Many chefs were in attendance at the parties during the ’11 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, but Hong Thaimee’s appearance at the Kim Crawford Wines event was especially fitting.
Hong Thaimee has been dubbed the Fashion Chef because prior to being known for her cooking, she was a television personality and model, a job she enjoyed. “My favorite part was having to express a wide variety of emotions in order to sell a product,” says Hong. “One day I’ll look like I’m enjoying the best cup of hot coffee ever, and the next day I’ll be using the most relaxing shampoo in the middle of a rainforest. It was all acting. I don’t really drink coffee and I don’t wash my hair in a rain forest!”
Hong’s modeling career took off. She worked as the face of Nescafe and Pantene across Southeast Asia, and was known for her style and poise, but she was ready for more. “After a few years I decided it was time for me to get a ‘real job’ and do something more productive. I got my MBA and worked for a big global company as a social responsibility manager. But I realized soon after that food was my true calling, so I started to figure out how I would share my love of Thai food with the world.”
It was the passion for cooking that brought Hong to the United States from her native Thailand. “My goal was to share the best of Thai food with the world,” she says, though her first thoughts were to write a book or do a television show. When she turned her focus to restaurants, she trained with famed Thai Chef M.L. Sirichalerm Savsti, as well as Jean Georges at his Perry Street and Spice Market restaurants.
After learning from some of the best, Chef Hong then opened her own restaurant. Ngam debuted in September 2011 in the East Village of New York City. “I felt like the time was right for me to share my ideas about food with the New York City Community. Since New York is the biggest stage, I could reach the most people in this city,” she offers, when asked why she chose Manhattan as the location.
Chef Hong has no problem being labeled the Fashion Chef even though she’s no longer modeling, “I love it! I am a huge fan of fashion and if I can combine my love of fashion with my love of food, then why not? Just because I work in the kitchen doesn't mean I can't be stylish.”
Ngam is part of her full name – Hong Ngamprom Thaimee – and also the word for “beautiful” in Thai. Chef Hong, as she is most often called, dubs her menu “modern Thai comfort food,” a combination of what she learned in her homeland and her own stylistic touches. She finds it important to use natural ingredients, hormone free meat and poultry, as well as sustainable seafood in her restaurant.
Chef Hong also makes sure that the food is designed to “feed your eyes first.” She explains this phrase, “Food should appeal to all your senses, but our eyes come first. To make us want to eat something it should attract us in a way that says, ‘Eat me, I am delicious!’ ”
She goes on to further define what she means, “Making that plate look good is a labor of love by the chef and I think eaters understand this on some level. Two plates of food can have exactly the same ingredients and same preparation, but if one looks like more care and effort was put into it then it will always taste better than the other one.”
In addition to cooking dishes at Ngam, Chef Hong is also now teaching people how to make them with monthly cooking classes. Visit the restaurant’s website for more information.