Explore the exotic tastes of Thailand
For a decade, Kay Plunkett-Hogge has patiently been writing and co-authoring cookbooks with the likes of Leon and actor Stanley Tucci (“He’s wonderful, we had a hoot”).
But however exciting those other projects were, all that time, a cookbook of the Thai food she grew up eating was formulating in her mind. “Baan is the book I started food writing to write,” the columnist, food consultant and cookery teacher explains, looking brilliantly glam over coffee in a tiny Italian café in south-west London.
Plunkett-Hogge was born in Thailand in 1964 – “just as the Vietnam War was really gearing up” – and raised in Bangkok, where her father, who worked for Ford Motors was transferred in 1961 to sell tractors. “They sent him for two years and he ended up staying 35.”
She spoke Thai before English, and returned to the UK for boarding school aged 11 which, admittedly, was a shock: “I had to wear shoes – didn’t like that”, and the food, she recalls, was “devastating”. She’d go home to Thailand two or three times a year, and still does.
Calling her childhood “incredibly idyllic”, Plunket-Hogge, now 55, spent much of it between her family’s two kitchens: inside for Western food (where the fridge and freezer reigned supreme); outside for Thai (all polished concrete floors and charcoal burners). Her mum and their family cook, Prayoon, would teach each other about their cuisines, while Plunkett-Hogge toddled greedily from one to the other. “I was very chubby because I’d eat about 10 meals a day,” she says with a laugh. “I was in and out all the time!”
Between the array of dinners and her menagerie of animals (“I had 20 cats at one point, I had pygmy owls, flying squirrels, chipmunks, my dad had a falcon and a hawk in the aviary in the back garden, a crow, ducks, geese, a civet cat...”), ‘idyllic’ doesn’t seem to quite do it justice. She was, she adds, “so spoilt!”
Fragments of her early years in Thailand spill across Baan (which means ‘home’), where the pages, ablaze in seventies technicolor, are strewn with family photos. The recipes themselves are a patchwork map of memory, friendship and shared culinary love, from her ultimate comfort dish of prad kapow moo (pork stir-fried with holy basil) to her godmother Shirley’s soi thonglor ribs, that would always be accompanied by a scary film and “large and potent” G&Ts.
Plunkett-Hogge cooked from an early age but mainly cakes – she doesn’t bake at all now – and it was only when she quit as a model agent and began catering for high-end fashion shoots that she found her way into food writing.
“Nothing in my life has ever been planned, it just rolls along,” she says, explaining she has “no training, just instinct, good taste buds and palate, and [the ability] to put flavours together.”