A delicious new memoir from author Kay Plunkett-Hogge
Although born in Bangkok, and brought up on Sukhumvit Soi 31 in the early 70s, 52-year-old Kay Plunkett-Hogge currently resides in London. She is the author of the recently published Adventures of a Terribly Greedy Girl: A Memoir of Food, Family, Film & Fashion, and a recent press trip brought her to Thailand to talk about her latest projects.
In conversation, Kay recalls those early happy days in Thailand, and reminisces about water buffaloes in the next door neighbour’s garden, being surrounded by khlongs, and how there was loads of traffic—even then. She also recalls spending large parts of her childhood accompanying the family’s cook, Yoon, to the local market.
“It was a cacophony of smells and sights and sounds, with piles of lemongrass, garlic, chilies of every hue, and shrimp paste and dried squid,” she says, adding that she would also watch Yoon prepare authentic Thai meals. This is where the young Kay learned to balance flavours, while at the same time nurturing a love for all things Thai. To this day there’s a special place in her heart reserved for Bangkok, the city she still thinks of as home and visits as often as her hectic schedule will allow.
“I feel like I’m Thai,” she explains, and she’s one of those rare farang who actually speak the language like a native—a testament to her formative years growing up in the ‘Big Mango’. Her newly released, 224 page hardcover book is a fun and feisty eclectic memoir, and about 80 percent of it is stories relating to Thailand and its cuisine. “Our memories are so wrapped up in what we eat and I fervently believe food is a communication process,” Kay points out.
The book also contains tales from the author’s days in the fashion and film industries—beginning when the 18-year-old Kay was cast as an extra in Roland Joffé’s 1984 film The Killing Fields, which was shot in part right here in Thailand. It also includes recipes from many of the world’s most exciting cities and, fittingly, that includes a recipe for Kay’s favourite Thai dish.
“Pad Krapow! This is my ultimate Thai comfort food,” she gushes. “Hot, fragrant and delicious, if I’m pissed off—that’s English for fed up—this is my go-to dish, so I cook it at least once a week (laughs)! Everyone in Thailand has a different recipe for it. You can use pork, beef, duck, chicken, tofu, mushrooms… up to you. But when following my recipe, make sure you serve it on a pile of freshly cooked jasmine rice topped with a deep fried egg.”
A prolific writer, to date Kay has written six books of her own, and co-authored a further five, including The Tucci Table, with the award-winning American actor Stanley Tucci (described as a “food porn manifesto” by chef Mario Francesco Batali). Meanwhile, Make Mine a Martini was the Financial Times’ pick for drinks book of the year in 2014, and is part of a trilogy that will conclude with Aperitivo: Drinks and Snacks for The Dolce Vita, due to be published later this month.
When asked about feedback for her latest food-centric book, Kay informs—with a laugh—that reviews have been generally very positive. “The Metro newspaper in London called it: ‘A manifesto for our times’, which seems a little over the top but….” she trails off, smiling modestly.
“I never planned to be a cook, and I’m NOT a chef, I’m a good home cook,” Kay adds emphatically, while explaining the process behind her writing. “Once I started it came really quickly. I’m quite quick in general, and once I have an idea and get going it takes me about three months to finish a book.”
So, what’s next for this vivacious, warm, and witty bon vivant?
“I’m working with the newly opened Ananda Hua Hin Resort and Spa to offer Thai culinary journeys, slated to begin in early 2018. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time now. The four corners of the country really have so many different tastes to offer. We’re thinking groups of 8 to 14 because I think the more intimate you keep it, the better it is.”
When asked about advice for aspiring cooks, writers, and fellow journeyers through life, Kay offers the following typically forthright and upbeat morsels to chew over and savour: “If there’s a chance for adventure, take it. Be curious, never stop being curious. It’s never too late to do something new. I didn’t start writing until my 40’s, and now I want to write a novel. However, I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up.”
By Gary Anthony Rutland