Marking her first visit to Europe and first-ever overseas cooking gig, Bangkok’s illustrious street-food master Jay Fai made a summer jaunt to Copenhagen to whip up her famed crab omelette for the opening presentation of the 6th annual MAD Symposium.
Words by Mason Florence • Photos by Arlei Lima
How could Jay Fai–Thailand’s most famous street food vendor–say no to an invitation to headline what is arguably the single coolest food event on the planet? She may have been the only chef there running a Michelin-starred restaurant to not have previously known about the MAD Symposium, but the chance to travel with her family to Denmark and to demonstrate her signature crab omelette to an international whos-who of global foodies was just too good to refuse.
The MAD Symposium brings a dynamic group of food nomads from around the world for two days of intense discussion of the past, present and future of food. This year’s theme – “Mind The Gap” – featured speakers and participants from all disciplines who brought to the forefront a wide range of issues around diversity in the restaurant industry, notably gender equality and the role of female chefs.
At 73, Jay Fai has never been the kind of chef who travels to promote herself. She has no agent, no PR, no business line to call. She is not and never has been involved in self-promotion or positioning herself in front of new audiences and international media, and she remains humble and ever-so-slightly, out of reach.
And so, for the very first time ever, Jay Fai was leaving Thailand to cook abroad—on international assignment.
Happily accepting the surprise inviation from MAD’s organisers – and with the generous support of Singha Beer, Thai Airways and the Royal Thai Embassy in Copenhagen – a group of us set off, leaving Asia behind for Denmark. In truth, I’m not sure she really knew what she was getting herself into, but she’s a steadfast professional, a perfectionist, an entrepreneur. Her size and spirit, and her humility, make Jay Fai a person impossible not to love.
Jay Fai took to the MAD stage to rapturous applause. With Chef Ton translating, and like a well-versed comedian with the entire audience in the palm of her hand, Jay Fai was… well… Jay Fai, and had the whole room in fits of giggles. This is a woman without ego, who cooks with love and, as it turns out, great humour, too! She demonstrated her iconic crab omelette—later gobbled up by fellow chefs backstage—and throughout the presentation continued to have the audience in fits. She was, to mine and everyone’s supposes, completely unphased by it all; a complete natural.
The entire experience Jay Fai later told us, was thrilling. To travel to Denmark and experience so much with her family was a truly special and unique opportunity. And really, while it was just another crab omelette from a woman who has produced tens of thousands of them over a fifty-year career, there was no need for practice or rehearsal. “I’ve been doing this for a long time,” she quipped.
Post-MAD, we partied and drank excellent Danish craft beers—yes, Jay Fai, too—and dined at some of the city’s best restaurants, including noma and Geranium, in between sampling local street food and fried chicken under a bridge. One afternoon, by invitation of the Royal Thai Embassy Copenhagen, we were warmly welcomed at the Ambassador’s residence for dinner, and Jay Fai made an impromptu crab omelette on-site, without fuss or pretension, another delivery of her most celebrated and iconic culinary creation. She was treated like the living national treasure she is, and we were all just along for the ride.
MAD is transforming our food system by giving chefs and restaurateurs the skills, community, time, and space to create real and sustainable change in their restaurants, in their communities, and across the world.
Recognizing that food is inseparable from some of our most pressing global challenges, MAD unites a global cooking community with a social conscience, a sense of curiosity, and an appetite for change. Together, we envision a better, healthier, more sustainable, more delicious world for cooks and eaters alike.
Chef and co-owner of restaurant noma René Redzepi launched MAD as a two-day symposium in 2011, when 300 chefs, restaurateurs, servers, and writers gathered in Copenhagen to discuss the future of food. Today, under the leadership of a ten-member Board of Directors, Executive Director Melina Shannon-DiPietro, as well as leading donors, MAD is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that boasts a global network of individuals working to make food better.