Thai street food cook feels heat of Michelin fame

Bangkok's only Michelin star hawker 'exhausted', may return award

Wearing her trademark ski goggles for protection from flying sparks, Thai cook Jay Fai hunches over two sizzling woks as tourists from around the world line-up in three-hour-long queues at her streetside eatery in Bangkok.

The 72-year-old's crab-stuffed omelettes have always been popular among local gourmands but her eponymous restaurant shot to global fame overnight after it was awarded a Michelin star this month at the launch of Bangkok's first guide.

While she is proud of the achievement, the former dressmaker is still adjusting to the media frenzy that has seized her kitchen in Bangkok's old quarter.

"There are advantages and disadvantages," she told AFP as she flung ingredients into a wok, explaining she did not have time for a formal interview.

"The downside is being exhausted... Also, the government wants me to promote Thailand. I feel like I do not have a choice," Jay Fai added.

She has been asked to appear at the seaside town of Hua Hin for an international tennis tournament where she will teach top-ranked players to make her signature crab omelette and the Thai soup tom yum goong.

"I will not be selling for two days," she said ruefully, adding that she would consider handing back the coveted star if it meant returning to her normal routine.

Any distraction from work means a loss of business for Jay Fai, whose spirited cooking style - a flurry of activity from grabbing handfuls of raw seafood to dishing out plates of the finished product - is one of the main attractions.

Her supersized portions of crab and jumbo prawns are also part of the draw, though the dishes are far pricier than the city's average street vendor at upwards of US$20 (S$27) a pop.

The modest eatery, which has some indoor seating, was the only streetside venue among the 17 Bangkok restaurants awarded stars on Dec 6, when Michelin unveiled its first guide for the Thai capital.

Michelin awards stars only to establishments with fixed addresses, leaving many of Bangkok's famous roadside stalls out of the running at a time when the city is attempting to move them off the pavement and into organised markets.

Jay Fai had heard of the brand name Michelin but was not aware that the French tyre company had anything to do with food.

She is not the first cook to feel the heat over the flood of attention that comes with a Michelin star. In September, a chef, whose restaurant in France was given three stars, said he wanted to be stripped of the award because of the "huge pressure" to meet its standards on a daily basis.

But Jay Fai's colleagues are not worried about her.

"She is quite strong. She never gets ill," said an assistant who has worked there for 10 years. 

Food & Drink