Posted on May 28, 2024

Exploring diverse career paths: Q&A with three Thai culinary pros

Headshots of Thai ChefsFrom L-R: Chef Nutcha, Chef Pailin, and Chef Tuk.

At Vancouver Community College (VCC), we pride ourselves in the hands-on, real-life learning that defines our college. Our Asian Culinary program is no exception as students receive opportunities to learn from experienced professionals in the industry. On May 16 and 23, students got a first-hand look at the flavours, techniques, and preparation that define Thai food from three talented Thai chefs. 

Chef Nutcha Phanthoupheng is the proprietor and executive chef at Baan Lao, located in  Richmond, B.C. Baan Lao and Chef Nutcha have received numerous awards and accolades including Canada’s Best New Restaurants, Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants in 2022, and the Georgia Straight Golden Plate Awards. In 2022, Chef Nutcha became the first Thai chef in Canada to be named Maître Rôtisseur by La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. The restaurant has Thai Select Signature certification, the highest honour from the Ministry of Commerce for the Royal Thai Government.

Chef Pailin Chongchitnant is a Le Cordon Bleu trained chef, content creator, cookbook author, and TV show host. Her YouTube channel Pailin's Kitchen has over 1.5 million subscribers. She has been featured in many major publications such as The New York Times, Serious Eats, and Bon Appetit. You can also find recipes and tutorials on her website, Hot Thai Kitchen.  

Chef Bunyaporn (Tuk) Tweesot's culinary journey began in the heart of Bangkok, amidst the fragrant spices and vibrant flavours of Thai cuisine. Chef Tuk found her inspiration working alongside a family of Thai diplomats. In 1982, she moved to Paris as an assistant chef. Her career then took her across Vietnam, Singapore, New Zealand, the United States, Norway, and Greece before venturing to China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Canada where she found herself serving as a private chef to the Consul-General of Thailand. With over 40 years of experience, she showcases the rich tapestry of Thai flavours, captivating palates through the universal language of food.

We recently sat down with Chef Nutcha, Chef Pailin, and Chef Tuk to ask them how they paved their own path in a competitive industry. 


All of you had unique career paths from when you started to where you are now. What inspired you to transition from your original career to what you do now? 

Chef Nutcha: I was a nurse and a cancer researcher for thirteen years. I moved to Canada with my supportive husband. I cooked for my two children and husband, and they enjoyed my food. I felt content to see my family happy. It reminded me of cooking with my mother when I returned from school. The pure joy of feeling happy when I cooked with my mother and eating my mother’s food. I am elated when people eat good food free from preservatives by using fresh, organic, wild, and sustainable ingredients. I felt it was time for me to change my career from a nurse to a chef. That is why I created Baan Lao, which means “Our Home”.

Chef Pailin: I had always wanted to have a cooking show ever since I started watching them on TV as a teenager in Thailand. But back then in the late 90's there was no way for the average person to have a cooking show unless you were somehow discovered by a TV show. So, I pursued the traditional chef route. When YouTube came along, I jumped on the chance to have my own cooking show. It began as a hobby, but once I realized that I didn't want to remain a restaurant chef forever, I decided to make YouTube my career.

Chef Tuk: My inspiration came from having the opportunity to work with a family of Thai diplomats in Bangkok and learning how to cook from the ambassador's wife. I had the opportunity to move out of the country for the first time in 1982 to Paris as an in-residence assistant chef of the ambassador. I then moved to Vietnam, Singapore, New Zealand, the United States, Norway, and Greece as a chef of the ambassador before moving to China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Canada, as an in-residence chef of the Consul-General of Thailand.

students, Thai Consul-General and Thai Trade CentreChef Tuk (front row, centre) and Rutch Soratana Consul-General of Thailand (back row, centre) with VCC students, instructors and representatives from the Royal-Thai Consulate General and the Thai Trade Centre. Chef Tuk demonstrated how to prepare Thai street food.


Can you share a significant challenge you encountered on your culinary journey and how you overcame it?

Chef Nutcha: Royal Thai Cuisine (the pinnacle of Thai cooking) requires detail to attention in technique, preparation, taste, and design. Continuous studying with my mentors is a prerequisite. I return to Thailand every year to learn and be inspired from my mentors and other chefs, which also includes sourcing new ingredients, plating, carving and sourcing hand sewn plates and decorations.

Chef Pailin: Being a content creator can quickly consume your life because the line between work and personal lives gets blurry fast. This became increasingly difficult once I became a mom and time became scarcer. So, it took me a lot of trial and error to find a good balance for myself, drawing lines around where work ends and where personal life begins.  

Chef Tuk: Cooking is a delicate matter where you must overcome the obstacles instead of letting them discourage you. We try our best, but sometimes we have to make the extra effort to make food look beautiful and taste delicious. This is especially true when we use local ingredients and tools instead of the original ones for traditional recipes.

Thai dishesSample dishes created by the chefs. View more mouth-watering photos in our Flickr album!


What advice would you give to culinary students looking to pursue a successful career in the industry?

Chef Nutcha: Analyze yourself first! Know your strengths and weaknesses. Have an end goal in mind. For example, do you prefer to work for a restaurant or do you want to be your own boss? Have a plan, know how to get there, and who you can ask for help along the way. Embrace patience, perseverance and resilience. Lastly, believe in yourself and be yourself. Ignore what others say and don’t chase the rewards. If you are happy and your guests are happy, that’s all that matters.

Chef Pailin: Don't be surprised or even sad if you go out and work in the restaurant industry only to eventually find out that it's not for you. Being a chef can take many different forms, and it can happen in many different locations. Keep your eyes and your minds open and you'll find many more opportunities you didn't know existed.

Chef Tuk: I would like to share my experiences and recipes with VCC students which may benefit their future careers. They say that opportunity knocks only once, so you should seize that opportunity when it comes. Keep learning, do your best and never give up.

The Thai cooking demos are part of a Thai culinary learning series organized by VCC’s Asian Culinary Arts department, the Royal Thai Consulate-General and the Thai Trade Center. 

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