province, salted and cured game fish, kaffir lime and mangrove apple flower.
It is now important to Satongun to make sure that the recipes and techniques she has rediscovered are passed on. Her daughter Sydney, who is five years old, is already helping with food prep at the restaurant, “but my job now is to teach everything we have learnt in these years to my chefs at Paste, so that they can absorb those flavors and techniques and keep authentic, elevated Thai food alive.”
Chef Bee Satongun brings her heirloom Thai cuisine, combining diverse textures and tastes into a unified shared meal, known in Thai as sum rup, to take you on a journey that captures an amazing array of flavors and nutritional energy at Restaurant Ikarus in March 2019.
Each month at Salzburg’s two Michelin-starred Restaurant Ikarus, a different top international chef creates the menu. For this globally unique concept, Hangar-7 executive chef Martin Klein visits the cream of the crop, takes a look behind the scenes of haute cuisine, and is let in on some exciting culinary secrets. “Culinary Heights at Ikarus” offers a unique glimpse into the world of high-end cuisine and provides an interesting portrait of each guest chef, their culinary philosophy, and the food culture of their country.