The artist: Chef Jutamas ‘Som’ Theantae and (below) her canvas: Karmakamet Conveyance
Jutamas ‘Som’ Theantae, executive chef & co-founder of Karmakamet Conveyance, marches to the sound of her own music. She may change the beat, mash it up, even ‘sample’… as inspiration strikes. But she will not be bound by anything, not even her own creations. Her cuisine comes from within, an expression of her ever curious mind as she put its. “Food is about experiences. I recreate mine.” No, she is not a maverick, but an artist who likens her creations to paintings in a museum that each observer experiences in their own way. Tasting her food, she asserts is ‘a form of experiencing art’.
An artist-turned-chef, Som refined her skills in restaurants across Thailand before starting her own restaurant Karmakamet in 2013. That dream eventually distilled into Karmakamet Conveyance in 2019: a white canvas for her layered food experiences. Honesty, she says, is what it is all about, “The world is too much about appearances. It has to be honest. And that’s true for everything in life.”
So when I put the now clichéd ‘woman in a man’s world’ question to her in a nod to International Women’s Day, her signature soft voice acquires an edge, “Why do we even have to think of chefs as male or female! The gender should not be the topic; their work should be. Being a chef is hard work enough. Being anything at all is hard work, it’s not about being male or female. If we are still talking about being male and female even now how can be go further? It’s time to get past that. I guess we should begin by not reducing everything to gender. That would be a great start.” Som’s message to her chef fraternity at large (male and female) is simple, “We can make this a better place for us and for the next generation by accepting that we are equal.”
As Som sounds the gong for gender equality in the kitchen, she underlines a simple fact:women chefs are the norm now, the need now is to act as the equal you clearly are. “In our kitchen, we discuss, we talk, we work hard, we are not dominated by the thoughts of competing with anyone or by thoughts of being male or female. We move freely in our head, we don’t judge. We spend our day productively and we wish to end our days with love and peace and happiness for everyone. Instead of just gender, our conversation should be about difficulties and problems that all chefs face,” she says.
“Why do we even have to think of chefs as male or female! The gender should not be the topic; their work should be. Being a chef is hard work enough.”
Her unequivocal statement has me take a step back in my head. Should I then be questioning the media’s obsession with women in the professional kitchen? After all who else besides the media is asking this question? Not the diners. Not the male chefs, not any more at least. Som though gives me a pass, “If being obsessed about the topic drives people to be confident then it’s great. I don’t see a problem.”
How then do you respond to restaurant awards that have a ‘Best Female chef’ category I counter? Isn’t it time then that female chefs are judged alongside their male counterparts? “I don’t think so much about awards. But if the ‘awards’ influence us to do better for ourselves and for others, then whatever the category or name of the award, it should be fine.”
But what of female chefs that opt out to have families? “Many women choose to get married, have children and leave their professional life. It is a choice they make. Others have children and continue to work. We all make choices. You choose to be a chef. It is not a role assigned to you. Every choice we make has its own challenges but it is up to us to overcome those challenges in whatever way we think best. Just don’t let negativity or [perceived] difficulties stop you from taking your chosen path. Both male and female chefs have to make these choices.”
Could the industry do more to help female chefs and is in a way failing them with inaction? “I would not say the industry is failing chefs. It is up to us to take the opportunity, there is equality in the opportunity.”
Som’s advice to young chefs of both genders is simple, “If you love what you do, it will be fun everyday. If you love what you do, you will find the solutions to your problems. If you discover that being a chef is not what you enjoy, there’s no defeat in changing paths. Be true to yourself. And don’t follow trends. A chef’s life is a tough one, that choice should not be based on a trend. I personally see no problems that others don’t face. These issues are universal in that sense. All chefs, face the same set of problems.”
To read about Chef Som’s latest menu, Expedition, click here.