Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Follow the Chef: Pongcharn Russell, young man aiming for the Top

Update April 2019:

Top is in Thailand Tatler's Generation T as well as Forbes Asia 30 under 30!!


Update March 2018:

Top has just won BK's Best Young Chef 2018. Very much deserved, congratulations!


If you are following my Facebook and Instagram feeds, you will realise that I have been frequenting a restaurant called Freebird. It has a menu that combines brilliantly, comfort food with dishes you can only find in fine-dining establishments, at an impeccably-designed space which gives customers no rules at all, meaning I can go there in my berms and slippers, little kids in tow, and still feel welcome.

That said, foodie friends tell me they didn't like the food at all when Freebird just opened, and all these improvements (in the food) were recent, after the promotion of a certain young sous chef to take over the kitchen, and this man is the Pongcharn Russell, more amicably known as "Top".

Incredibly, Top just turned 27 (he's almost a whopping decade younger than me), it baffles belief how someone so young can cook so well and seamlessly take over (and improve) an entire kitchen. It turns out that Top has already been cooking for 10 years (even I, being so much older, cannot consider myself to have honed a specific craft for that long), at various Michelin-starred restaurants in London (Pearl and Sketch) under the tutelage of household names like Alexis Gauthier, Jun Tanaka, Jason Atherton and most notably the legendary Pierre Gagnaire. And all of a sudden, the excellent food he churns out doesn't feel so unbelievable anymore.

Last week, he showed off his full artillery on his first ever personal showcase as head chef during a one-night-only special dinner, and even though my table-full of industry experts were all nodding their heads in unison at most of his dishes, I personally felt that he was capable of doing much better in more than one of them. That's how highly I regard him.

Culinary skills aside, the trait I appreciate most about Top is his willingness to share. I cook at home myself, a lot. Whenever I need suggestions, I will ask him because I know he will always come up with useful advice. I strongly feel that for anyone to rise to the next level in any craft/job, one must open his/her heart and be willing teach, train and share. This is the only way up-and-coming juniors can improve and take over what you do, releasing you to take up bigger better things. At a ripe young age, Top has already achieved this, and that is why I feel he is able to take care of a full kitchen team that's made up mostly of staff older than him.

The picture which I feel most represents Top, showing his team how things are done.
So, Foodies in Bangkok, keep this name in mind, Pongcharn Russell aka Top. Go try his food, follow his IG account (he shares a lot about his dishes and how he came up with them) because as his name suggests, he's on the up and destined for the top.


"Follow the Chef" is a new blog series where I sit down face to face with chefs and help them tell you what they want to say, in their perspective. My inspiration for this series stems from the fast-changing dining landscape in Bangkok, which is both exciting yet confusing for consumers like us. Do we follow the restaurants, or follow the chefs? I hope I can help you make a better decision.

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