The new executive chef at the Siam arrived to Bangkok with the invention to take the hotel’s restaurants to the top world’s chart.
By Anita Zaror
Yes, she’s a woman. In a position usually held by men. But hailing from Cairns, Australia, chef Jane-Therese Mulry, 42, came to Bangkok with her parents when she was 15, and she had a wish to come back one day as a chef. And JT—as her family and friends call her—made that wish come true recently, when she became The Siam Bangkok’s new executive chef in mid-November 2013.
The challenge she has set for herself while being here is not an easy one: putting her more than two decades of international experience in renowned establishments throughout the world toward the objective of putting The Siam and its restaurants on the world’s most prestigious top charts, such as the San Pellegrino’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and maybe even the Michelin guide. She says she will stay in Thailand for as long as it takes her to reach those objectives, “and hopefully do it along the way with some amazing friendships.”
Back in 1997, Mulry started worked with legendary Marco Pierre White who, at that time, was the youngest chef ever to be awarded three Michelin stars. After being appointed his first female head chef, at MPW Canary Wharf, her career took off.
“I didn’t necessarily like Marco’s food when I went there, but I loved his passion. I loved his drive, his will. And I learnt to season, and to make sauces: when enough was enough, how was it enough, why was it enough—everything to do with seasoning and making sauces. That’s the reason I went there, and you can always tell someone from a Western background that has worked in London because they will always be able to season something,” she explains. Those lessons took Mulry to work in some of the world’s best restaurants, such as Australia’s award-wining luxury resort, qualia.
Today, with a healthy and seasonal approach to cuisine, ingredients are very important for her.
“Inspiration for myself comes from not only from the people that I work with and that are in my team, but also from produce. There’s nothing better for me than to open a box of grapes when they still have the frost on the top, and just to be able to smell them. There are so many tomatoes these days that you buy in the markets, and when you pick them up they don’t even smell of tomato,” she says.
“There are some great Thai ingredients and some great suppliers out there. And that is one of the reasons why I was brought to these wonderful hotel: we want to get to the nitty-gritty of the fantastic suppliers out there—whether it’d be on the surrounds of Bangkok or up in Chiang Mai, where some incredible coffee is being grown. We use more local stuff than imported,” she adds.
JT admits to be over molecular cooking: “I was doing molecular cuisine for the past three and half years [at qualia] and, because of that, I want to get to the rawness of products. Before I was talking about tomatoes: it’s about that real simplicity of produce. It’s not about taking a pea, pureeing it up, turning it back into a spherical shape, and making it look like a pea again … I want to get back to picking beautiful, fresh garden peas, as opposed to making one.”
Mulry took some time off after her last job at qualia to travel around Australia, where she visited several culinary destinations. She then joined a “Principles of Diet and Nutrition” course to gain more in-depth understanding of the special dietary needs that she had seen so many travelers have these days: gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, on a raw diet, etc. “I wanted to be different; I wanted to be one of those chefs that took on board all those dietary requirements, and I saw a need to do that [course] because these days there are so many people with these ailments, and they do need looking after,” she explains. After incorporating this knowledge into her already extensive culinary experience, she’s planning on adding it to The Siam’s cooking. “I want to be able to create food and have an element of nutrition in it. So, for example, being able to provide breakfast juices, but actually telling you why they are good for you.”
Do you think there is a current worldwide trend in which people are leaning more toward a healthier approach to food?
– Yes, I definitely believe so. In my food philosophy I’m big believer in it: it’s always organic—where possible—healthy, and imaginatively presented. People don’t want to have thick, creamy sauce anymore. It’s about being able to have a meal, enjoy yourself with your friends, and still be able to get up and walk away, instead of having to sit for two hours because you’re so full. I find Thai cuisine very much like that: it’s light, you can have a lot of it but you don’t feel like you need to sleep after it, and I like to create food like that as well. I’m really into my vegetables, and I see it more and more out there as well: there are chefs that are just really focusing on vegetables and the goodness they do have in them […] I’m not vegetarian, but I could easily eat just beautiful stir-fried vegetables. I don’t eat as much meat as I used to. And I think it is a growing world trend.
How does it feel to be a woman in charge of the kitchen? “My belief is that, no matter what you are, if you’re good enough, you’ll make it,” she says. And she did.