Chefs at Home with Chef Sun Tolongmat from Anantara's Pachaylen

Chefs at Home is a concept born of my respect for chefs who work tirelessly in what is often a thankless job. When one experiences a great dinner, it is natural to call on the head chef or chef de cuisine and heap praise on him  or her. However, there are so many others in the kitchen who never get their moment in the limelight. I wanted to create an evening where a chef, on his/day off could have a moment to show us what he/she likes doing in the kitchen. 

The first chef to do this was Dessert Chef at Pachaylen, the Thai restaurant at Anantara Eastern Mangroves, Sun Saranya Tolongmat. A couple months ago she helped me launch this concept for 5 guests. I try to limit the guests to 6 and the cost is just to cover ingredients and drinks. As with Brandon's Table, I believe more personal interactions is what is needed among people. Meaningful exchanges. Sincerity. Simple really. 

I liked it so much that I asked her to reprise her role and do it all again, this time for different guests. 

**Larb Gai
Chicken mincet salad with roasted rice powder,chilli powder,coriander,spring onion,kaffir lime leaves,mint leaves and lime dressing.
**Kha Nom Chor-moung.
Special steamed ckichen dumpling flower thai homemade.
**Som Tum Thai.
Papaya salad with thai chilli,garlic,lime,peanuts,dried,shrimp,and thai dressing.

**Tom Yum Khung.
Spicy prowns soup with chilli paste,galangal,lemon grass,kaffir lime leaves and mushroom.

**Panang See Krong Geh Yang.
Grill lamb with panang curry,sweet basil,kaffir lime,and red chilli
**Gai Pad Mead Ma-Moung.
Stir-fried chicken with cashew nut, chilli paste, onion,and bell pepper  


**Chef Special Thai homemade.

Chef Sun has that fearlessness of youth but respect for traditions handed down from older and wiser people. This comes through in her manner around the kitchen. Her maturity extends beyond her years. Our time in the kitchen with her proves to be an absolute highlight as she guides us making Kha Nom Chor-moung, with varying success. I would rather not talk about my attempt! Chefs at Home is about a chef opening up the kitchen and welcoming us to get in their and feel the kitchen; even just for a moment. 

Our venue tonight is Adagio Aparthotels in Abu Dhabi, part of the Al Bustan complex on Airport Road. The spacious two bedroom apartment is fully equipped and the staff are kind enough to ensure that all our practical needs are met, allowing Chef Sun to focus on the kitchen. I am always touched when staff go the extra mile for guests. 

A warm welcome by Novotel& Adagio Assistant F&B Manager, Mr Rodrigues and Choice Cut Steakhouse Restaurant Manager, Ms Robina. 

Chefs at home, though, is also about the beauty of people being being brought together by food. Chef creates dishes that move us to varying degrees and gets us all talking about them. When Chef talks about her love for her grandmother's desserts it is hard not to well up inside because there si so much emotion in her words. Dessert, that is really Chef's specialty, but when you try her other dishes, you would never say that. 

Starter after starter, from the Larb Gai to the Som Tum Tha and of course the Kha Nom Chor-moung each tell a different story, with diverse flavours leading the narrative. The beautifully prepared mains become almost incidental because by the time we have them, Chef has already worked her magic. She has taken guests to Bangkok, her hometown. Having said that, the Tom Yam Khung and  Panang See Krong Geh Yang are just amazing. No extreme flavours; everything is balanced. 

The wine for this evening comes courtesy of African & Eastern, one of the leading liquor suppliers in Abu Dhabi, with stores from the city centre all the way to Mussafah and beyond to Dubai. With Thai food known for its spicy elements, we have four wines that are both good on the palate and perfect for our menu while at the same time very affordable and available. I find it frustrating sometimes when I go to a wine dinner and try wines that are not readily available at the liquor store. No such issue with our wines tonight - I picked them up myself from the shelves at their store downtown. My stand out wines turn out to be the Provence Rosé and the Pinot Noir. In that price range, you would be hard pressed to find  a better Rosé or Pinot Noir. 

Da Luca Prosecco, Italy
Laibach Chenin Blanc, South Africa
Cuvée Serpolet Rosé, Provence
Villard Pinot Noir, Chile

So, what happens at Chefs at Home does not actually stay there!

Interestingly, in the final photo here, Chef is not there. She is the one holding the camera. This pretty much sums up her humility as both a  passionate Thai woman and also a chef who wants her dishes, be they main dishes or her first love, dessert, to tell her story, to be her picture. And knowing a  bit about Chef, having attended a few events with her, I know this is exactly how she wants it. 

The chef creates, standing in the background, watching the faces of her guests; the expressions that change as different flavours unfold in the mouth. The chef, as artist, brings her creative force to the fore, allowing us to enjoy the fruits of her hands. It is  a most humbling experience, and after I finished my dessert, it was even more moving knowing that the dessert, while made and served by Chef Sun, was full of her grandmother's spirit; so the dessert we all had was not actually made on the night but many many years ago. LIttle did her grandmother know that somewhere in Abu Dhabi her granddaughter would continue her legacy. Chefs at home, this is what it is all about. 


Chef Sun Saranya Tolongmat 
Pachaylen Thai Restaurant

African @Eastern
Adagio Apart Hotels
Adagio Al Bustan, Abu Dhabi

Chefs at Home 4...
Coming soon 

Brandon Stoltenkamp is a food writer and blogger based in Abu Dhabi