Back in her childhood during the daytime, the youthful Suree would make flavoursome pastes with her grandmother, to be used in that evening’s dinner. Her father would fish, to feed his family.
Suree would have other duties to attend to. From the age of five she would get involved with her household chores, making charcoal with her grandmother so that her family had fuel on which to cook its food.
“I learned a lot from my grandmother,” she says. “Food was important in our life, it gave us a way of communicating. We learned to give; we’d show our respect to the village monks by giving them food.”
Each morning, at 6am, the village bell would ring and Suree would prepare food for the monks who were walking to the temple.
“The monks didn’t eat after noon, it’s part of their Buddhist religion, so we would feed them early in the day. My grandmother was my biggest inspiration, in terms of learning how to cook. Cooking was a very communal experience. It’s something that all of us did together.
“We’d spend hours cooking with other families and women in the village. It was a way of bringing the community together; it made us close-knit.”
Suree would help to harvest herbs and spices, then pound them in a pestle and mortar to make the base for intoxicating dishes. Everything was fresh, everything was picked that same morning, everything was packed with unadulterated flavour.
“I learned how to cook pastes and sauces and I still use the recipes that I learned then. That’s why my food tastes authentic: I’m using many of the recipes that I used as a five-year-old girl learning at the knee of my grandma.”
Suree stayed in Thailand until she was old enough to travel.
At the age of 21, she flew to the UK so that she could study at college. She wanted to run her own business and her family invested in her education.
“I started printing business cards, which I handed out door to door.
“For a while, I worked in the rag trade, making clothes. I’d also cook for my friends – and they’d all be blown away. They started to book me – they would actually pay me to cook for them – and soon I was cooking four-course meals for 20 people at a time. “
Suree’s dinners were based on the simple and authentic flavours she’d learned from her forebears. They dazzled the palates of her new customers, who had grown accustomed to bland, flavourless, Western-ised versions of south east Asian dishes.
Soon, she met her loyal and supportive husband, an engineer. He shared Suree’s passion for great food and encouraged her to follow her dream.
“I started to think that maybe I could cook for a living and open my own restaurant. Simon encouraged me. His family helped me to open a restaurant and I’ve never looked back.
“It’s an exhausting profession, but I love it very much. Our first restaurant was at Ironbridge, in Shropshire, and we were there for eight-and-a-half years. Then we moved to nearby Broseley in 2008.”
Suree proved to be successful. For her, food wasn’t about making money; it was about sharing her culture with others.
“Food is in my blood. It’s all I’ve ever done, all I’ve ever known. In some ways, it’s a kind of religion. It’s what I do when I want to relax; it’s what I do when I go to work; it’s what I give my family, to show them how much I love them.
“Most chefs disappear from the kitchen when it’s their day off. And why wouldn’t they? We chefs work extraordinarily long hours in hot, difficult conditions. It’s no wonder chefs like to let off steam.
“I don’t, however. On days when the restaurant is closed, on high days and holidays, you’ll find me in the kitchen. That’s the time when I’m able to experiment with new dishes and new flavours. It’s the time when I’m able to perfect my desserts, or find out about new flavours and combinations. It’s the time when I’m able to create the next special dish that my customers will love.”
Suree says son Ross gets to try her new dishes, and she can tell from his face whether they are any good. Suree says son Ross gets to try her new dishes, and she can tell from his face whether they are any good. Suree and Simon had a son, Ross, who delighted in his mother’s cooking is a keen motorcycle racer on the European circuit.
“Simon and Ross are brilliant. If I am cooking a new dish, they will get to try it and I know by the reaction on their faces whether it’s good or not. I often feel as though I’m the luckiest person in the world. I love cooking and I get to do it every day. And my family – Simon and Ross – support me in that. What more could I wish for?”
In recent years, Suree’s stock has risen. She’s become a regular at the region’s biggest food festivals, cooking for audiences at the 20,000-capacity Ludlow Food Festival and also delighting those who attended this summer’s inaugural Shrewsbury Food Festival. Last year, she made a major breakthrough when she was named UK Thai Chef of the Year, beating big-hitters from London and elsewhere being presented her award at the House of Lords, and more recently crowned Midlands Best Restaurant by the prestigious Waitrose Good Food Guide 2016.
She was undaunted by the challenge of taking on acclaimed Thai chefs – and came out on top. She’s also cooked for The Hairy Bikers, among others.
“Every night, people will find me at the stove of The King and Thai, in Broseley. I’m ever-present; I’m not the sort of chef who flies the nest to do personal appearances or star turns elsewhere. When people come to my restaurant they know exactly who’ll be cooking their food: me.
“I enjoyed great fortune in 2012 when I was named the best Thai chef in the UK. Winning the 2012 Thai Chef of the Year for the whole of the British Isles was a remarkable achievement. I was up against some of the biggest stars in British cuisine – and I won. My success was down to one simple ingredient: authenticity. Though I like to play with presentation and make my food as pretty and artistic as can be, the flavours that my guests taste are the same as those that I first cooked back in Thailand.”
Now Suree has published her first book, Cook Thai, which is inspired by the dishes she learned as a child. Of course, her culinary style has moved on and she is now one of the region’s better known chefs.
She has a fondness for great presentation and decorates her dishes vibrantly, with edible flours and other ornamentation making her food as pleasing on the eye as it is on the palate. She has also developed a remarkable repertoire as a pastry chef, creating dishes that tantalise the tastebuds and are as pretty as a picture.
“I’m obsessed with food. At the weekends, Simon and Ross will go to a local race track and Ross will race his motorbike. He’s one of Britain’s best young riders and he’s coming on in leaps and bounds. He’s a star in the making and we’re both very proud of him.
“But I love to stay in the kitchen and come up with new creations. The possibilities for food are endless: the only limit is your imagination.”
Suree is proud of her new book. “It was a great honour to create a book of my food. “I wanted to share with people the flavours of my life and explain how great food is made.
“I wanted to make it easy for people to create delicious meals in their own home. So much food these days is out of a packet or out of a jar. I wanted to show people that they can create restaurant-standard food in the comfort of their own kitchen.
“Many of the dishes don’t take more than 10 or 15 minutes and the right ingredients are not too hard to find.”
Cook Thai features a foreword by Star columnist, Will Holland, formerly the Michelin-starred chef patron at La Becasse, in Ludlow.
He eulogised her talents and outlined how he first encountered Suree when she gave a demonstration of vegetable carving at Ludlow Food Festival.
“It was a real honour to be asked to write the foreword to her first book and I wish her every success with it. Suree is a remarkable woman. She runs a great family restaurant and does all the right things.”
Suree couldn’t be happier to see the dishes that she grew up making appearing in print.
“My passion for Thai cuisine has never dimmed. It’s my way of sharing my culture. Thai food is the freshest in the world. It’s healthy, it’s about great flavour and it’s about being creative and daring. I sincerely hope people enjoy my recipes. I’m sharing the food of my childhood and my life. It’s for other people to adapt, enjoy and eat. I hope they relish every mouthful.”
* Cook Thai is available at selected branches of Waterstones and other local book shops, or from Here