FEATURE: NO LIMITS WITH CHEF HONG THAIMEE
Right now, Thaimee at McCarren is serving up a vibrant and unique new dish: Yum Woon Sen which means “magic noodle salad”. Vermicelli noodles soaked in butterfly pea flowers gives the noodles a deep indigo blue hue. Upon serving, lime juice is poured over top the noodles turning them from indigo blue to violet purple right before your eyes! While the acidity creating a chemical reaction is undeniably science, there is a distinctive art to this dish as well. Truth be told, a bit of science and art goes into all the greatest cooking, music, and balanced lifestyles. Over perfectly fried chicken, we talked food and music with Chef Hong and one thing was clear. Her magic noodle salad couldn’t be any more representative of her passionate, fun and spirited soulfulness that is just, the magic, in her.
Q: What was growing up in Chiang Mai, Thailand like?
A: I remember picking herbs by hand. Feeling no limits surrounded by nature. I was working as an executive in Thailand when the tsunami hit in ‘06. I thought, “life is short” and decided to pursue my passions more after that.
Q: Why do you do what you do?
A: I live by this mantra: to love and serve people. New Yorkers travel [for leisure] to Thailand more than any other place in the world. NYC has everything here and people love Thai food.The same thing music does for people is why I cook. So that people can live better, heal, fall in love, feel. Food has magic power. I love being a part of other people’s everyday lives.
Q: I know you have live jazz at your weekend brunch! How does music play a role in your everyday life?
A: Music helps me. It opens your world to flavor. Do you know how I decompress? I go to karaoke at 3pm when no one is there - before my shift. I belt out Whitney Houston. Music is therapy. Inspiration. Sometimes I listen to jazz and Barbra Streisand. I like hip hop because it’s real. Raw.
Q: How do you stay creative?
A: I read a lot of cookbooks and go on pinterest to get inspired and learn about what is out there. Music is my outlet. They say music is a universal language. But learning English as a second language requires me to do a lot of reading so I can understand things better. For music, if I hear a song I like, I have to read the lyrics. But when I read the lyrics, I understand. I also like to dance - ballet growing up. And sleep. In my freetime, I sleep.
Q: When you aren’t putting in work at one of your restaurants, where do you like to go to eat in the city?
A: When people ask me where to go [to eat] I say, “go where the feeling tells you to go”. My favorite place to eat? My friend’s house. Nothing is better than homemade food with people you love.
Q: What’s are some of your biggest cravings or food you love?
A: Food has no boundary. I love all food. Kimchi and good salads.
Q: What do you love about Brooklyn?
A: Brooklyn is truly a community. It’s a hub of culture.
Q: Who’s your favorite hip hop artist?
A: Jay-Z. He represents Brooklyn. He made a lot of good choices to be where he is today. One of a kind. It really doesn’t matter where you are from, it matters where you are going.
Q: If there was one thing, what would you tell your younger self?
A: Oh darling, stay young and stay curious.
Chef Hong is chef/owner at Ngam, Thaimee Box, and newly opened Thaimee at McCarren. Above all, she is an amazing ambassador for Thai food and living a good life. Her staff very much felt like family and we learned some more great things about chef from them. Business partner, Matt Bruck, shared with us how humble and awesome Chef Hong is, saying, “when she sets her mind to anything, she accomplishes it.” We tested this immediately as Matt walked Chef Hong through her first freestyle.
He said, “Try this: If you’re having girl problems I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but a Thai Chef ain’t one.”
Not bad, chef, not bad.