Few food memories begin with abandoned corpses in Buddhist temples, as Chef Ake’s does. Raised in a struggling family in Thailand, young Ake would catch and sell catfish gathered after the rains under the platform of abandoned dead bodies. Lowering his gaze he says that he can still smell the stench. Despite his mother’s warnings, he did this to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola worth less than 5 cents. By chewing and constricting the straw and taking the smallest of sips, he learned to extend his enjoyment of that hard-earned bottle. Opening his second restaurant in West Lafayette, Indiana, he installed a coke machine, but now, ironically he no longer craves the taste. The poverty, he says, pushed him to dream of ice-cream, coke, beautiful houses, of televisions in every room and of playing the piano. His family of five shared every meager meal as a gift. “Food is a gift,” says Chef Ake repeatedly.
The days between growing up in Thailand and opening his first restaurant in West Lafayette, Indiana is a classic immigrant story of persistence, resourcefulness, hard work and struggle that includes, working every possible restaurant position (front and back of house), multiple jobs, janitorial jobs, catering and being a private chef at a sorority. In addition, he astonishingly managed to keep his dream of being a filmmaker alive by earning a M.F. A from the San Francisco Art Institute (in Thailand he worked in the film industry on television shows and advertising): amazing and humbling to hear him recollect those years. He poetically talks about seeing only two sunsets his first year in the U.S. (Christmas and on 4th of July). He also talks about meeting his wife Nan who like him had hotel and restaurant experience and an M.F.A (in theater). On their first date they watched a movie, separately, unable to decide on the same movie. Their second date at 2 a.m. in the morning was spent in a cemetery (Presidio of San Francisco) after a late night work shift. These two unique individuals had found their match. Their shared love for film, theater, books, museums and galleries, of learning brought them here to West Lafayette, Indiana, the home of Purdue University.
How does a childhood consumer of coca-cola become a chef who champions attention to detail in a small Mid-western college town? Tune in next time as slow coke drinker Ake evolves into Chef Ake of Thai Essence, West Layette, Indiana.
Dear Fellow Food Philosophers,
I am collecting food philosophies through three guiding and loose questions:
- Consumption: What are your memories of food?
- Production: What are your guiding principles for making food?
- Demonstration: What would show your philosophy of food?
Please contact me, if you (or anyone you know…..anyone who is involved in making food…not just chefs) would like to share your philosophy with me. Thank you!